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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 🙂