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Brendan Gleeson, On 'Guard' As A Small-Town Cop.

The Irish actor plays a cynical, small-town cop who is thrust out of his comfort zone in the black comedy The Guard. "I've met men like [my character] quite a lot," Gleeson says. "People who are underused a little bit and have terribly sharp wit, but pretend to be a little bit stupid."


Other segments from the episode on July 27, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 27, 2011: Interview with Henry Louis Gates; Interview with Brendan Gleeson.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
What It Means To Be 'Black In Latin America'


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Henry Louis Gates, is one of the most prominent scholars of African-
American history. Even so, he says he sometimes has to remind himself that race
is not just a black thing. It signifies a lot of different kinds of people in
different places. And African-Americans in this country don't have a patent on
the term or on the social conditions that have resulted from slavery and its
long aftermath.

Those are among the reasons he wrote his new book "Black in Latin America,"
about what it means to be black in places south of our border. The book is a
companion to a PBS series he did last spring, for which he traveled to six
countries: Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico and Peru

Gates directs the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American
Research at Harvard. He's hosted 11 PBS specials, including ones that traced
people's genealogy through their DNA, exploring how race and ethnicity are more
complex than we think.

Gates is also famous for his dispute with a police officer that led to the
Obama Beer Summit.

Henry Louis Gates, welcome back to FRESH AIR. There is so much in your book
that I did not know. I'm really - I was really, like, so uninformed about
slavery south of our border and the ongoing racial implications of that. Why
did countries south of our border have so many more slaves than the U.S.?

Mr. HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. (Director, W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and
African American Research; Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard
University; Author, "Black in Latin America"): Well, Terry, between 1502 and
1866, 12.5 million Africans got on the ships from Africa sailing to the new
world as slaves. 11.2 million disembarked in the new world, and of that 11.2
million, how many came to the United States: 450,000. 388,000 came directly,
and another 70,000 or so stopped briefly in the Caribbean and then came to the
United States. All the rest went to the Caribbean and Latin America.

Brazil got 4.8 million slaves alone. Now, when I was growing up, I don't know
about you, but essentially I thought to talk about the slave trade meant to
talk about the experiences of our ancestors here in the United States. But it
turns out that the real quote-unquote African-American experience, judging by
numbers alone, unfolded south of our borders, south, as it were, of Key West
and Texas.

And that world is the world that I wanted to unveil or explicate. Now, there
are many scholars who have been working in this field for a long time, but the
average American, and I'd say even the average academic and the average
journalist, has no idea of the huge number of black people who landed south of
the United States over the course of the slave trade.

GROSS: Now, you write the real African-American experience took place in Latin
America and in the Caribbean, but one of the things you found in common in just
about all of the countries you visited is that the descendants of Africans
don't identify as African-American.

Mr. GATES: No, America is very peculiar, because of the history of slavery and
racism in that we have the law of hypodescent. And you know what that is, the
one drop rule. If you have one drop of black ancestry, then you were black
historically. And you know what, Terry? That's even true today. That was
recently affirmed by Supreme Court decision in the mid-1980s.

So if that rule applied throughout Latin America, my God, there would be
several hundred million people that we would define as black. Officially, there
are about 120 million people of African descent in Latin America, but using the
law of hypodescent, there would be many hundred million more. So that in
Brazil, whereas we have black and white, and in the old days we used to have
black, white and mulatto, say, in the 1890 census, in Brazil today they have
134 categories of blackness.

It's like octoroon and quadroon are on steroids in Brazil. And I list these 134
categories as an appendix in the book, along with different color categories in
each of the countries in which I filmed and which I've written about in this
new book.

GROSS: And what is the point of having so many color categories? What is it
supposed to indicate?

Mr. GATES: Well, you can look at it two ways. For most African-Americans, the
first time you go to Brazil, or the first time you go to Haiti or Cuba, and you
encounter all these categories, you think this is a way of fleeing blackness we
would say in the barbershop, this is a way of not wanting to be black.

Well, I'm not black. I'm a murano(ph). Or I'm not black, I'm a kubuku(ph) or
one of the many other hundred words that people use to describe gradation of
blackness, hair texture, facial features

But on the other hand, you could say that these societies have refused to be
locked in this ridiculous binary opposition between black and white as we are
here in America, and they've socially constructed race or ethnicity in a more
subtle way than we could ever imagine.

So it's - you could take your pick. The history of each of these countries
involves, first of all, a tremendous influx of slaves, of blackness, followed
by, Terry, a period of whitening. In Brazil it's called Branqueamento.

GROSS: That's one of the things I found really amazing, that there was actually
policies in some of these countries to bring in more Europeans, and the subtext
was to whiten the complexion of the country.

Mr. GATES: Yeah, well, let's take Brazil. As I said, Brazil got 4.8 million
Africans arriving in the slave trade. And remember, Brazil did not abolish
slavery until 1888, which is very, very recently. Cuba, 1886; Brazil, 1888. So
Brazil the second-largest black nation in the world, using our definitions of

But simultaneously, between 1884 and 1939, Brazil imported 4.0 million
Europeans and another 185,000 Japanese in a conscious policy called
Branqueamento, which is meant to whiten the country.

Mexico had a policy of whitening. Cuba had a policy of whitening, and those
policies persisted well into the 20th century.

GROSS: But let me understand this more clearly. So in the countries that had
this policy of whitening, and they brought in Europeans - you mean, can't
exactly bring in Europeans and say okay, so now we want you to have sexual
relationships with people of color so that your children will be whiter. I
mean, like how, exactly, was that supposed to work?

Mr. GATES: Let's see: a little rum, a little heat, a little merengue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GATES: You know, what's that a prescription for?

GROSS: Were they just bringing in men and not families?

Mr. GATES: Well, there were obviously more men that came, but they were trying
to do two things: first of all, bring in when they could, white families, so
that the white population, per se, would increase, and white people would marry
white people. So the quote-unquote "number of pure white people," as it were,
would increase in relationship to the number of quote-unquote "pure black

But they also presumed, because so many of these indentured immigrants would be
men, that interracial sexual liaisons would ensue. And indeed they did. So that
whitening was to be achieved in two ways: white on white, as it were - through
white couples, white people marrying white people; and, as it were, a browning
movement, when a series of racial gradations would be created through
interracial sexuality.

GROSS: Now, you found that in a couple of countries, at least a couple of
countries, in Latin America, that the census does not include race. And that
may seem kind of liberating, like you're not defining yourself by race. But it
turns out there was a downside to that, as well.

Mr. GATES: Absolutely. In Mexico, my hero, President Vicente, was part of a
movement - now he was elected in 1829 - but he's part of a movement earlier on,
so that by 1822, it is decided that no public record, no census, will ever
record race, forever, in Mexico. And they all thought this was a liberal thing
because if you don't have races, you can't have racism. That's how the argument

Well, there's a slight problem with that. If - because of historical reasons
the people who are disproportionately discriminated against happen to be that
group of people with dark skin, kinky hair and thick lips, how do you count
them if you don't have a census category?

So the most vibrant political movements in both Peru and Mexico, today,
involving race, have to do with fighting for the right to have race
reintroduced in the federal census. And in spite of the fact that just
recently, two years ago, the Peruvian government apologized - did something

It apologized to its Afro descendants, as they're called there, for historical
discrimination, didn't mention slavery, but it mentioned anti-black racism, and
that's quite progressive. In spite of that, there is no indication that
categories of black or brown, Negro or mulatto will be introduced on the
census. And until that's done, political activists can't organize to argue for
things like affirmative action or more equal opportunity because they have no

A great academic told me that he went to the government to complain about the
lack of blacks in higher education, and he said that there were so few blacks
in higher education because of historical racism, and he was told: we don't
have racism because we don't have races. And if you can't count the race, then
you can't have racism. And that is the pernicious argument that they're trying
to fight with this movement to expand the categories on the federal census.

GROSS: So it didn't have legislated racism like we did in the United States,
where we had, you know, segregation. But so it was a kind of ad hoc racism,

Mr. GATES: Yeah, it was de facto rather than de jure. In Cuba, there weren't
laws against blacks doing this, but there were social customs; which Fidel
Castro - you can say what you want about the evils of communism and all the
things that were wrong about the communist revolution in Cuba - but one of the
things that many people, black people and many academics told me, that the
Cuban revolution got right, was that it ended all these informal practices.
Like social clubs, blacks couldn't go to the beaches; interracial marriage. And
the same thing obtained throughout much of Latin America obvious.

Abdias Nascimento - the Nelson Mandela of Brazil who just died, really a great
man, at the age of 96 - I think the height of traveling around these countries
and interviewing people was actually meeting him, because he had been my hero
for so long.

He said to me that Jim Crow segregation did our people - the African-Americans
- a favor because we had something to rail against. He said they never had a
civil rights movement because they had no de jure segregation. They had no
legal segregation. So it was like trying to combat a chimera, you know, that
there was nothing that they could touch, could grasp to fight.

And people would say again, well, what are you talking about? You have - you
work hard, you can make it. Show me the law that prevents you from making it.
Where in fact, the overwhelming percent of the people living in the favellas
are people of obvious African descent.

GROSS: The favellas are the slums?

Mr. GATES: Yeah, like "The City of God," we all know that movie. The favellas
are the slums, and they're disproportionately black and brown.

GROSS: So if you're just joining us, my guest is Henry Louis Gates, and his new
book is called "Black in Latin America," and it's a companion to a PBS series
that he reported for in April. And he's also the director of the W. E. B. Du
Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Henry Louis Gates, and his new
book, "Black in Latin America," is about the repercussions of slavery in Latin
America and the Caribbean. And he's also the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois
Institute for African and African American Research.

GROSS: You know, one of the things I find interesting, so much of your book is
about the, you know, the color differentiations in Latin American countries and
how they don't identify as having African ancestry, even though African
ancestry is such an essential part of Latin America.

But, you know, when a Latin American comes to the United States, like they're
just Latin American. You know, most - so many Americans can't even distinguish
between what's the difference between Dominican and Mexican and Brazilian. Do
you know? It's a brown person, and there's going to be discrimination based on

Mr. GATES: Absolutely. When - my favorite country to explore this question was
the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic - I love the people, I love
merengue, I love the food, I love its great traditions. But in the Dominican
Republic, I spent two weeks asking people who would definitely be called black
in this country how they would describe themselves.

And to a woman or a man, they each described themselves as indio, indio, though
overwhelmingly, the mitochondrial DNA of each - I think according to one
scholar 84 percent of the country, the mitochondrial DNA, your mother's
mother's mother's DNA goes straight back to Africa.

Now, they are a mixed people, and they are more mixed than their neighbors in
Haiti because of the peculiarities of the history of slavery. They had a
cattle-based economy, and their slaves came early on, and the roles in the
cattle industry tended to make people more equal. So there was much more

But when I asked who's black, then, who's Negro, you know what they said? They
said: Oh, the Haitians. The Haitians are the Negros. We don't have any of them

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GATES: I asked Juan Rodriguez(ph), one of the people I interviewed, a
cultural anthropologist, when he found out that he was black. And he said -
because he was very proud. He said I'm a black Dominican. This is a problem for
our country.

So I said: Juan, why are you different? How do you know that you're black? When
did you find that out? Did your parents teach you? He said: My parents? I found
out when I went to New York.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GATES: He wants all the Dominicans to have to go to New York because they
undergo this transformation of identification.

GROSS: So how do you think your skin color might have affected you if you were
growing up, say, in Brazil?

Mr. GATES: Well, my father, God rest his soul, worked for 37 years in a paper
mill in the daytime and was a janitor at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone
Company at night in the hills of West Virginia, Piedmont, West Virginia.

So I - judging from other people in my social class, which would have been
working class, that I see today in each of these countries, we wouldn't be
having this interview. I never would have gotten into Yale because I was part
of the affirmative action generation.

The class of '66 at Yale had six black guys to graduate. The class that entered
with me in September of 1969 had 96 black men and women. Was there a genetic
blip in the race that all of a sudden there were 90 smart black people? Of
course not.

You know, Barack Obama, would he have gotten into Columbia and Harvard Law
School without affirmative action? I doubt it, you know, though he's a
brilliant man. There were just strict racist quotas at historically white
colleges on the number of us who could matriculate there. And generally you had
to be a rich kid or the child of a doctor, lawyer or politician or something,
and that would have excluded me - no matter how intelligent I may not may not
be, or certainly would have excluded President Obama, given his class

So if you consider that and then drop us into Brazil or Peru or Haiti, no, I
would not be a professor at Harvard, and I would not be making films for PBS,
and I wouldn't have written any of the books that I've written.

Race was a tremendous obstacle and is a tremendous obstacle in each of these
countries. And I would say fleeing blackness is a consistent theme that I saw.
That the lighter you were - it's like we used to say, my father used to say,
his generation, our generation: If you're white, you're all right, if you're
black, get back, if you're brown, stick around.

And that simple little phrase obtains throughout each of these countries. And
now, because of scholars - white, black and brown - insisting on retrieving the
history of African culture in these countries; and because of David Eltis'
trans-Atlantic slave trade database, and because of conscious policies starting
to trickle down from various aspects of the governments in different - in these
different societies, it's beginning to change. There's more of a black
consciousness movement.

GROSS: So one of the series that you did for PBS was about genealogy. And you
had several high-profile Americans do their genealogy, you know, through their
DNA to see what really - what were their roots really. So you did it yourself,
too. What did you learn about your own genetic background that surprised you

Mr. GATES: Well, for me, the most shocking thing, the most amazing thing, was
my admixture. And your admixture, Terry, is your percentage of African
ancestry, Native American ancestry or Asian ancestry and European ancestry. And
Dr. Rick Kittles - a black geneticist who now teaches at the University of
Illinois Medical School, Chicago Circle - revealed to the world that I, the
director of the Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research,
was half a white man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GATES: That my admixture was almost exactly 50-50 African and European. It
was quite an astonishing moment for me. I had no idea. And my family on both
sides always said we have Native Americans. Every black American thinks that
they have a tremendous amount of Native American descent. Very few African-
Americans have any Native American descent. I had zero Native American
ancestry, zero Native American DNA.

And the real stopper is that if we did the Y DNA, which only men have and you
get from your father, if we tested the Y DNA of all the black men, say, in the
NBA or all the black men in America, one in three of us, including me, one in
three - actually about 35 percent, a little bit more than one in three - of us
descend not from a black man at all but from a white man who impregnated a
black woman under horrible conditions in slavery.

GROSS: Henry Louis Gates will be back in the second half of the show. His new
book is called "Black in Latin America." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with Henry Louis Gates, whose
new book is called "Black in Latin America." Gates directs the W.E.B. DuBois
Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard. He's hosted 11
PBS specials, including ones in which people trace their genealogy, through
DNA, and found surprising information about their ethic origins. Gates found
out through his DNA that his genetic makeup is 50 percent African and 50
percent European.

So finding out that your DNA was like 50 percent white and 50 percent black...

Prof. GATES: African.

GROSS: African.

Prof. GATES: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Did that change your identity in any way?

Prof. GATES: No, I thought it was cool. You know, I thought, you see what I
love about our use of the DNA in the PBS series, is that it exposed the notions
of racial purity. No black person that we have tested is 100 percent African,
no matter how dark they are. I tested Don Cheadle, Chris Rock who are darker
and both make jokes about being dark. And one of the reasons we have different
criteria for selecting people to be in the series and one is phenotype.

I wanted medium brown black people, light-complected black people and darker
black people, and these are just facts of biological life. Not one is 100
percent African. We have never tested in 100 percent African, African-American.
So that means that no matter what the laws were in the daytime Terry, when the
lights came down, everybody was sleeping with everybody else.

Now that's, I don't mean to elide the horrendous tradition of brutality and
rape and coercion that figure suggests. But also we found there were willing
relationships. Morgan Freeman's ancestors, his great-grandfather was white, his
great-grandmother was black. They had children during slavery, so would just
presume rape. But after 1870, they lived together. They couldn't get married in
Mississippi. But they even died together. We found the gravestones, they were
buried right next to each other. It's enormously complicated.

It's difficult to generalize, though generally we can say that the bulk of
those interracial relationships were in slavery and could not possibly have
been between two equals and no doubt reflected force or coercion.

GROSS: So I'm going to change the subject for a second, and bring up something
you're properly like really tired of talking about, but we've never talked
about it on the show - you and I have not talked about it. And I'm thinking of
the July 2009 incident.

Prof. GATES: Oh, what happened there? I still mean. I was filming a new series.
That's what you're referring to?


(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, as everybody knows, you were coming home from a trip and realized
you were locked out of your home, so your driver helped you break into your
home so you could get in. A neighbor or a passerby or reported it as breaking
and entering. Sergeant James Crowley showed up to see what was up. He asked you
to step outside. We refused and thus ensued a now famous conflict to which
President Obama intervened and brought you both or a beer summit with the
president and the vice president. So a very, kind of famous, incident that
President Obama tried to make into a teachable moment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. GATES: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What did you get out of that? What's like the moral of the story for

Prof. GATES: Well, I was returning from filming Yo-Yo Ma's ancestry in China.
So I'm pretty pumped up, also exhausted. I'd spent the night in New York. And
someone had broke, tried to break into my house while I was in China. That
wasn't reported. That's why the door was locked. I had my key.

GROSS: Oh, I didn't know that part.

Prof. GATES: Yeah. And a man named Dres(ph) who's Moroccan was driving me. And
he's a friend. He's a big man. And I was calling - my house is owned by Harvard
- so I was calling the real estate office. So then I said Dres, just put your
shoulders against it and it'll fix the lock because the lock is jammed anyway.
So he did, and this very nice lady was walking by. And then the story falls
apart, because according to police, there's one story; according to her,
there's another story. But essentially, it's reported two black guys are
breaking into this house.

And then this police officer shows up and asked me to step out on the porch and
I said no, I didn't think that was a good idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. GATES: Just by his tone. And then you know all the details after that.

GROSS: So what was the moral of the story for you? What did you get out of all
the different ways that the story has played out, including a meeting with the
President Obama.

Prof. GATES: It's very interesting. My secretary of 16 years, Joanne Kendall,
she was shocked. She told me that in spite of working for me for 16 years, of
being in African American Studies, she did not realize the depth of racism and
hatred could manifest itself. These were - she was fielding phone calls, just
from lunatics. I mean people saying things, that I should die, I shouldn't go
here, or there for my children, my family could be killed. But the day after
the beer summit, all the phone calls and all the hate mail went away.

Now I don't know where those people went. But I know that what Barack Obama did
was brilliant. Because it brought to people who were afraid of each other, me
and Officer Crowley - it turns out, by the way, we did Officer Crowley's DNA.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. GATES: It turned out Terry, that we did Officer Crowley's DNA and he and
I are both descendents from something called the Ui Neill haplotype. Eight
percent of all the men in Ireland have the same identical Y DNA genetic
signature, so Officer Crowley and I are distant cousins. And he and I have
gotten to know each other and we have very friendly communication. And I can't
speak for him, but I think that it was, our actions were defined by, you know,
fear and tremendous amount of anxiety. And I hope that it would be a lesson for
the police department in how to avoid making a similar kind of mistake. And I
hope it would be a lesson for those people being questioned by the police, to
be as cooperative as possible, because you’re essentially powerless. You know,
all you can do is be as respectful as you possibly can be.

But I also hope that what President Obama did helps us to understand the
communication across racial lines, even at times of intense anxiety or
animosity, is the ultimate solution. That it's better to stick to people down
and let them talk to each other and let the whole country talk about it, which
they did, than to allow us to go to our separate corners and continue to hate
each other.

GROSS: Well, Henry Louis Gates, it's been great to talk with you again. Thank
you so much.

Prof. GATES: Thank you. Terry. Thank you for having me on the program.

GROSS: Henry Louis Gates directs the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and
African-American Research at Harvard. His new book is called "Black in Latin

You can read an excerpt on our website,

Coming up, Brendan Gleeson, who stars in the new film "The Guard" co-stared in
"In Bruges" and played Mad-Eye Moody in three Harry Potter films.

This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
(Soundbite of music)

Brendan Gleeson, On 'Guard' As A Small-Town Cop


You may have seen our next guest, Iris actor Brendan Gleeson, in a half-dozen
films and not knowing his name. He played Mad-Eye Moody in three Harry Potter
films. He starred with Colin Farrell in the film "In Bruges." And also appeared
in "Gangs of New York," "Cold Mountain," "28 Days Later" and "Braveheart." And
he won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the HBO movie
"Into the Storm."

Gleeson starts with Don Cheadle in the new film "The Guard." It's a dark comedy
set in rural Ireland. Gleason plays a seasoned but eccentric policeman who has
to work with an American FBI agent, played by Cheadle, on an international drug
smuggling case.

Gleeson spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Let's start with a scene
from "The Guard." Gleason and Cheadle's characters are having tea, talking
about how to proceed with the case.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Guard")

Mr. BRENDAN GLEESON (Actor): (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle) So what do you have
planned for your day?

Mr. DON CHEADLE (Actor): (as FBI agent Wendell Everett) Well, we obviously
don’t know who killed McCormick or why. And there's no real useful forensic
evidence at the crime scene, so I thought that we might start by canvassing the
neighborhood around where the body was discovered - see if anybody might have
heard something. You know, we also have to consider the fact that McCormick was
probably reconnoitering drop off points all along the coast. Sergeant?

(Soundbite of snapping)

Mr. GLEESON: (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle) What? Sorry. You lost me at we.

Mr. CHEADLE: (as FBI agent Wendell Everett) We. You and I.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle) It's my day off. Did I not tell you?

Mr. CHEADLE: (as FBI agent Wendell Everett) It's your day off?

Mr. GLEESON: (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle) (unintelligible).

Mr. CHEADLE: (as FBI agent Wendell Everett) Let me get this straight. We're
investigating a murder and the trafficking of over half a million dollars.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle) Billion.

Mr. CHEADLE: (as FBI agent Wendell Everett) Half a billion dollars worth of
cocaine and you're telling me it's your day off.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle) I'm sure 24 hours won't make any

Mr. CHEADLE: (as FBI agent Wendell Everett) Twenty-four hours won't make any

Mr. GLEESON: (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle) (Unintelligible) these cop shows on
telly, but it doesn't matter in my experience anyway. Now, why do you keep
repeating everything I say.

DAVE DAVIES: Well, Brendan Gleeson, welcome to FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: How do you stand it?

DAVIES: That's, of course, you and Don Cheadle in your new film, "The Guard."
You know, I raided the production notes to this film, you were quoted as saying
after you read the part, "anybody who didn’t take that part should lock himself
into a small room and shoot himself."

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Describe this character Gerry Boyle.

Mr. GLEESON: Well, I mean he's a lot of things but essentially he is a
policemen who reads a lot, watches a lot of movies, drinks too much and
basically is going slowly out of his mind. And because of lack of things to
engage his intellect with – he has a number of people in his life, not many,
his mother being one of them, who was not well, and very few other people,
really. So he has become cynical and a little bored and he likes to ruffle
people's feathers. So he's a kind of a lonely cynic waiting for something to

DAVIES: Anybody you drew on for this role?

Mr. GLEESON: Not specifically. I mean I would have met men like this quite a
lot, people who are underused a little bit and to have terribly sharp wit and
pretend to be very, very stupid. It seems to be quite a common thing,
particularly in the countryside in Ireland, that I don't know whether it comes
from going to market or whatever, but countrymen, quite a lot of the time
pretend to be incredibly stupid so that you underestimate them and not really
understand who you're dealing with. And I think this guy is very reminiscent of

DAVIES: Right. Now, this takes place in a little town in western Ireland called
Connemara, which is a real place, right?

Mr. GLEESON: Well, Connemara is a district, really. It's west of Galway City
and it kind of encompasses quite a large area, really, for Ireland. And much of
it is Gaelic speaking. And it has a particular kind of magical sort of appeal
for people in Ireland. It is rural and it changes and reinvents itself all the
time. But it's held onto the language, which is unusual in Ireland. There only
maybe three, maybe four places in Ireland where Gaelic is spoken as a living
language and Connemara is one of them. And so it kind of represents a place
that not everybody can break into, anyway, in terms of understanding exactly
what's going on. And so Gerry Boyle would be very much a product of that, in
the sense that it's very difficult to know exactly what's going on in Gerry's
head at any point anyway.

DAVIES: Right. And he has great fun when the FBI agent, Everett, goes around
and tries to interview people. And even when they understand his English they
will not speak to him in English.

Mr. GLEESON: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah, because they understand that he's an FBI
man and therefore he's associated with authority and the law and they prefer to
keep things going the way they like to keep things going, and that they just,
there's a history there of not colluding with the law too often. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: Gerry and Wendell kind of agree that it’s sort of Compton-esque in
that regards in the attitude to authority.

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guest is actor Brendan Gleeson. He stars
in the new film "The Guard."

You started acting later than a lot of people. You taught school for 10 years
and then at age 34, I gather, went into acting full-time. At one of the early
roles I believe was with the TV drama "The Treaty," where you auditioned for
the role of Michael Collins, the Irish national leader.

Mr. GLEESON: Right.

DAVIES: And I read that you wanted the role more with a tantrum then with a
reading. Is this true?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: It is true, because I'll tell you why and it still annoys me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: I had read Tim Pat Coogan's "Michael Collins" and he did a
wonderful work on "Michael Collins." Is such a fascinating character. The next
thing was they were making this TV film of "The Treaty." But I was asked to go
into audition but they would not tell me what was going to audition for. Had
auditions can be really nasty in that way. Sometimes they give you lines.
Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they tell you the character. Sometimes they
don't. And I find it really insulting and so I went in, in a fit of pique
anyway, and I said if they're going to tell me now that I have to addition for
"Michael Collins" without giving me any script or anything it's just not fair.
And I went in and I attacked the director as soon as I heard it was going to be
for "Michael Collins." And I said if I had known about this I could have
prepared properly and I started giving out to them in just, I really did lose
my temper actually. And he said hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: ...that's very like Collins. And he told me afterwards hmm, we
might have to pin your ears back and all this kind of stuff. But actually I did
kind of feel like that. I kind of felt they should treat people with more
respect. But in the end it worked to my advantage because I got the job.

DAVIES: You got a role in "Braveheart" as one of the friends of the Mel Gibson
character, William Wallace. Was that like a breakthrough for you?

Mr. GLEESON: I was doing a play when Mel came over - when Mel Gibson came over
and was talking about doing "Braveheart." And he came to see the play and had a
chat with me afterwards and I met him. We had a good chat. I really enjoyed his
take on the whole thing. And we talked a lot about, you know, history being
written by the winners and all that kind of thing, and it was a fascinating
project, one way or the other. And then he came. I was performing in a
(unintelligible) that night and I think the following night, or whatever, I was
ready to go on stage and I got a call, and it was Mel, and he's saying so, you
want to do this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: I say, well, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: And it was a fantastic moment. But, yeah, I owe a lot to that
production. It was the most phenomenal thing, went on for about six weeks, I
think, in Scotland and then the four-and-a-half months at home in Ireland. And
just to be working at level with the amount of extras and the whole production
was such a massive undertaking. It made a huge difference to me.

DAVIES: You were in the film "In Bruges" with Colin Farrell in 2008. And I just
loved this film. And it gave - it had a similar feel to your new movie "The
Guard." And I had to wonder if they were by the same director. It turns out
they were directed by brothers.

Mr. GLEESON: Yeah.

DAVIES: John McDonagh directs "The Guard." Martin McDonagh, his brother,
directed "In Bruges." I thought we would just listen to a clip. You want to
just tell us the basic storyline of this film, what your character is?

Mr. GLEESON: Of "In Bruges?"


Mr. GLEESON: Basically there are two hit men - arrive in Bruges - sitting in
Belgium, which is an extraordinary city. It's a little medieval haven that was
left behind when the canal changed, and it's kind of a very beautiful little
city. But not and none of that goes on and these two guys are there running
away from a job that has gone around and Colin Ferrell is the younger guy and
I'm the older guy. And the younger guy, it was his first job. I kind of got him
in on it. He kept pestering me and I brought him in and it all went horribly
wrong and we ended up in Bruges just laying low.

DAVIES: Right. And one of the things that went wrong was that Ray, who's played
by Colin Farrell, had actually ended up killing a boy.


DAVIES: And the clip I wanted to play was a moment where you’ve been touring
some of the sites and have seen all this medieval art, which with religious and
moral themes. And you have a kind of a conversation about morality in your own
lives. And one linguistic thing I want to explain is this a discussion of the
term lollipop man, which I gather is a...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: ...a school crossing guard, right?

Mr. GLEESON: That's exactly what it is.

DAVIES: So that will make it a little easier to follow the...

Mr. GLEESON: Yeah. The (unintelligible) looks like a lollipop. Yeah.

DAVIES: Right. So this is Brendan Gleeson and Colin Ferrell from the film "In

(Soundbite of movie, "In Bruges")

Mr. COLIN FARRELL (Actor): (as Ray) Yes, I have killed people. Not many people.
Most of them are not very nice people, apart for one person.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Ken) Who’s that?

Mr. FARRELL: (Ray) Danny Alaban's(ph) brother. He was just trying to protect
his brother, like you or I would. He's just a lollipop man. He came at me with
a bottle. What you going to do to shut him down?

Mr. GLEESON: (as Ken) In my book though, sorry. If someone comes at you with a
bottle, that is a deadly weapon, he's got to take the consequences. You know,
that may hurt, I know that he's also just trying to protect his brother, you

Mr. FARRELL: (as Ray) I know.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Ken) But a bottle, that can kill you. If it's a case of you or
him, it becomes at you with his bare hands that'll be different. And that
wouldn't have been fair.

Mr. FARRELL: (as Ray) Well, technically your bare hands can kill somebody too.
They can be deadly weapons too. I mean what if he knew karate, say? You said he
was a lollipop man.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Ken) He was a lollipop man. What's a lollipop man doing of the
(unintelligible) karate?

Mr. FARRELL: (as Ray) I'm just saying.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Ken) How old is he?

Mr. FARRELL: (as Ray) Like 50.

Mr. GLEESON: (as Ken) Well, with a 50-year-old lollipop man doing
(unintelligible) karate? What was he, a Chinese lollipop man?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: And that's Colin Farrell and our guest Brendan Gleeson from "In
Bruges." A lot of this is about this city Bruges, this medieval city. Do you
know how the elders and the citizens of Bruges reacted to it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: I do know how they reacted to it. First of all, before we even
start shooting they started putting up placards on the streets saying this is
where this is filmed, and they were really smart. We went in, we met the mayor,
and I said listen mirror, I just want to thank... because the city is
beautifully lit at night. You know, you walk through and it's you think, it
looks like a film set. And I just said, I'd just like to thank you Mr. Mayor
for lighting our set for us, you know? And, of course, he laughed and they had
absolutely embraced the film, even though there were some things that were said
about Bruges that were not particularly complimentary. In the film they got the
bigger picture and they embraced us when we went there. And then when we left
they began, you know, once the film came out the tourism figures rose, went up
by 33 percent.


Mr. GLEESON: That's not a joke. That's a statistic. And so they got it, and
they had no problem laughing at themselves at any point and people have just
been flocking to see this place ever since.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Brendan Gleeson. His new film is "The Guard."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guest is actor Brendan Gleeson. Now he
stars in the new film "The Guard." You know, in 2009 you played Winston
Churchill for the film "Into the Storm," a BBC/HBO production. And this is
interesting because, you know, he is the very symbol of English power. And
earlier in your career you played the nationalist, Irish nationalist Michael
Collins, who had opposed Churchill. Churchill, of course, was instrumental in
the partition of Ireland.

Did it give you any pause to play Churchill?

Mr. GLEESON: It did certainly. Thaddeus O'Sullivan, who directs the film is
another Irishman, which was kind of bizarre. And so we did a comer test. I mean
I was going to have to jump up a few years anyway and it wasn't just a feeling
of why an Irishman play or a southern Irishman play with Winston Churchill.
There were things about the casting that...

DAVIES: Big things. Yeah.

Mr. GLEESON: ...yeah, I guess a whole cultural leap that I wasn't sure I could
make in terms of the aristocracy. You know, he wasn't the aristocracy and it's
not something I'm particularly familiar with. So I didn't want to, you know,
the part of my own miscasting apart from anything else. And so we did a camera
test, basically, and we did, we played out a number of the scenes. And it
became sold chalk talk of dramatic possibilities it became impossible to turn
it down. It kind of felt, okay, we have o to go for it.

DAVIES: Well, let's listen to one of those moments. This is a moment in the
film where the English army is facing annihilation in France. This is before
the evacuation of the army at Dunkirk. And you, as Churchill, are meeting with
your advisors. And one of them says that, you know, we're in a terrible spot
and the Italians have reached out and suggested they might broker a deal with
Hitler to deliver Britain from this disaster. And that you as Churchill
respond. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "Into the Storm")

Mr. GLEESON: (as Winston Churchill) ...unless (unintelligible) is prepared to
act as an intermediary between us, the French, and Hitler.

Unidentified Actor #1: (as character) Any hint of negotiation will destroy the
morale of our people.

Unidentified Actor #2: (as character) I think perhaps not in the present

Mr. GLEESON: (as Winston Churchill) The ambassador was most conciliatory or at
all extreme, very well mannered. Of course, they would expect something in
exchange. Of course.

Unidentified Actor #1: (as character) Such as what?

Mr. GLEESON: (as Winston Churchill) Mortar perhaps. Gibraltar. Perhaps Uganda.

Unidentified Actor #1: Winston?

Mr. GLEESON: (as Winston Churchill) My dear Edward, if I thought we could get
out of our present difficulties by giving up Malta, or Gibraltar or a view of
the African colonies, I'd jump at it. But Hitler cannot be trusted. No point in
talking with the (unintelligible).

Unidentified Actor #2: (as character) And French are very keen. Go give it a

Unidentified Actor #2: (as character) There, the French. They're not prepared
to fight, let them give up. I will not allow this country to be dragged down as
simple as (unintelligible). What is the point of becoming a slave state when
stand for the love of God the face that? We could lose a quarter of a million
men at Dunkirk. Nations that go down fighting rise up again. There is a
surrender tamely. I'm finished.

Unidentified Actor #2: (as character) We cannot win this war without a
devastating loss of life and resources. You'll destroy everything you most want
to preserve.

DAVIES: And that's from the film "Into the Storm." No mistaking Winston
Churchill in that clip played, by our guest Brendan Gleeson. You know, it's a,
it might be a little intimidating to take on such an iconic figure, you know,
one that everyone has popular images and, you know, recollections of.

Mr. GLEESON: Yeah.

DAVIES: Yeah. What was the trick to getting him you see?

Mr. GLEESON: I mean there was two challenges. One is the iconic figure we all
are familiar with, and the sound is so familiar and you have to get that right.
But there is a certain amount of mimicry that will get you half the way there.
What's more intimidating for me is the private voice. You know, how do they
speak with planning his wife's, you know, he the speechifying the whole time,
it would be very dull and not at all natural for him to do so.

The initial temptation was to go down very low and do all this kind of thing.
Whereas, in actual fact, what we listened to the speeches, it was closer to my
own picture than I would have thought and we tried to get the boys into my own
head so I couldn't believe myself when I spoke and that others could believe
then that the character was cool, you know, it purported to be. But that was
the biggest one. I mean after that body language that all the rest of it is
kind of a doddle(ph). It's the whole notion of actually speaking with his voice
and believing yourself while you do so.

DAVIES: Well, you know, the other thing that's a challenge here is your big
guy. You're what, six foot two? Churchill was short and portly. How did you
manage that physically?

Mr. GLEESON: It's a great excuse to put on weight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: You could put on weight, you foreshorten yourself. and then so I
can be nice and easy with everything that passed my lips for while until I have
to kind of just knock it on the head and say take it easy. In fact, it took me
a couple of years to allow me to get rid of it. But there are various tricks
that you can use to actually help you, and they actually casts "Into the Storm"
very well in that regard. You know, people were, they cast quite total actors
around me which made it very easy. And once or twice I did a little Groucho
walk, stuff would allow me to kind of stay below the general level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLEESON: And. You know, there are you little tricks you can use. But
generally people forget. If you set up a few things early on. If you set up a
few, you know, tableaux, you can get away with murder afterwards. Once people
buy it and believe it, the stature thing, it becomes less and less important as
the thing that goes through.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Brendan Gleeson, thanks so much. It's been fun.

Mr. GLEESON: Thanks, Dave. Thanks a lot.

GROSS: Brendan Gleeson spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Gleason
stars in the new film "The Guard." You can download Podcasts of our show on our

(Soundbite of song, "Shiny Stockings")

GROSS: We'll close with this tenor saxophonist Frank Foster's best known
composition "Shiny Stockings." Foster died yesterday at the age of 82. Here's
the Count Basie's band 1955 recording of "Shiny Stockings" featuring Foster who
also did the arrangement.

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song, "Shiny Stockings")

(Soundbite of music)

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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