A Familiar Face

Brooding Ciarán Hinds appreciates the human side of Steven Spielberg's Munich.

Dark and brooding are the traits that best describe Carl, an Israeli expert at cleaning up state-sponsored murders who is a central character in the latest Steven Spielberg film, Munich.

He is a cold, scientific man with neat hair, horn-rimmed specs and a very Jewish sounding accent. However the actor who plays this character is an Irishman from north Belfast.

The actor is Ciarán Hinds and although he now lives in London and Paris with his Vietnamese wife and their child he is still fond of his Belfast roots.

On meeting him in Dublin just before the release of Munich, Hinds was far from the dark and brooding character that he portrays in the film. He is a warm, jovial and engaging man, delighted to be meeting someone from a Belfast newspaper despite the mountain of interviews he has already done even though it is only 11am.

He looks younger than in the film and has lost the glasses but the presence with which he graces the big screen is apparent in life also. His accent has been softened by the years he has spent living and working in London and elsewhere but once the conversation began in earnest his Belfast lilt became unmistakable.

"I was travelling back from Donegal over Christmas and we got into Belfast a little early so we headed up to Salisbury Avenue to see the house I grew up in, the chalet," Hinds explained.

"I was an altar boy at St Therese's on the Somerton Road just off the Antrim Road, I remember going through the school, Bearnegeeha, from my house to get to the church. Jees, woosh, that was a long time ago."

Munich uses the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich as its pretext. In 1972 the world may have been gripped by the brutal nature of the violence in Germany but Hinds remembers that Belfast was suffering from its own brutal violence.

"1972 was the year of sectarian tit-for-tat killings, the same year as Munich. But that wasn't the reason for doing the film, the reason was that this fantastic director was offering me a role in his film, and then you read the script and you think this is some heavy-duty material, this is grown up stuff, it is asking questions. What am I doing here? So it would have been churlish to say no.

"It is a film that plays on many levels; it is not clean, it is messy, it's political and it is opening up debates for people about retribution and injustice, about what has to be done. I just found it very interesting.

"Of course you know in Belfast two Prods got it and then two fenians got it and on the walls there was always graffiti about how many got what and you think to yourself, `this is obscene, this is human life we are talking about'.

"And that is why I think the violence in the film, when it comes, works, because it is messy it is not super-clean hit squads - these are people who are killing and are not that sharp at it - it is a different sense of taking a life."

Hinds' interest in acting began at home where his mother was an keen amateur dramatist and when he attended St Malachy's College on the Antrim Road he pursued that interest, participating in the many school productions.

He moved on from St Malachy's to attend university (he went to Queen's University to study law) but after a short spell decided that it was not for him and enrolled in London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

He began his stage career at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre as the rear end of a horse in a production of Cinderella.

Staying with the company for several years he starred in a number of productions including playing the lead roles in Arsenic and Old Lace and Faust.

His stage career has included working with The Field Day Company and he has starred in a number of productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including a world tour in the title role of Richard III.

However his film career began in 1981 in the movie Excalibur which boasted a cast rich in talented actors including Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Stewart.

Since that time he has had a rich and busy career on the stage, on film and on television. However, working with one of Hollywood's finest, Steven Spielberg, during a 12-week shoot in Malta and Budapest was an experience Hinds revelled in.

"He was absolutely fantastic to work with as an actor. Often there are directors who just want to direct and they say, `there's your lines' and that is it.

"The connection that Steven Spielberg has with the actors is fantastic, because he is very involved with the human race really, he makes stories about why people react the way they do and therefore as an actor there is full-on concentration about what you are doing.

"He listens to what you have to say and is like a great conductor listening to the instruments warming up and talking to each other but he is also very open to change, very fluid and precise, very specific.

"It is an alive process, he is constantly thinking and also there is a patience, `how long will the lights take to set up' he says, `an hour, okay lets do it', and then he will relax and wait.

"The atmosphere on set was not too noisy just as it should be, people communicating."

It is not everyday that Hinds gets to work on such high profile films but he is happy to be working regularly at the age of 53 and after many years in the business.

"It is not as if you have this great choice and you pick and choose, something arrives and you are grateful to do it. Unless you are one of these big stars you work as an actor and you see where it takes you.

"I had no aspirations to work in these big films I did theatre, I did plays, a little bit of television and then moved through, people might use you again because they like the quality that you had in something.

"I am pretty busy now but I am over 50, do you know what I mean?

"It is not as if you suddenly have a profile you just keep doing it."

Source: The Irish News
Author: A.P. Maginness
Date: January 28, 2006


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