Top Ten Chat-Worthy Irish Actors

I haven’t done a top-ten list in a while. I meant to post this last week around St. Paddy’s day, but took me a while to finish it. Well, as the green dye in the Chicago river hasn’t completely washed out, I hope you don’t mind reading another Irish-related post. Here’s my list of ten Irish actors that have done some buzz-worthy projects (including TV work) in the past decade, as well as those ‘rising stars’ that I really hope to see more of. I’m going to limit my list to just those born and bred in Ireland (at least for most of their childhood), so not those of Irish-descent as it’d take this entire blog to list them all.

Here they are in random order:

  1. Colin Farrell
    Of all the vile things Joel Schumacher is known for as a director, you could say that he has an eye for talent. He cast Farrell in Tigerland which got the Dublin native noticed. I first saw him in the sci-fi action Minority Report alongside Tom Cruise, and then the Terrence Malick’s The New World. His foray into historical action hero in Alexander was ridiculed panned by critics, and he nearly became a Hollywood cliche with his womanizing ways and drug/alcohol abuse, but he manage to maneuver a career comeback with his Golden-Globe-winning turn in the Irish black comedy In Bruges (2008). He recently had a small-but-memorable role in Crazy Heart, and a lead role in the Irish drama Ondine.
  2. Liam Neeson
    Probably the most famous Irish actors of the bunch, Neeson is one of the hardest working actors right now. His diverse resume is impressive by any thespian standard. From historical figures (Michael Collins, Rob Roy, Schindler’s List), comic-book villain (Batman Begins), to playing bad-ass action star hell-bent on revenge (Taken), Neeson adds gravitas to any role he’s in. Can’t wait to see him as Zeus bellowing ‘Release the Kraken!!!’ in Clash of the Titans.
  3. Saoirse Ronan
    She may be only sixteen, but Ronan’s got that wise-beyond-her-years thing going for her, plus enormous talent to boot. She was phenomenal in Atonement as the little girl who couldn’t quite figure out how to channel her attraction to the opposite sex that led to disastrous consequences. She pretty much comes out unscathed even when The Lovely Bones bombed artistically and financially. She’s currently re-teaming with her Atonement director Joe Wright in Hanna as a 14-year old assassin, talk about range!
  4. Cillian Murphy
    Most people recognize him as Scarecrow in Batman Begins, but his memorable role is perhaps in the zombie flick 28 Days Later. His impossibly chiseled cheekbones and dramatic eyes somehow make him the perfectly creepy yet sophisticated villain, as he displayed in the horror/thriller Red Eye. Renowned directors such as Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle obviously like working with him, as he’s done two movies for Boyle (Sunshine & 28 Days Later) and Nolan also cast him in Inception.
  5. Michael Fassbender
    (Ed note: Though he’s born in Germany, Fassbender is half-Irish and was raised in southwest Ireland)
    I’ve mentioned this guy A LOT on my blog lately and for good reason, he’s definitely eye-candy material but with acting chops to boot. Thanks to Zach Snyder for casting such great actors in 300 even in smaller roles, as I definitely noticed Fassbender as the loyal and valiant Stelios. He’s then proved his amazing range in transformational role in Hunger, and another indie darling Fish Tank which won him several nods from various European Film Festivals. He’s currently starring in a Roman actioner Centurion where he again displays his versatility. His next projects are definitely chat-worthy, there’s that darker Jane Eyre adaptation where he’ll play my favorite literary hero Rochester, and the historical drama The Talking Cure where he’ll play psychoanalyst Carl Jung alongside Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud.
  6. Gabriel Byrne
    I first noticed Byrne in The Point of No Return as Bridget Fonda’s sympathetic mentor. He may not always get the lead roles, but you always remember him (The Man in the Iron Mask, Little Women, The Usual Suspect) The charismatic 60-year-old actor definitely still got the looks and is currently starring in the well-received HBO drama In Treatment as a psychotherapist where he won a Golden Globe last year. I certainly hope he’ll do more movies in the future!
  7. Ciarán Hinds
    You may not know his name, but you certainly recognize this tall, dark and handsome Belfast native. His dark look makes him suitable to play people from different nationalities: English (Phantom of the Opera, Amazing Grace), (Israeli (Munich), Roman (as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome), Russian (The Sum of All Fears), and that’s just a sampling. His new indie flick set in his native homeland The Eclipse (NOT Twilight 3) is to be released this weekend. Glad to see him get the lead role for a change.
  8. Kenneth Branagh
    For all the Shakespearean work he’s done (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet), I initially thought Branagh was an Englishman. The RADA-educated actor had his start in theater when he joined The Royal Shakespeare Company at 23. Soon after he formed his own performance art company called The Renaissance Theatre Company, which counts Prince Charles as one of its royal patrons. Surely he’ll inject some of that artsy and sophisticated sensibilities to a comic book adaptation, Thor, that he’s currently helming.
  9. Pierce Brosnan
    He may not be my favorite James Bond, but Brosnan has proven before and after his 007 role that he’s not to be type-cast. He balances the ‘suave, elegant, sophisticated men in suits’ roles (Bond, Thomas Crown Affair) with small indie dramas (Evelyn, Married Life), quirky comedy (The Matador), gritty Western (Seraphim Falls), even musical (Mama Mia!). He’s currently starring as a British PM in Roman Polanski’s latest The Ghost Writer, which was lauded by the critics.
  10. Jonathan Rhys Meyers
    I first noticed Meyers in the wholesome soccer flick Bend It Like Beckham as Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra’s coach. But he rose to fame as soon as he’s cast as the ruthless, womanizing King Henry VIII in Showtime’s The Tudors. His confidence swagger and devilish charm makes him a perfect seducer and unabashed casanova (Match Point). His recent foray into blow-em-up action From Paris With Love bombed, but it’s more of a reflection of John Travolta’s box office clout than his. His next project At Swim-Two-Birds is definitely an Irish production. It’s fellow Irishman Brendan Gleeson’s writing/directing debut about a playwright who begins to mingle with the fictional characters he has created. His co-stars all appear on this list: Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell and Gabriel Byrne!


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, Michael Gambon

Again, with this kind of list, it’s likely that I’m forgetting someone, so please do clue me in, readers 🙂

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55 thoughts on “Top Ten Chat-Worthy Irish Actors

  1. Samantha

    Chat-worthy indeed. I loooooove Byrne and Hinds. And Branagh, of course.

    Random recommendation, ’cause it’s a pretty cheesy flick, but for your next girly movie night, I submit Calendar Girls. Helen Mirren is a goddess, and her character is married to Ciaran Hinds, who is very pleasant in a sort of average Joe/nice husband kind of role. Julie Walters is always enjoyable, and everyone’s Northern British accents are fabulously hilarious.

    Good list!

    1. Byrne and Hinds are sooo underrated it’s not even funny! If you like Hinds then have you seen The Eclipse trailer I posted a while ago? That looks really intriguing.

      I definitely would recommend Calendar Girls! I adore dame Mirren, she is indeed a goddess! I heard that movie is a hoot, too, so thanks for the tip, Sam!

      1. Samantha

        I just learned that Sam Neill was actually born in Ireland. And he rocks. Maybe not hard enough to be on the list, but I was surprised to learn of his nationality, anyway, so I thought I’d share. 🙂

        1. Oh really? I didn’t know that, but I agree that guy is a fine but underrated actor. Again, must be something in the water there in Ireland!

    1. I was going to add an ‘Honorable Mention’ section as those you mention would definitely be on that list. I simply have not seen many of their flicks (or just didn’t recognize them enough), but I’ve started to really appreciate Gleeson’s work (his banter with Brian Cox in Troy is probably one of the best things about that flick!), that’s why I’m excited he’s venturing into writing & directing. Excellent cast in that one, too!

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    1. Farrell’s slowly gaining respect in the industry and after what he’s been through, more power to him. I haven’t seen ‘In Bruges’ actually, but I’ve heard/read that he’s terrific in it (hence the Golden Globe award).

  3. Oh lovely, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. He has this effortlessly smouldering thing going on.

    Cillan Murphy has this way of creeping me out and attracting me at the same time. I really need to watch The Wind That Shakes The Barley, or completely sit through Breakfast On Pluto.

    The only beef I could possibly have with Fassbender being Rochester is that he is too handsome. But hey, I thought that about Toby Stephens as well (who I love) and I loved his Rochester!

    Saoirse Ronan is unbelievable for someone so young, really impressive!

    Something Irish to watch out for: A Film With Me In It. (I wrote about it in my blog here:
    It’s an indie Irish film, but has Dylan Moran in it (which is about as close to star power as it does get), and cameos by Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Hugh O’Connor in it at the end! The cast is pretty much 100% Irish, simply, as Moran put it, “They were cheaper because they were nearer.” LOL

    1. Ha, smoldering is right, he just looks like he wants to shag all the time, which makes him the perfect Henry VIII! 🙂

      I haven’t watched enough Cillian films but I know I should. As for Fassbender being too handsome as Rochester, well, he is, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to pull it off. My fave Rochester is Timothy Dalton in the 1983 BBC version ( and when you look at the guy, ‘ugly’ certainly won’t enter your mind.

      That Irish indie looks interesting indeed. I’ve never heard of Dylan Moran before, but after I googled him I immediately remembered him from Notting Hill as the guy who shoved a book down his trousers in Hugh Grant’s book store. Oh, he’s funny in Run, Fatboy, Run, too!

  4. Mike B.

    For such a small country (4.5 million people) what a crop. Love their Guinness too. And Baileys. And their Jameson Whisky. Hiccup!

  5. Great post, I think Colin Farrell is really underated as an actor because people write him off as just anothe rhollywood bad boy.

    Pierce Brosnan on the other hand, literally makes my skin crawl. I have no idea why, but he is the reason I have only seen 3 bond films (2 of them with Daniel Craig in). If I find out he’s in a film, I can’t watch it.

    And how coudl you miss otu Gormenghast when talking about Jonathon Rhys Meyers? It’s the cult role that brought him into the consciousness of loads of people!

    1. Yeah, glad he’s able to overcome all that, it’s really such a waste if he ended up in rehab for most of his life (or worse) as he does have talent.

      I can see that about Brosnan, he’s actually my least fave Bond (I haven’t seen the Lazenby version to judge him) as he has that annoying smugness about him. But to be fair, he’s actually a pretty good actor when he’s playing against type (i.e. The Matador). Ha, maybe we should write a post about which actor(s) make our skin crawl 🙂

      Never heard of Gormenghast before, but I’ll take your word for it that Meyers was good in it.

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    1. Thanks Castor, you’re a pal! Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised of the high traffic from reddit, so glad I know who to thank for that 🙂

  7. So glad you put Cillian up there, because he is one of the best actors working in the bizz today. He has so much charm, and talent that I can see him actually winning an Oscar in the future with the right role, but hey that’s just me.

    1. Hi Dan, I agree about Cillian, he’s kind of under the radar amongst average moviegoers but he’s definitely got lots of talent and charisma. He’s done some Oscar-worthy performances for sure, but my gut tells me he’d be overlooked by the Academy the way Christian Bale is… ’cause most of the time it’s not about acting but it’s who’s got clout. I mean, why the heck does Clooney keep getting nod??? He’s not the best actor by any means.

  8. I didn’t know Keneth an irish…I thought he is british.

    Yaiii for Cillian Murphy…I love him so damn much, not just because he is cute but also because he is damn talented…He will win Oscar one day…I’m sure of that. Just look at the trailer of Peacock … is that a great acting or what?? And Breakfast on Pluto is awesome! I saw Batman before Breakfast and I see 2 different people…not many actors can do that

    I have to agree with you about clooney…I can’t see anything special in his act and yet he keeps coming back to Oscar.

    1. Yeah that’s what I thought too, but as soon as I learned he’s Irish I had to include him here. I have not seen the ‘Peacock’ trailer but I’m going to check it out. Cillian is a chameleon, he can be all sweet and menacing in a matter of seconds, that’s definitely Oscar-caliber acting. Let’s hope The Academy will wise up one day and recognize the truly worthy actors!

      1. Yes…please do check ‘peacock’ trailler (I’m still wondering why it goes straight to DVD 😦 ) Cillian becomes 2 person there…a shy man named john and creepy woman named emma. it’s a split personality thriller.

        I think if he plays more hollywood movies, Academy will notice him…unfortunately Cillian is not the kind of actors who is crazy with hollywood movie… he likes to move around from big budget movie to inndependent and from hollywood to ireland. I like him doing things like that, but it’ll be him harder to get Academy attention

        1. I got what you mean, Novroz 🙂 I do like him for that reason though, he’s the kind of actors that care more about the craft than the Hollywood fame/accolades.

  9. movienewsfirst

    Great list! Love them all, apart from Colin Farrell!
    My favourite has to be Gabriel Byrne, love, love him. And Cillian Murphy comes in a close second (tho I’m a bit biased, as Murphy was in my law class, so my small claim to fame is that I knew him…well kinda)

    1. Hi Olive, thanks for your comment. Glad to hear from a fellow Gabriel & Cillian’s fans. WOW, you’re actually in the same class as Cillian?? That’s gotta be tough to concentrate on whatever the teacher’s saying! 🙂 I’m jealous, are his eyes as dreamy in real life? he..he..

      Btw, sounds like you have such an interesting career and life adventures. Where did you go on your round-the-world trip? Anyway, I’ll be sure to visit your blog often.

      1. movienewsfirst

        Yep, his eyes are as blue and as cool in real life! haha.
        Worked in India and then went to Canada, U.S., Australia, south-east Asia, Dubai and back home! Look forward to reading your posts:)

  10. Ah Very nice list. Why is it mostly men? What are the irish women doing? Come on girls!!

    Fassbender, check very cool.

    Murphy, what a dude….spooky looks

    Brosnan, he is just wrong on every level, but in a good way

    Farrell, he just makes me laugh, uber eyebrows with a life of their own!

    Happy St Patricks Day (2010 and 2011)


    1. Y’know, believe me I’ve looked for Irish actresses, but most of the ones I know are guys. Btw, I’ve added honorable mentions, I think if I were to update this list, I’d swap Brosnan with Gleeson.

  11. Another fine list Ruth. Brendan Gleeson would make mine but the biggest surprise was Rhys Meyers. I had no idea he was Irish.

    So, what’s next then? In keeping with the celts I’m assuming the Welsh? 😉

    1. Hi Mark, thanks! I need to update this list as I might actually swap Rhys Meyers/Brosnan with Gleeson and Michael Gambon.

      Ahah, maybe I will do the Welsh actors list, after all two of my all time faves are Welsh: Timothy Dalton and Christian Bale!! 😀

        1. He was born in Dublin, though that doesn’t automatically make him Irish I suppose. It’s interesting that GB said he’s actually Irish, so is it common that some Scots are actually of Irish ancestry? I think a lot of Americans confuse the two but I know they’re quite different 😀

          1. Yeah, a lot of Scots do have Irish ancestry. I do myself. That’s why there’s such a religious divide in Scotland. The ones with Irish ancestry are predominantly catholic and, of course, the Protestants were less than happy about Irish immigration to Scotland many generations ago during the Irish potato famine and such.

            1. Ah I see! I knew I’d get a history insight from you my friend. I always find it sad that people get into wars and stuff over their beliefs, esp. when the main teaching is to love one another as yourself.

              I know we talked about this before, I think GB said he didn’t have a Tartan as his family are Irish. Do you have one Mark?

              1. My second name actually derives from those that “walked” the tartan. It was a profession of my ancestors and is known as part of the process in making tartan. Much like, the name Fuller (also involved in clothing), Copper (who made barrels) or Blacksmith.
                Surnames were given as to the profession you had. However, Walker is an anglicised version of my actual Gaelic name (don’t ask me to spell it) 😉 It was changed because the English couldn’t pronounce it. Hence the name Walker.

                That being said, despite having a hand in making the tartan, I have no official tartan of my own. There is a Walker tartan but it’s very rare. As a result, those that didn’t have it would adopt the tartan of their nearest clan. The nearest clan to my ancestors was actually McGregor so I would wear that. (The same one that Ewan wears in your photograph).

                1. That is awesome Mark! Interesting that the surname is derived from a given profession, I think that’s very cool! In my culture, a lot of the surnames have some hopeful meaning that includes words that mean success, thrive, glory, etc. What a wonderful ancestry you have, I’d love to see how they make a tartan. When I go visit Scotland one day I hope there’s a history museum that show some of that.

                  Ah, so you might actually be distant relative to Ewan then? 😉 That’s a beautiful Tartan that he had on. When I went to a Catholic all-girl high school, we wore a re Tartan-like skirt with white shirt for our uniform. I don’t have a picture of me but here’s what I found on Google:'s+Limited(799).jpg

                  1. I’m not too sure if there is a museum that will show you that. There probably will be but as you know, you can sometimes take your own culture and history for granted and don’t normally seek these things out. In all honesty, a lot of Scottish history was buried by the English hundreds of years ago as well. Gaelic was no longer taught in schools or spoken and became somewhat of a dead language. However, there’s has been an upsurge in Scottish pride and identity over the years and there is more of a drive for Gaelic now. I don’t know if you know this but Scotland have a vote on independence next year. It would mean that there would be no more United Kingdom and Scotland would go their own way. It’s a very big deal and one I feel very passionate about.

                    Who knows, with such close relations, I may well be related to Ewan somewhere down the line. Scotland is a very small country after all. I hope he saves some of his dollars for this poor wee relative of his 😉

                    I’ve seen some films wear the school children have uniforms like this. Why did you wear tartan anyway? Was there a particular reason for it? 🙂

  12. I love this list. So nice to see Irish actors being recognised, not just for their talent, but for their heritage too! We’ve a huge arts following here in this country, it’s very important to us. Robert Sheehan is another one to watch. I don’t mean for his latest endeavours in young adult adaptation of City of Bones (although I’m hoping that will help rather than hinder his career) but for his part in Irish crime drama Love/Hate. I’d recommend that for you, I believe it’s on the US Netflix now.

    Anyway, great post!

    1. Hello V, welcome to FC! Oh, Irish and Scottish actors are well-loved in this blog 😀

      I haven’t seen any Robert Sheehan film but thanks for the recommendation about Love/Hate. Ha..ha.. I actually saw a photo of him in that City of Bones movie, but yeah, hope he finds something better soon!

  13. Why thank you, lovely house you have here. 😀

    Oh yeah, I couldn’t decide at all if I was disappointed or slightly hopeful when I found out he was going to be in it, along with our beloved JRM. He’s brilliant in English series “Misfits” too, he steals the show for the first two seasons.

    1. Thanks V, you are welcome here any time 😀

      Yeah, seems to be a waste of talents, I also like Lena Heady but she has a small part in that movie. I haven’t heard of that show either, but I’m so behind on TV series!

        1. I actually haven’t seen the film though I did interview some of the cast, including Lily Collins. I was hoping Lena Heady or JRM were the ones available for interviews!

    2. Laura

      ooh yes, i agree, i love misfits especially the first two seasons i didn’t like it when the original cast eventually died out

  14. Laura

    i think Chris O’dowd definitely deserves a mention, i mean c’mon the man is such a cute legend and a brilliant sweet actor, great at variety acting. Appart from that the list was good.

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