As I make my way through the summer heat, packing up my house, sweeping and cleaning and boxing up my life, and preparing for what will probably be my last move, I find that I am in tune with Gabriel Byrne more than ever. This interview touches on so many aspects of life, personal experiences, distant but still finely etched memories–his, of course, but also ours now, somehow, resonant and enduring. When I look at his face in this portrait, I see a man grown almost delicate with age, but also a steely spine and a wiry energy that never gives up. And, as the interview proves, he never stops: on stage, in films and television, writing. And he also never seems to stop considering the past and looking to the future. He’s our guy and this interview reminds us why.
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Sean O’Hagan/July 17, 2022
The actor discusses the stage adaptation of his memoir Walking With Ghosts, playing Samuel Beckett in a new film – and making peace with being an exile
There is a short video on YouTube of Gabriel Byrne being interviewed by the Irish comedian and actor Tommy Tiernan. “Do you think you’re a strange man?” asks Tiernan. “I do think I’m a strange man, yes,” replies Byrne without hesitation. He then bats the question back to Tiernan, deftly sidestepping any further discussion of the subject. I ask him if now he could elaborate on the nature of his strangeness.
“I like to think I’m pretty normal and not given to extremes, but people who know me well would probably think I’m a little strange,” he says. “It surprises me when they do, but, of course, an eccentric does not know he’s eccentric. So, yes, maybe I am a bit strange, but not in the sense that I’m weird.”
As an interviewee, though, Byrne is, if anything, the opposite of strange, coming across as genial, thoughtful and articulate. From time to time, though, there is a palpable intensity to him and a sense that, as the title of his recent memoir, Walking With Ghosts, attests, he is still haunted by the past. It is most evident when he talks about his upbringing in working-class Dublin or describes the religiously repressive and parochial nature of the society he fled when he emigrated to London in the late 1970s. “To be honest,” he says, “it’s only lately that I have begun to reconcile myself to Ireland, and to myself when I left there. That has not been completely healed.”
He goes on to talk about his memoir, Walking With Ghosts, which he is taking to stages in Ireland, Scotland, and England over the next few weeks, and the new Beckett film, Dance First, which he is wrapping up filming in Budapest. He also shares his memories of starting out as an actor, experiencing Hollywood, and throwing off the shackles of the past, of an Ireland that no longer exists.
His is such a unique voice. Enjoy! heart