AC­TOR OF THE YEAR

Days off in 2018 were at a pre­mium for AI­DAN GILLEN as he went from shoot­ing a new UFO drama in Canada to be­ing part of the Bo­hemian Rhap­sody jug­ger­naut. Fred­die, Mick ‘n’ Keef, Dave Allen, Mi­crodis­ney, dystopian teen dra­mas and a whole lot more are on th

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Bo­hemian Rhap­sody star Ai­dan Gillen talks Fred­die, Mick ‘n’ Keef, Dave Allen, Mi­crodis­ney, dystopian teen dra­mas and much else be­sides.

ISHOULDN’T BE EN­COUR­AG­ING YOU TO RISK YOUR hard-earned cash, but if any bookie’s tak­ing bets al­ready on next year’s Ir­ish Film & Tele­vi­sion Awards, I’d strongly rec­om­mend stick­ing a ton on Ai­dan Gillen to win Best Ac­tor for his small-screen por­trayal of Dave Allen, the Dubliner who was an al­ter­na­tive co­me­dian be­fore the phrase was even coined. “He in­spired all the new wave Brit comics like Ben El­ton and Rik May­all, but whereas they now look dated, Dave Allen’s mono­logues and sketches are still as funny and rel­e­vant as they were in the ‘70s when he be­came one of the BBC’s big­gest stars,” Ai­dan re­flects over a cuppa in his Mum’s Drum­con­dra home. “Even to­day, you’ve got peo­ple like Dy­lan Mo­ran who’s very like Dave Allen in his stage per­sona.”

With a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cig­a­rette in the other, Allen would park him­self on a stool and re­gale the live stu­dio au­di­ence with stories about sex, race and re­li­gion, which man­aged to in­fu­ri­ate both the Catholic Church and the IRA who sent him a death threat. In March’s Dave Allen At Peace TV movie, Gillen doesn’t so much play as in­habit his hero. Ai­dan reck­ons that it could have been even bet­ter, though. “It would’ve been great to have had another hour, and ac­cess to the ac­tual ma­te­rial, which we didn’t get,” he ex­plains. “We couldn’t repli­cate things ex­actly, which meant it wasn’t as dark and so­phis­ti­cated as it might have been. I’m not be­ing picky here. I just loved play­ing him so much that I wish we’d had a slightly big­ger can­vas.”

While Dave Allen At Peace might have flown un­der your radar, there’s been no miss­ing Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, the Fred­die Mer­cury biopic in which Ai­dan plays Queen man­ager John Reid.

“The pro­ject had been in ges­ta­tion for a num­ber of years, but when it hap­pened it hap­pened fast,” he re­veals. “I knew Rami Malek was play­ing Fred­die, and he does an out­stand­ing job. The pro­duc­ers of this film wanted it to have a wide au­di­ence. There could have been a darker film about Fred­die Mer­cury, but this isn’t it. You ei­ther do it straight with a great per­for­mance like Rami in Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, Kurt Rus­sell in Elvis or Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line or go com­pletely left­field like the Bob Dy­lan film with Cate Blanchett, which I loved. But, any­way, they said, ‘Do you want to come along and play John Reid?’ The role isn’t mas­sive, but it’s part of the ma­chin­ery and I had fun. I met John and he gave me his seal of ap­proval, which was good be­cause he is picky. I saw him again a few weeks ago and he goes: ‘Did you know that

Richard Mad­den is play­ing me in the El­ton John film, Rocket Man – John man­aged El­ton for 25 years – and I think he’s en­joy­ing it.’”

Ac­tu­ally, while you’re on to Paddy Power, stick another hun­dred on Rami Malek to win an Os­car. “By his own ad­mis­sion he’s not a method ac­tor, but any­time I saw Rami on set he was talking and walk­ing and be­ing like Fred­die,” Ai­dan di­vulges. “It’s a dif­fi­cult ac­cent to pull off for some­one who’s Amer­i­can and that’s the way you’re go­ing to do it; stay in char­ac­ter all day. It was kind of chilling look­ing at him up close dur­ing those scenes. What was even more chilling, and which hasn’t been re­ported in the me­dia sur­round­ing Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, was what hap­pened when they shot a scene in the EMI of­fices. Mike My­ers is play­ing this record com­pany ex­ec­u­tive, Rami is in there with the band and the Queen gold discs jumped off the wall some­thing like six times."

With a first fort­night take of over $110 mil­lion, the pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tor Bryan Singer have cer­tainly got the wide au­di­ence they wanted. What are Ai­dan’s favourite mu­sic films?

“The Kids Are Al­right, the Kurt Rus­sell Elvis movie I just men­tioned, The Filth And The Fury, Stop Mak­ing Sense, The Last Waltz, The Song Re­mains The Same and Gimme Shel­ter,” comes his rapid-fire re­sponse. “The Stones at Croke Park was also one of my gigs of the year. You can’t go wrong when your first three songs are ‘Sym­pa­thy For The Devil’, ‘Tum­bling Dice’ and ‘Paint It Black’! It was nice and sloppy - but in a good way. I had a reg­u­lar pitch ticket but some­body got me into the pit twenty feet away from Ron­nie Wood. I never ap­pre­ci­ated how much he does in the band. He was the star of the day. It was a tremen­dous gig and there was a lot of love on the stage.”

In the end it isn’t Jag­ger/Richards but Cough­lan/ O’Ha­gan who top Ai­dan’s Stand-Out Shows of 2018 list.

“You know when you’re look­ing at some­thing think­ing, ‘I never thought this would hap­pen’? That’s how I felt about the Mi­crodis­ney gig in the Na­tional Con­cert Hall. I felt like I was float­ing watch­ing them do ‘The Clock Comes Down The Stairs’ and all those other clas­sic songs. Another show I loved was Echo & The Bun­ny­men in Vicar St.”

Hot Press read­ers might re­call a pic­ture of Ai­dan look­ing like all his Christ­mases had come at once as he shared a back­stage bevvy with Ian McCul­lough and Wil Sergeant. Stick­ing with mat­ters rock ‘n’ roll, has he read any good mu­sic books re­cently?

“I’m halfway through The Re­place­ments bi­og­ra­phy, Trou­ble Boys, by Bob Mehr. It’s a great ac­count of a band who didn’t give a shit or know how to go about things. Some of the stuff in there would make your hair stand on end. Full of dan­ger. And they loved the Stones too!”

Ai­dan spent the first half of 2018 in Van­cou­ver shoot­ing Pro­ject Blue Book, a “sci-facts” drama, which pre­mieres on Jan­uary 8 on the His­tory chan­nel. With Watch­men and The Man In The High Cas­tle’s Laura Men­nell and Michael Malarkey of Vam­pire Diaries fame co-star­ring, there’s a def­i­nite whiff of smash hit about it.

“Pro­ject Blue Book is set in the 1950s and cen­tres around the emer­gence of the UFO phe­nom­e­non,” he re­veals. “Con­cerned about this phe­nom­e­non and the hys­te­ria it was cre­at­ing, the US Air Force and the gov­ern­ment set up an agency to take re­ports and fol­low them up.

I’m play­ing Allen Hynek, the guy they hire to front it who starts out a

“WHEN THEY SHOT A SCENE IN THE EMI OF­FICES, THE QUEEN GOLD DISCS JUMPED OFF THE WALL SIX TIMES”

thought­ful scep­tic and be­comes one of the lead­ing pro­po­nents of the UFO move­ment or ‘UFOl­o­gists’ as they were known. One of his books, The UFO Ex­pe­ri­ence, in­spired Spiel­berg to make Close En­coun­ters Of The Third Kind. Allen Hynek was the tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor and ap­peared in it.

“The guy who made Back To The Fu­ture, Con­tact, Roger

Rab­bit and For­rest Gump, Robert Ze­meckis, is be­hind it. It’s pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment but not sac­cha­rine. A lot of good di­rec­tors and ac­tors, and an in­ter­est­ing pe­riod to be deal­ing with. Post-World War II, peo­ple in Amer­ica were look­ing for­wards, back­wards and up­wards. They were op­ti­mistic but also, in the wake of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, in dread of what could be com­ing out of the sky at them next.”

Ar­riv­ing back in Dublin af­ter wrap­ping Pro­ject Blue Book, Ai­dan went straight from the air­port to a garage at the back of Her­bert Street, where young ac­tor-di­rec­tor Laoisa Sex­ton was shoot­ing her de­but “un-ro­man­tic com­edy” short, I Didn’t… I Wasn’t… I Amn’t.

“She’s a good ac­tor, great with di­a­logue and de­serves a break,” Ai­dan says benev­o­lently. “A few of the things I’ve done in re­cent years like this and You’re Ugly Too have been with friends of my brother, JP Mur­phy. He wrote a play, which she acted in in New York. It’s some­thing smaller and it’s with friends, which is al­ways fun.”

Cur­rently en­joy­ing a break from film­ing Se­ries 5 of Peaky

Blin­ders – talking to us about what Tommy Shelby, Al­fie Solomons, Luca Changretta, Aberama Gold et al will be get­ting up to in the New Year is strictly ver­boten – Ai­dan added to his air miles this year with a trip to Cape Town to reprise the role of Jan­son in Maze Run­ner: The Death Cure.

“Ev­ery now and then some­body says, ‘Do you want to come to Al­bu­querque for four weeks and play a vil­lain­ous type in a teen dystopian fan­tasy?' And you go, ‘Yes, sure.’ Then the se­quel comes up and it’s, ‘Do you want to go to South Africa for six weeks?’ Again, ‘Yes, sure.’ Cape Town is wor­ry­ingly not what you ex­pect. My mind was blown by how di­vided the wealth still is. I didn’t see any­one apart from white peo­ple on the beaches. It was as­tound­ing ac­tu­ally that the shadow of apartheid is still there.”

Hav­ing man­aged to lo­cate the fifth week in the month and the thir­teenth month in the year, Ai­dan joins De­clan Con­lon,

Gavin Drea, Catriona En­nis, Paul Reid and Seána Ker­slake in We Our­selves, the Paul Mercier film about a group of youngish Ir­ish peo­ple re­flect­ing on the choices - good, bad and some­times very bad - they’ve made in life.

“It’s dense and in­tri­cate with seven or eight peo­ple of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent rec­ol­lec­tions of some­thing that hap­pened twenty years ago,” he ex­plains. “The first plays I saw dur­ing the ‘80s in the

SFX were Paul Mercier ones like Drown­ing, Studs and Spac­ers in the SFX. I was only 15, so it was the act­ing equiv­a­lent of a punk rock mo­ment. Like Roddy Doyle who was also com­ing through at the time, Paul had been a teacher at Green­dale Com­mu­nity School and was on a mis­sion to con­tem­po­rise Ir­ish the­atre. He suc­ceeded.”

Does Ai­dan ac­tively seek out di­verse parts or is it just the way the cast­ing cookie crum­bles?

“Is there method to the mad­ness? There’s no mas­ter­plan, but I’ll maybe try to do some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to what’s come be­fore. I try to bal­ance out big things like Game Of Thrones with a smaller film or indie pro­ject. I did another short this year in Dublin with a friend of mine called Rose Plays Julie. It’s a kind of an iden­tity re­venge thriller.”

Ai­dan has also been muscling in on yours truly's ter­ri­tory - just wait 'til I pip him one year to an Os­car - by con­duct­ing an in­ter­view with Mark Kozelek, which can be pe­rused on the Sun Kill Moon web­site. An­noy­ingly, it's ex­tremely good.

“When Dan He­garty did his Buried Trea­sures book, I picked a Sun Kill Moon al­bum called April,” he ex­plains. “Kozelek got wind of this when some­body showed it to him at a boxing match – he’s a mas­sive fan - in Las Ve­gas. He ap­proached me say­ing, ‘I’ve a new al­bum com­ing, would you like to in­ter­view me about it?’ He’s done a sim­i­lar thing in the past Cameron Crowe the di­rec­tor and John Con­nolly the nov­el­ist, so we did a back and forth over a cou­ple of weeks and be­cause Mark’s such a fas­ci­nat­ing per­son it turned out re­ally well.”

The same goes for you, Mr. Gillen!

“I TRY TO BAL­ANCE OUT BIG THINGS LIKE GAME OF

THRONES WITH A SMALLER FILM OR INDIE PRO­JECT”

As­tral weeks: Pro­ject Blue Book (top) and We Our­selves

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