The prayers of Saint Patrick

‘I didn’t want to get too friendly with Ju­lia be­cause I had to hate her...’

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - REVIEW -

As he pre­pares for the Abbey and Al­bert Square, Patrick Ber­gin spoke to Donal Lynch about ther­apy, re­cov­ery and why he kept turn­ing down lunch with Ju­lia Roberts

PATRICK Ber­gin has a mag­i­cal and un­ex­pected knack for mak­ing even the com­i­cal seem coolly men­ac­ing. On the day we meet he’s been hob­bled by a fall and the walk­ing stick, an­kle brace and huge over­coat give him an air of Richard Harris by way of Chris­tian Grey. It is a suave, im­pos­ing, crag­gily hand­some im­pres­sion which be­lies the ac­tual cause of the ac­ci­dent: he slipped on a cow pat in a field in Tip­per­ary. I’m mew­ing my sym­pa­thy, while sup­press­ing a laugh, but Patrick lets me know I needn’t bother. “Just make sure you spec­ify cow,” he dead­pans. “I don’t do bulls**t.”

Oh it’s a line, but well worth it, even if a cracked tibia was the price, and Ber­gin’s abil­ity to find fun and dig­nity in em­bar­rass­ment is sur­pris­ingly cen­tral to his whole story. Rewind 25 years. Af­ter a few years play­ing mu­sic on the high­ways and by­ways of Europe, he has ac­cu­mu­lated a lit­tle theatre and TV ex­pe­ri­ence and starred in his first movie. Agents are mur­mur­ing that he may turn out to be a big­ger star than Gabriel Byrne or Liam Nee­son. This in turn has led to him be­ing sum­moned to Hol­ly­wood by Joe Roth, the then-chair­man of 20th Cen­tury Fox, with a view to star­ring in the stu­dio’s forth­com­ing block­buster, Sleep­ing With The En­emy, op­po­site Ju­lia Roberts. Roth had ap­par­ently asked his PR girls if they fan­cied Ber­gin, which, be­ing hu­man, they ob­vi­ously did, and that ca­sual en­dorse­ment had ap­par­ently put the ac­tor in line to be Hol­ly­wood’s next lead­ing man. To say he was ner­vous would be putting it mildly. The cast­ing process did not go as planned. “I was try­ing to im­press with a nine piece suit,” he re­calls. “I met the whole team of eight peo­ple and they were all fir­ing ques­tions at me and when I was leav­ing I was so ner­vous that I walked into the broom closet and af­ter­wards he told me that they thought I showed so much com­po­sure putting my­self back to­gether af­ter some­thing so em­bar­rass­ing that they knew I was the ac­tor they wanted.”

Even now, it’s easy to see why Ber­gin stum­bling into some­one’s cup­board had more sin­is­ter in­ten­sity than another ac­tor steel­ing for all they’re worth. The se­cret, he says, has al­ways been to make him­self a can­vas for the au­di­ence’s own emo­tions. At one point he chal­lenges me to a star­ing con­test — or as he puts it “just look at me and do noth­ing”. It’s sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult but Ber­gin shows me how it’s done with a laser-like glower. I feel as though my im­age has been burned into the wall be­hind me. His per­for­mance as the towel ob­sessed, silk­ily sadis­tic hus­band in Sleep­ing With The En­emy still ranks as one of the all-time great Hol­ly­wood vil­lains, and he says that to get the note of malev­o­lence just right, it was im­por­tant to keep his co-star at arm’s length. “Pretty Woman had just come out. She was with Kiefer Suther­land at that time, which added to the at­ten­tion as well. She used to in­vite me to lunch but I wouldn’t go a lot of the time and that wasn’t just me be­ing moody be­cause I didn’t want to get too friendly with her be­cause I had to hate her. If you don’t wanna like some­one, it’s a lit­tle tricky to do that if you’ve been s******g them five min­utes ear­lier. I’m ex­ag­ger­at­ing, but I did the method thing a bit with her.”

The movie, of course, went on to be­come one of the top-gross­ing films of the 1990s and Ber­gin was sud­denly one of the most sought af­ter prop­er­ties in Hol­ly­wood and one of the most fa­mous hunks in cin­ema — he had “my fair share” of fe­male suit­ors, he con­cedes. Newsweek called him the next Sean Con­nery. His next big project was the Tom Clancy adap­ta­tion Pa­triot Games, along­side Harris and Har­ri­son Ford. Ber­gin had al­ready taken great pride in al­ter­ing a long and wordy pas­sage in Sleep­ing With The En­emy to make it more punchy and mem­o­rable and he did the same on Pa­triot Games, al­beit for dif­fer­ent rea­sons — he dis­agreed with the po­lit­i­cal “right wing” tone of parts of the script. The film was another huge suc­cess — it made nearly $200m world­wide and the money he earned was “fab­u­lous” — but it also seemed to mark some­thing of a down­turn in his for­tunes as an ac­tor. His next film, Robin Hood, along­side Uma Thur­man, had the mis­for­tune of go­ing up against the in­fe­rior but far more suc­cess­ful Prince of Thieves ver­sion. The late 1990s were shot through with TV movies and more for­get­table projects. Not that this both­ered him. “I worked con­stantly,” he ex­plains. “I never felt I had the Tom Cruise level of fame and I wouldn’t want that any­way. This is not a cane, it’s a magic wand to get rid of peo­ple.”

Ber­gin met his for­mer wife, Paula Fra­zier, a Bri­tish woman of Afro-caribbean de­scent, in the early 1980s. They mar­ried in Trinidad and Tobago in 1992, and have a 21-yearold daugh­ter named Ta­tiana, who is in her last year at uni­ver­sity. He once said of Fra­zier: “I loved her be­fore I even knew her name,” and pre­vi­ous in­ter­views were suf­fused with ref­er­ences to their re­la­tion­ship. The only part of my bar­rage of jour­nal­is­tic nosi­ness that he baulks at is the ques­tion: “Did you ever fall in love again?”

Now, liv­ing alone in a 15th-cen­tury cas­tle they once shared on the bor­der between Of­faly and Tip­per­ary, he once at­trib­uted the split to a mix­ture of “a break­down of com­mu­ni­ca­tion” and “be­ing away a lot” work­ing on movie projects, but they re­main on very good terms and he speaks warmly of her. “Half the pop­u­la­tion of Trinidad are Ir­ish any­way, she’s a very for­mi­da­ble and so­cial crea­ture. I dare say she may have ex­pe­ri­enced racism once or twice but she was well able to han­dle it. My daugh­ter has one more year in uni­ver­sity. I wasn’t al­ways there (when she was grow­ing up) but I was there as much as I could be. It’s an in­ter­est­ing jour­ney: fa­ther­hood of course, but life too.”

He has been linked in re­cent months to He­len Goldin, widow of hyp­no­tist Paul Goldin. “He­len is my mu­sic man­ager, of course I love her,” he ex­plains. “And oc­ca­sion­ally we can mix busi­ness with plea­sure.”

Ber­gin was born in Car­low, where his fam­ily were based un­til they moved to Dublin in the 1950s. His fa­ther Paddy Ber­gin, a se­na­tor, was na­tional cam­paign or­gan­iser of the Labour Party. Be­fore mov­ing to Drim­nagh, the Ber­gins lived for years above the party of­fices on Earls­fort Ter­race, which was “quite mid­dle class, with a ten­nis court out the back — that sort of thing”. His fa­ther ran a theatre group and both Patrick and his brother Em­met got into act­ing. Was there ever a ri­valry between them?

“Ah, I’m sure a bit, yeah,” he laughs. “But not re­ally. I al­ways thought he was the good look­ing one, but I was wrong about that!”

Ber­gin’s mother worked in the Green Room at the Gai­ety Theatre, which meant “the idea of act­ing was al­ways there. And pol­i­tics is a kind of theatre too.”

He was born to per­form — for years he even de­vel­oped a “stage name” which the teach­ers in his na­tional school thought was his ac­tual name — and says that much of this flowed from “a sep­a­ra­tion I felt between my­self as a child and the events I saw go­ing on around me”. His mother, he says, was a

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