First, a reflection.
It was all very simple, really.
I walked up the steps to his theater dressing room, turned the corner, and there he was, at the other end, just standing there, as you do, after you have finished a 4-hour matinee performance of a very demanding play, in your stocking feet, getting ready for a nap so you can go out and do it all over again in a few hours.
I looked at him, but he was already moving. “Stella!” he said, with a big smile, and then he was across the room and enveloping me in a hug that both caught me by surprise and felt absolutely natural. It was as though I had always known him and we had just not seen each other in a long time. Old friends, we were, somehow. It was lovely and amazing.
I glanced at him sideways and whispered “My god, man, I’ve been waiting to do this for eight years.” He twinkled at me. “I know.” And he hugged me again.
A dream come true.
Here is a surprising thing: I had spent the previous four hours watching this man portray an aging stage actor, an Irishman full of bluster and regrets, a little threadbare, with graying hair and sad eyes. I remember thinking: well, this might really be what Gabriel is like now, at this time in his life. He was so real. I believed his James Tyrone.
But the man who came to envelope me in his arms and smile and say lovely things to me was NOT the man I’d been watching. No. This man was so full of energy and spirit and genuine warmth that I could feel it all emanating from him like electricity. Those blue eyes are not only blue. They are full of light and humor and life. He was beaming. You can see it in the picture.
So I beamed back. Of course. Any hesitation I had felt evaporated immediately. He bowled me over. And I did not faint. I was too busy looking at his face–a face that I thought I knew, after years of posting images of him on the website. Images I had cropped or added to backgrounds for wallpapers. Images from every stage of his career. I know every line and every look of that face. I thought I did, anyway. I had never seen that face in “real life,” however. And real life is different. He is beautiful. Not only a beautiful movie star. A beautiful person.
Creative people have an energy and a skill all their own. They know how to communicate. They know how to focus. They know how to make someone else feel special. It is who they are. I have heard a lot about “charisma” over the years and even experienced it on occasion (famous authors, opera singers, etc.). But nothing prepared me for this.
I felt the incandescent headlights of that energy from Gabriel Byrne, in his dressing room, with his assistant hovering in the background, reminding him of his nap, while we ignored her (for a few minutes, anyway). He knows I care about him. He showed me he appreciated it and he cares, too.
A dream come true.
Unlike some dreams, this is one I will never forget. I will always hold those brief moments in a special place in my heart. Once in a lifetime. I had my once. I will always cherish it. And him.
Now, some concrete stuff we talked about:
He thanked me for the website. He noted that he sometimes visits, but not too often because, he said, “I’m never sure what I might find there.” He reported that his family and friends visit it and like it very much. I told him not to worry about it too much because my mantra for Byrneholics web design was “What Would Gabriel Do?” And he laughed.
I told him how much I appreciated his work on stage and how lovely it was to see him move across the stage as a character, sharing almost the same space as we, in the audience. How different and special that was. He grinned. “You never know what might happen on stage. Today I broke the chair!”
Fellow Byrneholics Ara and Marley were in the room, too, as was my great friend Marisa, who traveled from Germany to see the play and to be my unofficial photographer. They talked with him for a few minutes and he was bright and attentive, which I kept finding remarkable because I knew he must have been tired. You would never have guessed it, though. Marisa reminded him that I was an Executive Producer for the Excalibur documentary. He asked about the progress of that film and when it might be released. I reported that Mark Wright, the producer, was working on a deal with PBS and hopefully there would be news soon. “How will I find out about that?” Gabriel asked. My turn to grin: “Watch the website! ALL of the Gabriel Byrne news is there!”
I gave him a kiss from Verónica and the Facebook fans. He kissed everyone and gave them posters. He presented me with my poster, which I absolutely adore and will frame and display in my office at home where I spend so much time writing about him and his work. I grumbled, “Where’s MY kiss?” So he kissed me too.
He thanked us for coming to see him. And he meant it. And then we departed so he could take his nap.
The wonderful thing about signed posters and photographs is how much they remind you that it all really happened.
A dream come true, yes. Entrancing. Transcendent. Unforgettable.
Thank you, Gabriel Byrne. Thank you for making the adventure so magical. And so real.