Interview date: 11/23/2009
Run date: 12/04/2009
There was a time when Colm Meaney was known for his work as…well, let’s just say he was a Starfleet officer of some note and leave it at that. Besides, he’s had so many credits to his name since then that you almost certainly remember him for something else, anyway: “Con Air,” “The Commitments,” “Mystery, Alaska,” “Layer Cake,” and – most recently – “Law Abiding Citizen.” Once in awhile, though, Meaney still pops up on TV (“Law & Order,” “The Unit,” and even “The Simpsons”), and he’ll be doing so again when SyFy presents “Alice,” a modernization of Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice in Wonderland.” Bullz-Eye chatted with Meaney about how he came to play the King of Hearts and what it was like having Kathy Bates play his Queen, then asked him about some of the other projects he’s appeared in over the years.
Colm Meaney: Hi, Will, how are ye?
Bullz-Eye: I’m good. Good to speak to you!
CM: And you as well.
BE: First off, I’m a big fan and have been for a long time now.
CM: Oh, thank you! That’s always nice to hear.
BE: Makes for a nice start, doesn’t it? Well, down to business: you, sir, are the King of Hearts. What’s your Lewis Carroll background?
CM: Erm, well, it’s not very extensive. I mean, I’ve never played anything like that before, which was one of the reasons that I was thrilled to do it. Having two daughters ranging from…well, I’ve got a 4-year-old and a 24-year-old, so I’ve been through the whole thing once with the older one, and I’m just kind of going into that area with the younger one. It’s such a great fairytale for kids, and the King of Hearts has always been a fun character to think of playing.
BE: So what did you think about the modernization of the story?
CM: I thought it worked brilliantly! And, y’know, I would certainly watch it, as an audience member, because when I read the script, I found it really compelling. As an actor, when you look at a script for the first time, that’s one of the barometers. Is it a page-turner? Does it hold your attention? And it sure did. It was a great read, and you always hope that that’s going to transfer to the screen.
BE: Was this a case where they came looking for you specifically?
CM: Yeah, they called me up, but it was quite short notice, and…I can’t remember exactly what I was doing just before that, but it was a kind of thing where I went, “Oh, God, can we work the dates out? ‘Cause I’d really like to do it!” And we shot it quite quickly. For both Kathy (Bates) and I, it was pretty much…all of the King and Queen of Hearts stuff was shot in one long period. There was no going away and coming back three weeks later. We just did it all in one chunk. So it was great.
BE: Actually, that’s something I was going to ask you about. Obviously, given that she’s the Queen of Hearts, the majority of your scenes were with Kathy, but having not seen the entire production yet, I was wondering who else you got to work with.
CM: Well, basically, I…I’m just so removed, I can’t remember! Kathy was there for all of my scenes, I think, or at least she’s involved with them in some capacity.
BE: Had you worked with her prior to this?
CM: No, I hadn’t, and I’d been a huge admirer and a great fan. I’d sort of bumped into her socially a couple of times, but I’d never worked with her, and it was another compelling reason to do it. She’s an amazing woman!
BE: So did you get to interact with any other members of the cast, then?
CM: Well, you know, a lot of the people we were working with were local Vancouver hires whose names escape me right now, but it was a very good cast…and well cast. Great faces and great looks, you know?
BE: I wasn’t really familiar with Caterina Scorsone (the actress who plays Alice) prior to this, but from what I’ve seen thus far, she seems to do a good job.
CM: Yes, indeed, she does. For her scenes with Kathy, I was kind of an observer there, and it was wonderful to watch her work. She’s terrific.
BE: Now, there’s a considerable amount of green screen to be had in this particular film. How much of your work involved the process, and what are your thoughts on doing green screen?
CM: Well, I’m pretty familiar with it… (Starts to laugh) …from my years in space, you know?
CM: So it doesn’t bother me. Actually, for me in this, there wasn’t a huge amount of green screen. I think there were three or four scenes, but there wasn’t a huge amount of it for me, so it didn’t feel like I spent the whole time in front of the screen.
BE: So as far as your costuming, did you get to have any say in what you wore?
CM: No, because as I say, it was kind of short notice. It was already designed, put together, and pretty much set. But I wouldn’t have wished for anything else, because the drawings were fabulous and the clothes…when I tried them on, they were just wonderful. You know, the brown-red velvet look was just fantastic. (Laughs)
BE: I don’t know if you’ve gotten a copy of the promotional playing cards that they’ve put out for “Alice,” but your face is indeed gracing the King of Hearts in the deck.
CM: Oh, great! (Laughs) I’ve got to get hold of some, then. That’ll be a fun thing to have!
BE: And I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter, too, so I can say, “Daddy interviewed the King of Hearts today!” (Laughs) Well, I wanted to ask you about a couple of other things that you’ve worked on, but first off, I wanted to say that I really liked “A Lobster Tale.”
CM: (Chuckles) You know, so few people saw that film, and yet anybody who did says great things about it, which is very nice, because it was a film that I was very fond of. It’s just one of those that fell through the cracks. It didn’t get a great distribution. I’ve had a few of them in my career. (Laughs) But I’m very glad to hear that. I thought it was a delightful project.
BE: It was one where I hadn’t heard of it until a DVD was sent to me, but I said, “Okay, it’s Colm Meaney, I’ll check it out,” and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s a nice little family film.
BE: Do you enjoy doing that kind of film when the opportunities arise?
CM: Yeah, because I…well, you get a bit weary of the gangster genre or whatever, and it’s nice to do something that’s kind of sweet and that you can share with your kids, you know?
BE: I was very pleased to hear you turn up on “The Simpsons” a bit ago.
CM: (Laughs) Yeah, well, that was funny, because I’d met James Brooks at the Oscar Wilde, which is an Irish event every year during Oscar Week in Los Angeles. We’d known each other for many years. Our daughters went to the same high school in Los Angeles, so we’d kind of always bump into each other around the school, but he told me that he was doing a St. Patrick’s Day special, and I was very glad to do it. I thought it was a very, very funny episode.
BE: Do you ever get weary of playing “the Irishman,” as it were? Certainly, you come by it honestly, but…
CM: No, I mean…you know, I’ve been in the U.S. for 26 years or something like that, and I haven’t played that many here. What I tend to do is…I do go back to Ireland, and I’ll probably be doing a film in Ireland in January, and I guess that kind of keeps me classified as “the Irish actor,” but the last four or five projects that I’ve been in are either American or English, so I don’t feel terribly trapped in that. But sometimes, yeah, you would like to not be called “the Irish actor.” You’d prefer to just be called “the actor.”
BE: I actually have a framed “Commitments” poster on my wall, so now that that’s out there, it probably goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of the three Roddy Doyle adaptations you’ve been in. But, literally, I never fail to be on the floor with your delivery of the line, “Betcha U2 are shitting themselves.”
CM: (Cackles) Yeah, it was great writing. Great writing. They’ve actually just…I did an interview a couple of weeks ago because, believe it or not, they had never released “The Snapper” on DVD in Ireland. There was a huge demand for it, though. I did some promo for it on a radio show, and the host of the show said, “You know, we’ve had so many calls over the years from people saying, ’Where can we get a DVD of it?’” So finally they’ve released it there this month. It’s still a hugely popular film in Ireland. It’s amazing.
BE: What was your knowledge of Roddy Doyle’s books prior to taking on “The Commitments”?
CM: Nothing, really, because Alan Parker told me about it when we were doing a film called “Come See the Paradise.” He said to me when we were finishing that up, “I’ve got this book, it hasn’t been published yet, but it’s set in Ireland, and I really want to do it, and I’d love you to do it.” And I was thinking about how, oh, you always talk about how you want to work together again, but rarely does it ever actually happen. But Alan put that together very quickly, and within about four or five months, I think, he was shooting “The Commitments.” So we actually started “The Commitments” around the time the book was published, and Roddy was unknown. But I got to meet him during that, and obviously over the years I’ve gotten to know him. He did the screenplays for “The Snapper” and “The Van” as well, and he was a producer on both as well, so he was around a lot. But it’s just genius writing, you know?
BE: So did you actively pursue the continuation of playing Jimmy Rabbitte Sr. in the following two films, then?
CM: Well, Stephen Frears came on to direct “The Snapper,” and Stephen came to see me in Los Angeles and talk about it, because he wasn’t that familiar with my work, and I think he was…well, I think the only Irish actor he knew was Stephen Rea. (Laughs) So Stephen Fears and I had a meeting, sat down and talked about it, and he decided that, yeah, he’d go with me. And then, of course, it worked very well, so when it came to do “The Van,” it was no trouble. Stephen and I worked very well together and became very good friends.
BE: You’ve done some period pieces. Recently, you played Benjamin Franklin in “Battle of the Brave,” and I understand you’re playing H.L. Mencken in “Alleged.”
CM: Yeah, I did play H.L. Mencken. It’s sort of a different look at the Scopes trial, with the story being told through the eyes of a young couple who lives in the town. The boy runs the local newspaper that he inherited from his dad, and…yeah, so Mencken features quite prominently. He comes to town and kind of manipulates things during the trial.
BE: Do you enjoy doing historical dramas like those?
CM: Yeah, very much so. I’m doing one presently, in fact: “The Conspirators.” It’s a wonderful script, about the trial of the conspirators who assassinated Lincoln.
BE: I’ve read a piece or two about that, particularly the cast, but can you tell me a bit more about it?
CM: Well, it’s an extraordinary bunch of people. I mean, Robert Redford’s directing, and then it’s Kevin Kline, Danny Huston, Tom Wilkinson…an amazing bunch. It’s a wonderful script. Oh, and I forgot: James McAvoy’s in it. And Robin Penn. Good God, the list just goes on and on. So, you know, I have very high hopes. I read the script and was very excited by it.
BE: “Layer Cake” kind of got reevaluated after Daniel Craig got picked up as James Bond. Did you enjoy working on that film, and do you enjoy the crime-caper genre in general?
CM: Yeah, I think it was slightly…well, it was very different, I think, from what a lot of people were expecting from Matthew Vaughn. They were expecting him to come out with a movie very similar to the movies that he’d produced, like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” which are real caper movies. But Matthew was trying to do something else with “Layer Cake,” and I think he succeeded very well. I mean, it’s a very different tone, and Daniel was superb. I know people have doubts who only know him as Bond, but his body of work over the previous ten years or so is phenomenal. He’s just a wonderful actor.
BE: I know you didn’t have a huge part in it, but you were in John Huston’s last film, “The Dead.”
BE: What was it like working with a master like that? I know it was in his final days, but even so…
CM: Oh, it was extraordinary. (Starts to laugh) That was actually the first film I did in Los Angeles. I think it was ’87, and I’d just moved out there from New York, so to get to work with a master like that on my first film in Los Angeles was just extraordinary. We had a week of table readings, and he was very quiet during it all, and we were thinking, “Oh, no, maybe he’s gotten a bit old,” and all of that. But I remember the first shot of the first day, they said, “Action,” and about 30 seconds into it, this booming voice came over the set. (Adopts a deep growl) “No, no, no! Much too slow, much too slow! The picture will end up five hours long!” (Laughs) Suddenly, once we actually started shooting, this amazing presence emerged on the set, and, I mean, it was just phenomenal.
BE: “Con Air” is one of those movies that I originally thought was a guilty pleasure but eventually decided that it was an unabashed pleasure.
CM: (Laughs) Yeah, well, you know, I think it’s one of the better action films of the last 20 years. It was a very smart script, it was well-written, and we were encouraged to have input and to make things our own. It was like…for John (Cusack) and I, we were kind of in a movie of our own, because we were on the ground and the guys were in the air. We worked together very well, John and I, and it was a real pleasure.
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
CM: Oh, there’s a wonderful film I did with a great, great Serbian film director, Goran Paskaljevic, that’s called “How Harry Became A Tree.”
BE: That’s funny: I literally just saw that credit on IMDb.
CM: Oh, really? (Laughs) Yeah, it’s a wonderful film, I think. We had it at the Venice Film Festival and it was a red-hot favorite to win all sorts of awards, but at the end of the week, it didn’t because, we were told, of all sorts of political shenanigans that you tend to get at the Venice Film Festival. But the response in Venice had been phenomenal, and the following week, we were to be taking it to Toronto and the festival there, but we were on our way from Venice to Toronto, going through Paris…and it was the morning of 9/11. So, you know, the festival in Toronto was virtually shut down. Well, it wasn’t actually shut down – it staggered on – but everyone had panicked and was trying to get home. The film…there were a number of offers for distribution in Venice, which they didn’t accept because they thought, “Well, let’s go to Toronto, and we’ll do even better.” But unfortunately, because of 9/11, the whole world changed, and nobody was taking up any movies, nobody knew what to make, and, you know, nobody knew what to put out there or what the mood of the country was. So “How Harry Became A Tree” kind of just…disappeared. It fell off the map. And I’ve always felt that it was very, very unfortunate for that film, because it was brilliant. Goran Paskaljevic is one of the real auteurs still working.
BE: Well, from the sublime to the absurd, I’m also a fan of “Under Siege.”
CM: (Laughs) Yeah, okay. Well, you’ve got eclectic taste, what can I say?
BE: (Laughs) How was that experience? I’ve heard that Seagal can be a handful.
CM: Well, you know, how can you not have fun working with Tommy Lee Jones?
BE: Fair enough. Well, that’s just about it, but…well, as I said, I’ve been a fan for a long, and that certainly includes your work on “Deep Space Nine.” I still feel like it’s the most underrated of the “Star Trek” series, and arguably the strongest.
CM: I would agree! (Laughs)
BE: What do you feel the character of O’Brien brought to the show?
CM: (Considers the question) I don’t know. I think…you know, because of that world that we inhabited, with all of these extraordinary characters who could do extraordinary things, there was a terrific kind of humanity in O’Brien…and that’s due to the writing, of course, but it’s also in every sense, in that he was humanoid! But I think he brought that kind of contemporary sensibility to an extraordinary world, and it’s nice to be able to say that. And, of course, we had the storylines with Rosalind Chao, who played my wife, Keiko, which were great, just to be able to play those storylines of domestic tension or the problems facing a kid in that environment.
BE: Well, Colm, it’s been a real pleasure to talk with you. I’m glad you had the time to speak with me.CM: All the best, Will!