What You Don't Know About Brendan Gleeson

There's nobody quite like Brendan Gleeson, in spite of the fact that two of his sons are also actors. Readers of a certain age may be more familiar with Domhnall Gleeson, who made bureaucracy sexy in Star Wars and romanced Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina and Rachel McAdams in About Time. If it weren't for Papa Gleeson, though, Domhnall and Brian, with whom he performed on stage in play The Walworth Farce (via The Daily Edge), wouldn't have such esteemed footsteps to follow in. 


His onscreen debut came all the way back in 1989, in TV movie Dear Sarah, and Gleeson has been a fixture of the stage and screen ever since. Irish audiences are particularly enamored with the extended Gleeson family, since they still reside in the country and, by all accounts, remain regular citizens, as per Irish AmericaThere are five famous Gleeson men total, but only one Brendan. Suffice to say, his story is one worth telling even outside of his hugely impressive acting career.

His directorial debut was a family affair

Although Gleeson is predominantly known for his work in front of the camera, in 2019, he stepped behind it. And, naturally, he took his boys with him. As the Irish Independent reports, all four sons were part of Gleeson's directorial debut, the short film Psychic. Domhnall and Brian acted alongside him, of course, as his onscreen sons, while Fergus did the score and Rory wrote the script. Following Gleeson's eccentric psychic whose sons force him back to work for their own financial gain, the movie's reportedly a mixture of "light and dark" comedy. 


On collaborating with his kids, Gleeson advised the Irish Film and Television Network (via Irish Independent), "It was difficult enough because everybody's pretty fiercely professional in their own way and it was crossing into family lines and talking about family." One of the strangest responses came when viewers noted how similar the five Gleeson men look. As the first-time director opined of the production, "It was an interesting one. It wasn't as simple as I thought it might be, and at the same time, I thought it was hugely enjoyable."

He's got a secret music career

As Irish America notes, Gleeson is a vocal fan of so-called "diddle-i-ay" music, more commonly known as traditional Irish music. He played fiddle for movie Cold Mountain, as well as on the 2009 live album of band Atlan. The actor is effusive about his love of trad, explaining, "I remember, years ago, I didn't get what some old guy was doing that was so special. I asked somebody, 'It's all scratchy and everything, what does everybody see in it? I don't get it.' And he said 'Ah, it's the small print, the small print.'" 


Gleeson shared that traditional Irish music isn't about being over the top and grandiose, but finding the beauty in the smaller moments. Gleeson gushed, "Once you start reading it, the intricacy of it ... it's like lace or something, it's what people do on the inside." The actor started playing around the age of 19 or 20 and couldn't figure out what made a jig and a reel different because everything initially sounded similar. However, "what you can find once you go in — it's never-ending. So that's my love."

Acting came to Gleeson late in life

Although he's a screen stalwart nowadays, it's worth noting that Gleeson started acting when he was already a fully-fledged adult. As The Irish Times notes, the Harry Potter star was a teacher for many years until, at age 34, he decided to change tacks and pursue acting full time. Even so, Gleeson envisioned himself performing in plays and small Irish movies for the most part, admitting, "It never crossed my mind I could be a movie star." Indeed, America didn't come calling until the late '90s. 


Gleeson may have started late, compared to some of his contemporaries, but the Dublin native knew he wanted to act from a young age. He considered performing a pipe dream, however, setting it aside as he matured. As Gleeson revealed, "I never put that down as something viable." Although Gleeson acknowledges everybody likely wants to be a movie star on some level, he "never worked towards that," arguing, "I just liked the work."

He relishes playing smaller roles

Most actors of Gleeson's pedigree demand our full attention, whether they're leading a project or not, but the Irish legend argues that knowing your place is hugely important. As he explained in an interview with GQ"The cliché is that there's no small part. That's not true. Some things are just functional and actually you're getting in the way, especially on television, if you overdo it, if you try to turn into Hamlet or something." Gleeson advised that sometimes you just have to do what you've been hired to do and no more. 


In spite of his considerable success, Gleeson admitted, "I do love the freedom of a character that can come in and you're not carrying the main story. I get myself excited by thinking this is a free shot, right?" Of playing the incomparable, and brilliantly named, Knuckles McGinty in Paddington 2for example, he enthused, "That was just such, such fun. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant craic. It felt as big a mission as anything else I've done." 

Playing Trump was a major challenge

At this stage in his career, Gleeson has proven he can do it all, but when it came to playing Donald Trump for limited series The Comey Rule, the Dubliner found himself especially challenged for his art. The physical transformation was a huge part of his process for getting into character, naturally, with the actor explaining to RTÉ"When I started watching him first, I couldn't believe what I was looking at. I couldn't not separate the visual weirdness. 'How is he appearing like that?' And it was part of the whole thing." 


One major stumbling block for the veteran performer, however, was the fake teeth he was required to wear to portray the former commander-in-chief. "He has prominent upper teeth, but every time I did that I kind of spat them out in somebody's face! [Laughs] In fact, it happened one day in the shoot — I went into the meeting of all the generals and I spat my teeth out!" he reminisced.