The Irish Mail on Sunday

Blessed by raw talent and cursed by the booze


Ont he solitary occasion I interviewe­d Peter O’Toole the only half decent questions I could come up with were about his Hollywood epic Lawrence Of Arabia. My limitation­s as a celebrity interviewe­r played a role but a paucity of other memorable parts in O’Toole’s long career was partial explanatio­n. Yes, he is remembered for Beckett, A Lion In Winter and Goodbye Mr Chips but there is always a feeling of unfulfille­d talent with O’Toole.

He is equally, and sadly, remembered for his hellraisin­g, a subject that dominates the interview his daughter Kate gives in this compilatio­n of movie peoples’ sittings with author Jason O’Toole (no relation to Peter). We laugh along with brave Kate but we can see the wreckage his drinking caused in his family life and certainly feel that the booze damaged his career.

Then again, how many 28-year-old actors star in a film comparable to Lawrence Of Arabia? The 1962 David Lean epic is, in my opinion among the five greatest films ever made. This is the path of so many actors (and interviewe­es in the book): mind-bending success is followed by excess, self-loathing and personal destructio­n.

Hollywood Irish is an anthology of interviews by author

Jason O’Toole, a man with a renowned skill for convincing famous people to betray secrets they would rather not have. So, this is not a thoughtles­s compilatio­n, for there is a thread of commonalit­y running through it. The great actors and Hollywood icons here dwell on their darker sides. A shocking number of them developed drink and drug dependenci­es.

In this book Niall Tóibín and Jonathan Rhys Meyers talk of their struggles with the bottle. Brenda Fricker speaks of her depression and heavy drinking. She married an alcoholic, the late TV director Barry Davies. Gabriel Byrne discusses panic attacks.

If you read Richard Burton’s memoirs he cites his nagging guilt over wasted talent playing a role in his awful descent into alcoholism. Self-flagellati­on over wasted talent; it’s a sentiment many, perhaps most, Hollywood actors have looking back on their careers. In his interview here Martin Sheen does not shirk the issue.

‘I am proud of just a handful of films,’ he says, ‘I would say 90% of it was basically trash. I did it for the money, and most of the stuff I did was a great source of embarrassm­ent to me.’ He’s proud of two of my personal favourites, Badlands (1973) and Apocalypse Now (1979).

The story of the famously benighted shooting of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam movie is legendary. Marlon Brando’s physique was almost as bloated as his pay cheque and his refusal to learn the script led to his ad libbing (brilliantl­y) his dialogue. Crazy Dennis Hopper was, well, crazy and constantly high on cocaine. A typhoon hit the set and Mr Sheen was often drunk. In an early scene he punches a mirror while appearing to be inebriated – he was.

Mr Sheen describes Apocalypse Now as being ‘both a career-changing

experience as well as a personal voyage’ because it helped him to face his own ‘darkness and inhumanity’.

After nearly dying of a heart attack on the set in the Philippine­s at the age of 36, Martin confronted his alcoholism

and returned to his Catholic faith.

‘I had to come clean of that. I had to find myself,’ he says.

Yet he never repeated the brilliance of Apocalypse Now.

There are few actors whose careers are marked mainly by sustained magnificen­ce.

Some existed, however. Younger readers may sneer at this, because he has become something of a right wing caricature, but John Wayne’s career is littered with many of the most important movies in cinema history – Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers

(1956), Rio Bravo (1959), The Man

Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and the cavalry trilogy with John Ford.

Wayne’s favourite leading lady Maureen O’Hara, was also fulfilled. She had a stellar career.

This book has won the endorsemen­t of the Maureen O’Hara fan club as it carries two of the most revelatory interviews she ever gave.

Maureen O’Hara featured in one of the greatest movies of all time, was the favourite actress of perhaps one of the greatest directors and participat­ed in movie history’s greatest year.

Just read Mr O’Toole’s interview with her here and you will get more insights into the art of movie making and I venture into life itself, than you will get from any modern-day actress.

Ms O’Hara, who died in 2015 at the age of 95, worked with them all.

One of Hollywood’s most powerful figures, Charles Laughton, took the young Dublin woman under his wing in the 1930s and cast her in his The

Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It was made in 1939, and though a classic, it was one of the many made in that year, held as the greatest in cinema history.

Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz and Stagecoach are just three on a glorious list.

Yet the role of Angharad in How

Green Is My Valley, an extraordin­arily modern film for 1941, made Maureen O’Hara. It traces the lives of miners in a Welsh village and set the standard for all portrayals of ordinary families in cinema. Directed by John Ford, it is one of the finest films ever made.

She says to Mr O’Toole of Ford simply that he was, ‘the best. You can’t get any better than that’. Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and many others agree.

Ford’s father was from Spiddal, Co. Galway and the director went officially by the name Seán Aloysius O’Fearna.

This book is full of interviewe­es who, though not always technicall­y Irish, want to be. The plain speaking Ms O’Hara from Milltown, speculates why.

‘And, of course, they all liked to boast that they had Irish blood – actors. I don’t know why. Maybe the Irish were hams. You know what a ham is? An “over actor”. If you’re a ham, you over act. What do you call it? Hamming it up.’

Irish movie fans associate her primarily with The Quiet Man, a film that is often, unfairly I believe, criticised in this country for presenting a stereotypi­cal image of the Irish. It too is a monumental movie featuring an Oscar-winning director in Ford, and Oscar-winning actors Wayne and Victor McLaglen.

That is the value of this fascinatin­g book. What may seem like a random collection of interviews with Irish-connected movie stars, gives historical context to our participat­ion in movie history.

So even if you just read Mr O’Toole’s interview with the late Maureen O’Hara, you will achieve more of an understand­ing of movie history than you will get from one hundred anodyne Graham Norton-type couch plugs.

Ms O’Hara did many of her own stunts. You can glean in her interviews some simple keys to success. Don’t drink. Get a great co-star and work for the greatest director in history.

Then you’ll make it big in Hollywood!

‘Hollywood Irish gives historical context to our participat­ion in movie history’

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ePic careers: Peter O’Toole with Omar Sharif, in Lawrence Of Arabia and, right, Maureen O’Hara
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Hollywood Irish, Interviews With Irish Movie Stars Jason O’Toole BearManor Media €23.99 ★★★★★
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Personal voya
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age: Martin Sheen in the epic and majestic Apocalypse Now

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