On March 17th it’s St Patrick’s Day, a celebration of the patron saint of Ireland. With the huge contribution Ireland is making to the silver screen, here at Audiences Everywhere we’ve decided to honour the day by sharing some of our favourite movie performances from Irish actors and actresses.
Ryan MacLean’s choices
Michael Fassbender in Shame (2011)
Michael Fassbender’s work in 2011’s Shame as a man suffering from an uncontrollable sex addiction is one of the most sympathetic and bold performances that any actor has delivered in years. Fassbender plays the role of Brandon with a frightening intensity and temperament, while bringing a surprising level of sensitivity to his portrayal, given how the subject matter is generally treated in mainstream media. Sex and sex addiction are often used as more of a punchline in film but Shame, thanks in no small part to Fassbender’s performance, looks at the affliction from a serious, starkly vulnerable point of view. This would be a challenging role for any actor. For the film to work at all Brandon must be sexually inviting, but also deeply wounded, while still maintaining a sociable charm. Fassbender effortlessly delivers on all fronts, conveying a kind of nuance that might have been lost with another actor. Fassbender, quite literally, bares it all, spending large portions of the film unabashedly nude. It’s not the kind of role that we see very often and Fassbender makes what could have been an off-putting character incredibly engaging and weirdly likeable.
Saoirse Ronan in Byzantium (2012)
Saoirse Ronan, a young actress who has been making a name for herself in Hollywood as of late, gave what is undoubtedly her most excellent performance to date in 2012’s Byzantium. The film, which is centered on a mother and daughter vampire duo, gave Ronan the chance to portray one of the most refreshing takes on vampires in film that we’ve seen in a long time. Ronan has a habit of playing innocent and conflicted characters that evolve through experiencing the darkness of their world. Byzantium subverts this. Ronan’s Eleanor has witnessed all the unpleasantness that the world has to offer during her 200 years of life. Eleanor is already broken down, embittered and vulnerable. It’s a remarkable turn against type for Ronan, showing her exceptional acting range. Ronan imbues each line of dialogue with sullen angst but it is always an underlying feeling of desperation. It is a subtle, but deliberate act on Ronan’s part. She possesses a mastery for character work that many actresses twice her age with twice as much experience cannot hope to match.
Natalie Stendall’s choices
Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is home to two powerhouse performances. While Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth earned him a BAFTA and a top 15 ranking in the American Film Institute’s list of greatest film villains, Liam Neeson, as the film’s eponymous star, walked away from 1994’s awards season empty handed. It was a tough year for lead actors. Irish Neeson faced competition from established Hollywood stars Tom Hanks in Philadelphia and Anthony Hopkins in The Remains Of The Day. But had Neeson won, no-one could have scoffed. It’s his subtle performance that lies at the heart of Spielberg’s sensitively handled Holocaust drama. Neeson’s Schindler is a complex hero, a womaniser and an opportunist who didn’t set out to save the Jews but who’s attitudes morph and adjust gradually throughout the films 195 minutes. From the film’s opening scenes Neeson is a smooth, charismatic manipulator. Mingling and laughing with influential Nazis, he provides a window into a Germany untouched by the horrors of the Holocaust. Only when the War’s end arrives does Neeson reveal the depth of Schindler’s anguish, relief bringing a painful realisation that his earlier frivolity and materialism cost lives. ‘Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there,’ spills out unbearably as he collapses into a grief stricken heap. It’s Neeson’s finest scene.
Richard Harris & Michael Gambon in the Harry Potter franchise
Limmerick born Richard Harris and Dublin born Michael Gambon both had the pleasure of playing J.K. Rowling’s paternal wizard, Dumbledore, in the Harry Potter franchise. Both give us beguiling but very different takes on the elderly hero. Harris, Dumbledore for just two films before his death in 2002, exudes calm, focusing on the character’s philosophical traits, kindness and gentle humour. Without his warmth and serenity it’s hard to imagine Harry’s bond and allegiance to the wizard becoming so steadfast. But it’s equally difficult to imagine Harris’ Dumbledore enduring the physical pain and mental torment of the Horcrux cave. Gambon’s Dumbledore is eccentric, almost to the point of madness. Balanced with cunning, Gambon slowly exposes the wizard’s inner conflict, a weakness for power and a determination to succeed that shifts his moral compass. Arriving later in the franchise, Gambon patently had the meatier role but establishing who is the ‘better,’ most ‘accurate’ Dumbledore keeps fans debating to this day. It’s hard to deny the sheer acting calibre of either actor, each imbuing the character with his own remarkable identity, ensuring Dumbledore is a cinematic icon of the modern age.
Sean Fallon’s Pick
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood (2007)
I’ve cheated a bit here because I haven’t just chosen one of best Irish performances, I’ve chosen one of the greatest acting jobs ever. Daniel Day-Lewis embodies the character of Daniel Plainview so absolutely that throughout the movie I am always struck with shock that it is a performance, and they haven’t simply brought this real life, twisted wreck of a man, and filmed a movie around him. There are scenes in this movie of such intensity that you find yourself holding your breath throughout them and studying Plainview to find the cracks that reveal some hint of Day-Lewis beneath. But there aren’t any. After Day-Lewis won the Oscar for this performance they should have shut down the Oscars. I don’t believe we’ll see anything of this calibre ever again. But it won’t stop me looking.
David Shreve’s Picks
Evanna Lynch in The Harry Potter Series
Even though she’s the least recognizable and the least accomplished performer on our list, and even though her most famous role didn’t make its introductory appearance until late in the series with Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Evanna Lynch left an indelible impression. Luna Lovegood is my favorite character in the entire Harry Potter universe, and this is largely because Luna is a character built by the small, nuanced decisions of a seemingly seasoned actor. The Termonfeckin-born Lynch plays the Ravenclaw witch as a composite sketch with elements from the hippie-era flowerchild and the offensive stereotype of the airhead blonde stock character made so popular in the 80s and 90s before she destroys both allusions with her invaluable offerings of philosophical poetry and poetic philosophy. Luna exists within a storytelling pocket. She establishes a tone and direction all her own and it never impedes or interferes with the story’s primary tone and direction and somehow, though traveling a separate path, she makes her way into prominent position by the end of the series. All of this is absolutely stupefying when one considers that this was Lynch’s first professional role. I’m sure it won’t be her last.
Colin Farrell in Ondine
Alright, I’m not going to lie. I love Ondine, I do, but I’m only choosing this movie because St. Patrick’s Day is a day of celebration and I don’t want to waste time angrily defending my actual opinion, which is that Colin Farrell is incredible in the movie Phone Booth (Seriously, the whole movie is his acting talent and it’s actually a very tense and sympathetic movie). So, let’s talk Ondine. There is a rare balance of implied mystical fantasy and harsh, mud-stained realism in Ondine‘s exceptional narrative. Ondine is a blue collar Irish fairy tale. And all of that works, primarily, because Colin Farrell’s bold and human performance knots the conflicting elements into a succinct package. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Farrell, who hails from Dublin, was pegged as the next logical step in a chain of handsome movie stars, extended from the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but this expectation undersold the actor’s incredible and unique ability. From his first under-celebrated step (Tigerland), to his hypnotic turn in Terrence Malick’s The New World, all the way to his most recent work with Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Pscyhopaths), Farrell has proven he is a powerful film actor more than he is a handsome movie star.