The great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is having a good laugh remembering the opening scene from the new movie “Frank.” A musically-inept young man is humming and thinking up lyrics – BAD lyrics – as he walks home from work.
“That is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” says Gleeson, who was Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter pictures and star of “In Bruges” and “The Grand Seduction,” a man who knows funny. “That lad, he made me laugh and laugh.”
“That lad” is somebody Brendan Gleeson is unusually proud of. He’s not just a redheaded Irish actor, like himself. That’s Domhnall Gleeson, 31, son of Brendan. “Frank,” which stars Michael Fassbender as a quirky artist who fronts a band – Soronprfbs – while wearing a gigantic fake head that he never, ever takes off, allowed Domhnall to expand his musical horizons.
“The very first line of that song, ‘The endless, rolling waves carry me to you …’,” Gleeson-the-Younger explains, “that was in the script. But the lyrics and the pain of coming up with them, not realizing how bad they are, I came up with sitting with (music director) Stephen Rennicks up in his apartment, playing at the keyboards. I wanted to write the worst possible song, the most boring personal theme song for this fellow. Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, I could write a song.’ So few of us can.”
“Frank,” a darkly quirky comedy about an uncompromising artist and the oddballs (Maggie Gyllenhaal also stars, and plays theremin in Soronprfbs) is opening to some of the most generous reviews of the summer. “Weird and wonderful,” Variety said. And Variety isn’t alone.
Domhnall Gleeson is the audience’s alter ego in the film, the outsider reluctantly “welcomed” into the band, the guy who learns about Frank directly from the big-headed weirdo’s mouth. But acting opposite a famous film star wearing an enormous head – “That’s really him in every scene. You can tell from the simple physicality of his performance.” – wasn’t the biggest challenge. Everybody in the film has to play an instrument, something they demonstrated when Fassbender, Gleeson, Gyllenhaal and the others performed on Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report.”
“We play the music live, in the film, so playing ‘Colbert’ was just like that – not dubbed, not touched up or anything like that,” Gleeson, who learned to play keyboards, says. “People might not believe us, so even though we hadn’t played together in a year and a half, since making the film, we got back together, rehearsed for a day, and did it. Not bad.”
“Frank” isn’t the only film this rising star has out at the moment. His father plays a priest in John Michael McDonagh’s dark allegory, “Calvary,” and Domhnall read Dad’s copy of the script and knew he wanted a piece of that. He won over an admittedly-reluctant writer-director and ended up dyeing his hair to play a convicted murderer, a former altar boy that Father James visits in prison.
“We fought really hard in that scene, battled each other fiercely,” Domhnall says.
“We were like two sparring partners, buddies, forced to get into the ring and throw punches for real,” his father, Brendan, recalls. “Go back to your corner in between takes and do what you’ve got to do.”
Brendan says that got to the point where they couldn’t discuss the scene or the characters any more and had to back away from each other. Domhnall confirms this, but relished the chance “to see my father in all his glory, taking his blows and hitting back at him. There’s danger in the air with him.”
Brendan just laughs and says “It was nice to have him back, at the end of the day.”
While it’s hard to see much of the gruff and garrulous father in the son’s performances, Domhnall is quick to reflect his father’s pride in his burgeoning career back at the Old Man, “who is so generous that he makes every day on the set a blast.” And Brendan?
“I’m fascinated by what Domhnall’s going to get up to next, which is a lovely place for a young actor to be.”
If there’s one shortcoming in Dad’s raising of star-in-the-making, it reared its head when Domhnall heard about J.J. Abrams and Disney re-visiting “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”
“I had not seen ‘Star Wars,’ as a boy,” Domhnall chuckles. That could have made it hard to land a role in the new “Star Wars” film. It didn’t. “Had to go out and watch those earlier films before I met J.J., just to be safe. So if I hadn’t gotten the part, we’d be blaming Dad for that!”