With his “Into the Storm” telefilm coming up at month’s end, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson’s portrayal of WWII British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is already drawing advance raves. The notice that stands out most for him came the other night at a screening in London – from Churchill’s daughter, 86-year-old Lady Mary Soames.
“I think she was genuinely pleased,” he happily reports. “She said I didn’t fall into the usual traps or something of that nature. Of course for her it was all looking into the past. She said, ‘This is very emotional for me.’”
The joint HBO-BBC production, executive produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, picks up where the 2002 “The Gathering Storm” left off – with the war years seen via flashbacks as Winston and Clementine Churchill (Janet McTeer, in a rich performance) await his post-war election results. “The Gathering Storm” won shelves full of awards, including Emmys for Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Lead Actor for Albert Finney — a fact of which Gleeson was quite aware when he took on the job. Finney’s performance, he says, “had such force and humanity in it, you say, ‘Where do you take it from there?’”
Portraying the iconic figure “was a huge acting challenge” — that included playing 20 years older than himself. Gleeson admits, “I was a little wary of it being a bridge too far, of miscasting myself, but the people involved were very encouraging.”
He notes, “It’s really important to separate the human being from the history, in a sense. Then just allow the history to happen to him.”
Since completing “Into the Storm,” Gleeson has made Paul Greengrass’ upcoming Iraq war movie, “Green Zone” with Matt Damon, Amy Ryan and Greg Kinnear. And he has “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I,” his last installment of his role as professor “Mad-Eye” Moody, ahead.
“My part will be limited in that. I just get finished off, pretty much like the book,” he tells us. “Those are such a good time.”
GETTING UP TO SPEEDMAN: With Atom Egoyan’s “Adoration” newly in release and the Western “Last Rites of Ransom Pride” in the can, Scott Speedman says, “I’m just trying to get a good job right now. It’s quite challenging to find the money for a certain type of film at the moment.”
The actor who rose to fame on “Felicity” says he’s certainly not ruling out TV. “I never say never. Doing a series is not something that’s a burning desire for me. I like the nomadic lifestyle of making movies and the challenge of playing different characters. But if the right kind of thing with the right people came along, I’d be open. I had such a great experience with TV before.”
The right people had everything to do with his role at the caretaker of an orphaned teen (Devon Bostick) fraught with painful issues concerning his late parents – who adopts a disturbing story about terrorists as his own background – in “Adoration.” “I wanted to work with Atom Egoyan,” says Scott. “Growing up in Toronto, he’s a legend up there. I have a list of guys I wanted to work with and he’s definitely on it. I pictured a quiet auteur director who didn’t talk much and who hung out behind the monitor, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was up front and right there beside us as we were working.”
PLAYERS: With a May 18 start date looming on the Robert DeNiro-Edward Norton “Stone,” they’re just wrapping up casting of minor roles in the movie, based on a play by Angus MacLachlan (“Junebug”), in which DeNiro plays a parole officer who develops a friendship with a teaching assistant. One juicy part is that of Lucetta, a thirtyish preschool teacher described as “sexy, fun, promiscuous, naïve yet unpredictable.” She sleeps with DeNiro’s character trying to get her husband out of jail.
With retired Major League Baseball players coming in to do Steven Soderbergh’s “Moneyball” Brad Pitt starrer – and real game footage being used for super verisimilitude — all that’s left is to cast are such off-the-field participants as managers and scouts, and that final casting is what is happening now. The story of the 2002 Oakland A’s and their general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) already has baseball and computer geeks excited – depicting Beane’s success with a never-before-tried system of team building based on computer statistical analyses.
With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster