One of Ireland’s national treasures, a man who has starred in the vast majority of high-class Irish films such as The Commitments, The Snapper and Intermission, along with a string of top-notch Hollywood fare including Con Air, Die Hard 2 and Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. The latest notch in his career’s bedpost is the upcoming Law Abiding Citizen. The film stars Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx alongside Colm and a wonderful ensemble cast. Colm spoke to us recently from L.A. about his career, his new film and his thoughts on Hollywood.
What’s interesting about Law Abiding Citizen is its moral ambiguity. Is this an aspect of the film that interested you?
We all feel that capital punishment is wrong, an eye for an eye and all that but you do sort of think what would you do if something dreadful happened to your family? I think that’s what we’re touching on that here. It’s an interesting dilemma for me. I don’t think there’s any approval of what Gerard’s character does from the audience’s point of view. I mean, I can understand there’s a certain amount of rooting for him at the start but for me once he starts really slaughtering people you think wait a minute, wait a minute.
So do you think that the point is that we see that the legal system is actually responsible for this man having gone insane?
You do reach a point quite quickly where you think he’s lost it. The legal system is trying to cope with a lot of stuff and it’s overwhelmed with a lot of stuff so it finds shortcuts and this was one of the people suffering as a result of these shortcuts. So yeah the legal system let him down but is that a condemnation of the legal system as whole? I’m not sure. But it’s good that people talk about these questions.
There’s a magnificent cast and crew on this project. Was this important to you when you decided to work on the film?
I was delighted to see the people who were involved. The original script was fantastic and it kept changing as we were shooting. In the beginning it was more of a character movie and then it evolved into more of an action movie and there was more of the violence and the crazy stuff that he pulled off with the electronic wizardry and all that became more and more fantastical as we went on.
It felt like an ensemble cast, did you feel like this when you were shooting?
Yeah, yeah it did. And when I first read the script it felt like an ensemble piece. As we were shooting it kind of felt that way too but it slowly started shifting towards a kind of “mano y mano” story with the two boys, you know. There were things changed that emphasised that more. So it became a thing where it was the two boys and then the rest of us. Leslie Bibb is amazing, Bruce McGill I’ve been friends with for years, everywhere you looked there was a good actor playing someone.
You’ve maintained an admirable balance between Hollywood and Irish film. Do you make a conscious effort to do this?
Yeah I love to work in Ireland. I don’t think I’ve worked with enough Irish directors, I’ve worked with very few even though I’ve made a number of films in Ireland, they were directed by either English or European directors. I’m about to do a film in December in Dublin with an Irish director. That’s kind of nice. Obviously, Irish cinema is very important to me. I’d love to see more of the feeling I got doing the Barrystown trilogy for example. It was wonderful writing and we had a terrific cast and crew and just a wonderful feeling during that period and the industry was really moving forward. But I think it seems to have stalled a bit in the past few years. We haven’t had a second wave of great directors. We seem to have lost our way a little bit. But hopefully it’s just a temporary thing and we’ll find our way back.
Do you try to keep an eye on things in the Irish film industry when you’re working abroad?
Yeah I watch all the Irish films I can get hold of. I was on the jury for the IFTAs last year so I got to see a whole bunch of films there, some terrific, some not so good. I try to keep in touch.
Do you think that being a genuine Irish actor in Hollywood has worked in your favour at all?
Not really. There’s a danger of having that Irish tag on you. It’s certainly true in England, being an Irish actor you don’t get to play English parts. One of the reasons I was so glad to do The Damned United was because Don Revie is such an iconic English character and, y’know, Brendan Gleeson recently playing Churchill. It’s great to see that. It has worked against me in the past. To be always referred to as an “Irish actor” as opposed to an actor can be limiting.
You’ve been working since you were 14… did you ever anticipate this level of success when you started out?
When I was growing up I trained in the Abbey Theatre. We had a school of acting in The Abbey in those days. We don’t anymore, which I think is a pity. My ambition was to be an actor, to work in theatre. I didn’t even think about film and television to be honest with you. It was to get to the point where you could earn a living as a theatre actor in Dublin.
Did starring in Star Trek change your life?
Well, not really. Star Trek was just another gig to me. The reason for doing a TV series was for me not to have to travel so much. My older daughter was getting into her serious school years. I remember the year before I went on Deep Space Nine, I spent about 8 months of the year away on location. When you’ve got family and you’re getting into the serious school years, it’s very hard to travel that much so a TV show is a good solution. You work long hours all the time but at least you’re home every night. That’s a huge factor when you’ve got a family.
I noticed you starred as Gene Hunt in an unused pilot for the US version of Life on Mars? Would you care to comment on that project?
Yes. That was the most bizarre thing we’ve ever gone through. We shot a pilot, David Kelley was the producer and writer and we had what we thought was a good show and then feuding broke out between David Kelley and NBC and the network decided to scrap the whole thing and move it from LA to New York. The show we made was set in LA and they decided to transpose it, make it set in New York, re-shooting the whole episode with different locations and all that and then they went with an all New York cast. I had no interest in relocating to New York anyway. It was the most bizarre process. They eventually got the show on the air which, having shot two pilots must have cost a lot of money and I think it lasted about 6 episodes. So you’re never pleased to see anything fail but I truly wasn’t losing any sleep over it because the way they had behaved and the way they had destroyed the first pilot we had shot was just despicable. It was like a playbook on how to make something fail.
Law Abiding Citizen is in cinemas from Friday. Those Ulster Bank ads are on your telly right now too.
Words: Charlene Lydon