From Belfast to Broadway ...via Rome, Paris and London

Actor Ciarán Hinds might know his cities, but fashion baffles him.

The scene: a room in New York's iconic Hotel Chelsea, with all its faded boho glamour and memories of sixties indulgence. The player: Ciarán Hinds, star of stage and film, hours before his next performance in a Broadway theatre a few blocks away. The clothes: Hugo Boss and Thomas Pink. The brief: to photograph the actor, all rough-hewn features and high cheekbones, in a fashion story that suggests a lover in waiting, or perhaps a brooding murderer in the making.

If the photographer knows the script, Hinds is more baffled. This is a man who normally dresses like a denizen of the city's East Village (heavy-duty denim, sweatshirts, a leather biker jacket) and couldn't care less about style.

The following week, recounting the shoot which happened on the cusp of his 55th birthday, Hinds reckons he was probably decked in designer stuff. "Labels mean nothing to me," he says. "It all looked nice, racks of stuff, but I know nothing about fashion." Cute.

Hinds hasn't even sat down at a table in the Spanish restaurant where we are escaping a blizzard when the waiter flies into paroxysms of delight. "You movie actor? Yes? No?"

Well, yes, responds Hinds, struggling to remove multiple layers of clothing. Hinds is taking a break from the theatre where he's winning acclaim in the Conor McPherson play, The Seafarer.

"...with Johnny Depp? That one with the window, yes? Queries the Spaniard.

"No, actually. Never made a movie with Johnny," replies Hinds, who has made films with just about every Hollywood luminary you might list.

"I know you. I seen you in lots of movies. Remind me," orders the waiter as the Northern Irishman raises puzzled eyebrows and broad shoulders, before persuading the fellow to bring us hot coffee and a menu.

"Remind me," repeats Hinds. We could be here all night, long after your Spanish waiter finishes his shift, if we trail through his back catalogue. And that's before we even consider Hinds's recent films - the powerfully eccentric masterpiece There Will Be Blood, starring a demonic Daniel Day-Lewis, and the flawed dramatic comedy Margot at the Wedding, featuring Nicole Kidman.

Directed by Noah Baumbach, Margot unravels the secrets and lies of a middle-class family who can do nothing right. Hinds plays Kidman's lover, Dick Koosman, a handsome, somewhat pompous best-selling author. The actor has three memorable scenes: one in which he clumsily inteviews Kidman's poisonous novelist character at a bookshop reading, another where he "beats the crap out of Jack Black, who I met minutes beforehand", and his finest moment, when he sticks his tongue into Kidman's ear after slowly licking her swanlike neck. "Hey, it's a tough job but someone's got to do it:"

Filming with Kidman - the eponymous Margot - was a masterclass, says Hinds. "We did the scene in the bookstore 12 times and every time she did it differently. She's an absolute perfectionist."

There Will Be Blood, nevertheless, is a far stronger film; a testosterone-fuelled depiction if oil lust versus religious fundamentalism. In it, Hinds plays Fletcher Hamilton, the right-hand man of Day-Lewis'' monstrous oil baron Daniel Plainview. Together they erect towering symbols of wealth and power across California, coaxing black gold from beneath its soil. Set in the early 20th century, the film establishes Day-Lewis as the greatest actor of his generation, insists Hinds, who has been friends with the reclusive Oscar and Bafta award winner for several years.

The pair are part of a band of thespian brothers, along with fellow Belfast boy Liam Neeson and Richard Graham - otherwise known as TF. "It's short for Toad F - for reasons too complicated to explain," says Hinds, "but involves Equity making him change his name." Together the four actors hang out a Graham's south London home whenever Day-Lewis is in town.

"I met (Day-Lewis) at a party at TF's house and we became good friends," says Hinds. He and Graham both have roots at the Citizens' Theatre, glasgow, the Gorbals institution which produced a generation of oustanding actors including David Hayman, Tim Roth and Rupert Everett. Hinds is in awe of Day-Lewis's spellbinding performance as Plainview, whose psychotic soul glitters behind malevolent eyes. "Don't ask what's going on behind those eyes," says Hinds with a shudder. "You don't want to know."

His own character, Fletcher, is Plainview's staunch, silent lieutenant, always at his side until the final third of the film. Fletcher fades inexplicably from the action after he's ordered to find a teacher for the tycoon's deaf son. "There was a lot more stuff filmed with me, but it's gone," says Hinds. "Anyway, it's Dan's movie." A Bafta and talk of an Oscar underlines that a few days after our meeting.

The film opens with a long, wordless sequence as Plainview toils underground in a small silver mine, fanatically, unceasingly hacking away with his pickhaxe. "All that labout you see on film, Dan did that for hours," says Hinds. "It was barbaric, almost inhuman, filthy work. It was amazing to watch, just incredible to see such commitment. Paul Thomas Anderson, the director, has made a movie that's thrilling and dangerously new. And he's young. Only 37. Wow."

Hinds is philosophical about career occasionally being reduced to mere cameos. "I'm a trailer-trash actor," he says with jestful laugh. A friend rang to other day and said, 'I just saw you in three trailers.' Sometimes the trailer is about the size of my performance. It doesn't worry me - I get to travel all over the world for free and make some fantastic movies with fabulous actors. I know some of my peers would cut off their right arms to be sharing the screen with Daniel Day-Lewis, for instance. Often I don't bother to see the films I've made, but I'm desperate to watch There Will Be Blood again."

Hinds will star in plenty more trailers in the next few weeks. He has a cameo opposite Colin Farrell in Martin McDonagh's audaciously violent film In Bruges. Then there's Stop Loss, the story of a young US soldier and his family in the aftermath of the Iraq war, in which he plays Ryan Phillippe's Texan father - "God, the accent was a struggle." He's also in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the story of a governess's friendship with a glitzy nightclub singer, set in 1930s London and co-starring Frances McDormand.

Having appeared in films with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren, his screen breakthrough was opposite Tom Hanks and Paul Newman in the 2002's Road to Perdition. But it was his role as Julius Caesar in the TV series Rome that raised eyebrows. The BBC-HBO collaboration was as renowned for its scenes of sexual athleticism as its scripts, but Hinds's memorable, slow-burning performance helped elevate it. Caesar obviously mesmerised Hinds, who speaks passionately of the role.

"My God, how often do you get to play someone who had so much going for him?" he says. "Apart from being a superb general and leader of an army, he was a brilliant soldier, horseman, orator - and a fantastic strategist. The man who made politics more democratic."

This Belfast-born son of a doctor and a schoolteacher has come a long way since hes debut 30 years ago, when he allegedly played the hind legs of pantomime horse in a Citizens's production of Cinderella.

"I have to correct this story once and for all," says Hinds in an unreconstructed Belfast accent, suppressing a smile. "I wasn't the back legs - I was the front legs. I wasn't that ugly." He was, however, very odd-looking at the time. "It was 1976 and I'd really long hair and a beard. I was known as the Charles Manson of the company, because I'd this big, hairy face. I had to cut the hair and shave off the beard, of course, but throughout rehearsals there was this sinister-looking maniac in the back row of the chorus. I was lucky to be there, because the late Robert David MacDonald - God rest his soul - said I did the worst audition the directors had ever seen."

When the facial hair came off, the Citizen's artistic triumvirate of MacDonald, Giles Havergale and Philip Prowse discovered a pair of cheekbones you could cut yourself on and a darkly brooding presence. Hinds was yet another mysteriously good-looking man to add to their glamorous roster, which included Alan Rickman and Pierce Brosnan. "It was their house style to have oceans of tall, thin, dark men around," says Hinds. "Giles, Philip and David gabe me a sense of myself; a sense of my own identity. They taught me how to be at ease with myself."

After Cinderella, Hinds was invited to stay on and play a couple of small parts. In the end, he was with the company for seven seasons, appearing in works by Noel Coward, Sean O'Casey and Shakespeare alongside Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Mike Gwilym.

Suddenly, Hinds is interrupted mid-sentence. The door of the restaurant bursts open and a man pokes his head round it, amid a swirl of snowflakes. He does a double-double take when he spots the actor, then challenges: "Name of five New York boroughs. "Unfazed, Hinds replies: "Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn..."

"Correct," the man replies and exits.

"Only in New York," says Hinds with a sigh. He has been based in the Big Apple since last autumn, becoming the toast of Broadway for his portrayal in The Seafarer of the devil in a trilby and an expensive suit. When he's not treading the boards or filming on location, he lives between London and Paris, with his partner Hélène Patarot and their 16-year-old daughter Aoife.

If Hinds has not interest in shopping, the women in his live more than make up for his lack of sartorial elegance. They've flown over from Paris a couple of times while he's been on Broadway, where he first appeared in 1999 in the National Theatre's renowned production of Closer. "Hélène and Aoife come to shop, not to see me," he says. "They trash my tiny apartment, leaving empty carrier bags everywhere. It drives me mad."

Patarot is an exquisitely beautiful French-Vietnamese actress and writer, whom Hinds met and fell in love with in 1987, when Peter Brooks cast them in his legendary production of The Mahabharata. They've been together since. Working with Brooks remains the greatest adventure of Hinds's life. He remembers those heady days with mixed feelings - he worried constantly that one day he would be found out, a fear that still haunts him.

"When I went to Paris, I was convinced I'd get the sack," he explains. "I'd been working in theatre for 10 years but I'd got into a lot of bad habits at the Citizens' - you know, they'd expect you to 'dazzle', but they wouldn't explain how. Sometimes there'd be a stageful of actors all doing their own dazzling - chaos.

"In The Mahabharata, I felt I had to go back to being a child again, to use only myself to communicate thoughts and feelings, rather than hiding behind technique and gorgeous costumes. Being with all these actors from different cultures - 16 nationalities - turned all my ideas about right and wrong upside down. You just get down to the basics of human beings. It also made me question why I wanted to be an actor."

When Hinds was growing up in Belfast he had no theatrical ambitions, although his mother was an accomplished amateur actress. The secong eldest of five, he had four sisters, three of whom survive - his sister Catriona also acts. His mother, now 87 "and still a beauty", is flying to New York next month to see her boy on Broadway-

As a child, Hinds was a talented Irish dancer, training fore more than 13 years with an inspirational teacher, Patricia Muholland. "She ran Irish ballet - not classical - classes. She used Irish dance with traditional music mime, gesture and drama to tell old legends of battles against fairies and wonderful romances about people falling in love. She was a huge influence on me. A great old girl. She made me fall in love with storytelling."

Does he still dance? Perhaps tough guys don't dance. "Sure, I dance," he replies, "especially when we come back to Scotland every other year for Hogmanay with all my old mates from the Citizens', although I don't do the full Irish bit, flinging my legs in the air. I only have to hear a good tune and my toes start tapping; I can't help myself." Whether he realises it or not, he's tap-dancing under the table.

And right on cue, here comes the waiter again. He's going to argue he's just seen Hinds with Johnny Depp in that musical, about the bloddy barber. Pretty soon we make a sharp exit, back into that New York blizzard, which this time doesn't seem quite as bad.

Source: The Herald Magazine

Author: Jackie McGlone

Date: February 23, 2008


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