Happy Birthday Gabriel Byrne! Five fave roles of the elegant Irish thespian

Today one of my favorite Irish actors Gabriel Byrne turns 62. He still looked so darn good for being in his 60s that I thought he’s much younger than that. Hence my omission from my Top 10 Favorite Seasoned Actors list.

He was however on my list of Top 10 Chat-Worthy Irish Actors, and not only because he’s the kind of tall, dark and handsome actors who always catch my eye, but he’s also massively talented. Even though he doesn’t always get leading roles, you’ll likely to remember him when he enters a scene. Magnetic in a melancholy and mysterious kind of way, Gabriel has this enigmatic presence that you can’t tell which side he’s on. Appropriately, he’s played both in 1999 in Stigmata and End of Days, respectively. Oh and then there’s the voice, the raspy, throaty voice to match to add to his undeniable allure.

He’s currently juggling film and TV work, starring in a UK series Coup after his HBO hit series In Treatment wrapped in 2010. On top of that, he’s fulfilling his duty as a UNICEF Ireland Ambassador after being appointed in November 2004.

I’m extremely hopeful that I could see two of his upcoming films currently in the works, At Swim Two Birds and All Things To All Men, both of which I’ve mentioned in this ensemble cast post. Of course I’m still hoping to see him cast in a gritty crime drama like the Moran’s Epilogue pitch I made last year, bonus: he gets to keep his Irish brogue 😀

So in honor of his birthday, here’s a list of my top five favorite roles:

The Man in the Iron Mask

I’ve dedicated a post for this film mainly because I was so taken by Gabriel’s performance as the dashing and regal d’Artagnan. Forget Leo DiCaprio and his dual role as an imprisoned brother and a French king, it’s every time the King’s right-hand-man appears on screen is always my favorite parts from the movie. Never has the archetypal character been brought to screen in such depth. Even amongst a cast that include John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons and Gerard Depardieu, Byrne still tops them all with his soulful performance.

The Point of No Return 

It’s not the greatest action flick but Byrne made the movie for me as Bridget Fonda’s handler as the former criminal is trained to be a Nikita-like assassin. I wish they had more scenes together as they had such palpable [read: HOT] chemistry. You could feel how much he’s torn by her attraction to her and his duty to the government, yet he tackles such a complicated emotion brilliantly.

Little Women

It’s been a while since I saw this film but it’s certainly got one of the best female cast in a period drama. The two main male actors however, are played by a young Christian Bale and Gabriel Byrne. Now, normally it’s pretty hard for anyone to beat Bale in a love triangle, but then again there’s not many professors as lovely and charming as Fredrick Bhaer. Byrne even spoke with a believable German accent, quite a feat for an Irish man. I think the romance between Bhaer and Jo (played by Winona Ryder in one of her loveliest roles) is the heart of the film, LOVE, LOVE that ending. Seriously, why weren’t there a professor like that in my college?

Usual Suspects

It’s been a while since I saw this and though Kevin Spacey delivered an indelible performance in one of his creepiest characters, I think Byrne’s character is one of the most interesting one of the bunch. Bryan Singer cast the perfect actor for the part of a former crooked cop who wants to build a new life but somehow got dragged into his old life. Again his enigmatic persona works well for a movie with one of the biggest plot twists ever [ranked #2 on this AMC site]

Miller’s Crossing

Ah, Mr. Byrne in a Fedora. That hat is almost iconic in this film largely because of the way Byrne wears it. I LOVE how cool he looks in this movie and he’s got the most screen time here, which is perhaps why this is one of my favorite Coen Brothers’ movies 😉 Byrne plays Tom Regan, an advisor to a Prohibition-era crime boss, and once again he plays a character whose loyalties are divided between two warring mobs. Playing a morally-ambiguous antihero is definitely Byrne’s specialty. He’s the quintessential ‘quiet menace’ and he does it so effortlessly with those steely blue eyes. I wish he’d do more leading roles as he obviously is more capable in carrying a movie.


Please join me in celebrating this wonderful Irish actor by sharing your favorite Gabriel Byrne’s film(s) or roles.

26 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Gabriel Byrne! Five fave roles of the elegant Irish thespian

  1. Fine list for an extraordinary actor, Ruth. At least we have Miller’s Crossing and The Usual Suspects in common. Mine would include:
    – Defense of the Realm (investigative reporter in an underrated UK thriller)
    – End of Days (believe it or not, he as the Devil is the best thing in the film)
    – Stigmata (well, if I have him as Satan, I have to balance that out with this priest role — he really is a joy to watch)

    Fun post, as usual.

    1. Oh I haven’t seen Defense of Realm, better check that one out. I usually like UK films. I’m too scared to see Stigmata but I did see End of Days and Gabriel certainly makes for a convincing Devil incarnate! Thanks Michael.

  2. He is nothing short of stunning on IN TREATMENT. That show really made me appreciate him an actor, more than any film he has ever done. I think it’s his crowning achievement.

    You’ve highlighted some of his finest work, though. Well done!

    1. Hi Dave, I have only seen In Treatment’s clips on YouTube but yeah, no doubt he’s excellent in such a role. Glad you’re a big fan of this tremendous actor.

  3. Finally, someone else who loves The Man in the Iron Mask. I personally love the one-two punch of Byrne and Jeremy Irons…the sheer amount of long flowing locks in that movie.

    1. Yay! I LOVE that movie, I think it’s still the best movie about Three Musketeers. Yes I love Irons and Malkovich here but Byrne is my fave of the bunch.

  4. I probably haven’t seen him at his best in things like Ghost Ship and the remake of Assault on Precinct 13. He was great in Usual Suspects and does look very cool in Miller’s Crossing. That’s definitely one I want to see. I also like the sound of In Treatment so might get round to that one day!

    1. Ahah, I haven’t seen those two and perhaps for the best eh? Miller’s Crossing is very good, esp. if you’re a fan of the Coens’ work.

  5. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth and company:

    You’ve hit all of the high notes with your treatise on Mr. Byrne!

    First caught my attention in Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ as an actor who knows how to use quiet and stillness to his advantage,

    Much more so in ‘Miller’s Crossing’ when you knew there was something going on behind his blue eyes, but not exactly what. A very John Garfield kind of role that pays off handsomely.

    Absolutely superb in ‘The Usual Suspects’ in a cast that effortlessly pulls the plow. Since everyone is dead, except perpetual liar and story teller Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze. Who’s to say what really happened at the San Pedro piers?

    Byrne’s use of quiet returns big time as psychiatrist Paul Weston in HBO’s ‘In Treatment’. As a shrink who has and hides more problems and issues than his patients.

    Excellent drama any way you slice it!

    1. Hello Jack! Oh I didn’t know he’s starred in a Michael Mann film, very cool, better check that one out. Amen to what you said on his roles in ‘Miller’s Crossing’ and ‘The Usual Suspects.’ His enigmatic persona put to great use. Ahah, I think most shrinks probably have more issues than their patients! 😀

  6. Of all his films that I’ve watched so far, I liked The Man In the Iron Mask and Enemy of the State. However, I do plan on checking out Assault on Precinct 13 one of these days. Also, I stopped by to let you know that I nominated Flix Chatter for the Versatile Blogger Award!

  7. Ted S.

    Wow I can’t believe he’s 62 years old! The first movie I ever saw him in was Miller’s Crossing back when I was in high school and thought for sure he’d be a big name actor, but somehow he got stuck as the character actor.

    I’ve never seen Little Women or The Man in the Iron Mask but the other three films were pretty good.

  8. Alex Withrow

    Excellent write-up of a seriously under appreciated actor. I’m with Dave, Byrne’s work on In Treatment is some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. He is breathtaking in every single episode. A revelation of television acting (and, really, acting in general).

    A few of my other favorite Byrne performances:
    P.S., in which he plays Laura Linney’s sex-addicted ex husband

    Jindabyne, in which he and a group of friends find a dead body while on holiday, but do nothing about it

    Spider, in which he plays Ralph Fiennes’ troubled father

    Well done!

  9. I haven’t seen much from Byrne, unfortunately, though I did really enjoy him in The Usual Suspects. I see that he’s in Dead Man, which I plan on checking out soon as part of my project. I’ll keep tabs on him in that one. 😀

  10. My favourite has to be his role in Vanity Fair saved the film as his role of The Marquess of Steyne and an oldie The Riordans some might not remember.
    I still think he would be wonderful as Tom Lefroy the Barrister former love interest of the mighty Jane Austen he would be fabulous. He was awarded an honorary degree in late 2007 by the National University of Ireland, Galway, in recognition of Byrne’s “outstanding contribution to Irish and international film”.

  11. Apolena

    Well, this guy is truly a fantastic actor, but his german accent is way off in Little Woman- kind of weird… Still love his voice anyway and anytime.

  12. Ruth!! I am very late to this birthday party for Gabriel Byrne–sorry! Thanks so much for this lovely posting. I agree with all of your choices, of course. In addition to his work in “In Treatment,” as noted by several responders, I would add “Wah-Wah” to your list of must-sees. His work in this film is stunning and unfortunately “Wah-Wah” is not on everyone’s radar. In addition, check out “Into The West,” from 1992, filmed in Ireland and truly one of the best films about Ireland and its cultural heritage. Now that his service as Cultural Ambassador for Ireland has ended, he has a ton of projects in the pipeline, including the already mentioned “All Things To All Men” and “At Swim-Two-Birds” (which is still seeking funding!). “I, Anna,” with Charlotte Rampling, premiered at the Berlinale in February and is on the film festival circuit, showing at the Sydney Film Festival later in June. “John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man,” is premiering in Ireland now and his narration for this documentary is wonderful. “Coup,” for UK television, is set to run this summer. In the works are “Le Capital,” directed by Costa-Gavras, “Le Temps de l’Aventure,” with Emmanuelle Devos, and “The Amorous Humphrey Plugg,” with Patricia Clarkson, directed by Allison Anders. Who says you have to slow down as you get a bit older. Obviously no one has mentioned this to Mr. Byrne! Thanks again for the lovely birthday posting, Ruth.

    1. Hi Stella, no biggie, I know we’re all busy. Oooh I LOVE Wah-Wah, I should’ve included that in the Honorable Mentions. I also love Emily Watson in it, she’s so underrated!

      I want to see Into The West, that sounds wonderful and I’m sure the scenery is lovely.

      I can’t wait to see “All Things To All Men” and “At Swim-Two-Birds” – can’t believe they’re still waiting for funding for that one. Can’t the actors just pitch in and get the thing made?? I mean they all have means by now don’t they? 😀

      Thanks for visiting, Stella. You sure pick a great man to be crushing on, as do we, he..he..

  13. Stella Kuru

    Oh, and I forgot: “Vikings,” the first scripted series for The History Channel, set to air in 2013! Golly. What a busy guy, huh?

    1. Yes, I mentioned “Into the West” in my comment above (1992, he starred and was also associate producer. Read more here if you like: http://www.byrneholics.com/career/feature-films/into-the-west-1992/ And “Frankie Starlight” has some great Byrne in the beginning but the story moves on without him, so it never shows up on lists like these…If you want to see him at his most amazing, I say “Wa-Wah” and “In Treatment.” Cannot think of anyone else in these roles!

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