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Gabriel Byrne Talks Film: “Hollywood Never Existed To Make Art, It Always Existed To Make Money”
04 Dec 2012 : By Eva Hall
Gabriel Byrne getting a tour of the new National Film School premises at IADT
“It is essential for a director to take an acting class” was the advice veteran actor Gabriel Byrne gave to aspiring filmmakers at the National Film School in Dun Laoghaire last night.

Addressing the 100-strong crowd, Byrne, who is in Dublin filming upcoming BBC drama ‘Quirke’, spoke at length of the good and the bad that has come with his 30-year career, and told how at times he chose projects for the money rather than the role.

“There have been projects that I've done for money and they went on to be commercial successes,” he said, adding: “If you're not very careful as an actor or director you can be very quickly typecast. Play against who you are. Most people think I’m a very serious guy [which is why I get serious roles].”

Speaking of directing, Dublin-born Byrne said directors who do not understand the art of acting will “be dropped”. “You'll be surprised at some directors that have incredible reputations pay no attention to actors. They pay attention to lighting and camera rigs. An actor has a certain amount of control but not a lot. You have to understand where the drama is and how your camera can capture that.”

Byrne gave the film students a number of examples to gain inspiration from, most notably Buster Keaton, of whom he said “was absolutely still and he allows things to happen him. He was the first one to use the camera close up and develop the art of doing less.”

He also mentioned Irish-American director John Ford, whose film ‘Stagecoach’ is widely used in film training all round the world, and was famously watched by renowned film director Orson Welles 58 times before Welles made his own ‘Citizen Kane’.

Byrne continued: “Anything that takes you out of the telling of the story is not a good sign. If you're looking at the back of the film noticing extras, that the makeup is too heavy, if you can see he’s wearing a wig, not a good sign.”

Byrne has tried his hand at writing and producing as well as acting, but has never taken the director’s seat. “I love the idea, and I have tremendous respect for directors, but I haven’t come across anything that I'm passionate enough to direct.”

He added that if he was to direct a film, the one thing he’d make sure he had was a decent editor: “If I was directing a film I'd make sure I had the best editor. A great editor can make a film great, a bad editor can make a great film bad.”

Byrne ended his lecture by noting that “Hollywood never existed to make art, it always existed to make money”, and although he freely admits to practising this himself, speaking to IFTN after his public interview, Byrne said he has “always” been a John Banville fan, and was “delighted to be back here [Dublin]” to film Banville’s three-part drama ‘Quirke’.

Having recently wrapped filming on The History Channel TV series ‘Vikings’ in Co Wicklow, ‘Quirke’ is Byrne’s second Irish-based project in a row. Production began on November 19: “It's great to be back home working with a brilliant Irish crew and Irish cast. It’s fantastic. I’ve about four months [shooting] left, it's three one hour 20 minute films.”

Byrne also addressed his controversial comments he made about The Gathering last month, in which he said the government-backed campaign was a “shake down” of expatriates. Byrne defended his comments last night: “I think I'm in a very good position having lived in America since 1987 to hear what those people are saying and to report it back here, and instead of getting defensive and saying whatever those lame comments that they came out with, maybe we should think if ways of where we can improve on that.”

The former cultural ambassador for Ireland added: “I would still say what I said, I think that the bulk of what I was saying about nurturing and developing a real relationship with a very complex group of emigrants is absolutely essential, that's really what I was talking about. Who am I to keep people from coming to the country, I was merely reflecting the opinions of people that I'd met in America”.

Byrne was recently seen in Channel 4’s ‘Secret State', in which he played British politician Tom Dawkins. He will be seen next in ‘Quirke’, in which he plays pathologist Garrett Quirke, which will air on BBC One in 2013, and in ‘Vikings’, in which he plays Earl Haraldson, which will air on The History Channel in March 2013.

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