Ciarán Hinds on The Eclipse, Ghosts and Being a Director's Actor
Ireland's not necessarily a place we think of as haunted, unless we're talking politically or spiritually. But not necessarily by traditional ghosts. Should we?
You know, Christianity has its own superstition anyway: Why you turn three times, what this saint means, why you pray to the patron saint of lost causes, why you go this way or that way. But pre-Christianity, we were a Catholic nation, I suppose. And if you go through Catholic mythology, there are all these druids and banshees. The banshees are the ones with all these screams. And you know, it's weird, because as a kid reading all these legends -- like the Greek legends with Achilles and Agamemnon and Hercules? We had Cú Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill -- bigger men who would slay a hundred men with a single blow. We have stories like that. The rivers would run red with blood, and this man would tie himself to a tree and still [persevere]. I mean, extraordinary imagery. And there would always be something like shape-shifters, where the druids would come down and help and aid and heal. And I guess the closest to that would be the witch/wizard type.
And the banshees were the ghosts of the air -- "the shriek of the banshee." There were a couple of moments in this where we're talking about a noise or a sound, and all of the sudden we'd hear something outside. And she's lying down and says, "What is that?" "Oh, it's a bird." But really it's like, "Fucking hell -- what the fuck is that?" The sound that Conor puts in was the shriek of a banshee. So there is that, maybe deep in our soul or the psyche.
Do you believe in ghosts yourself?
I don't disbelieve in them. Like when we talk about the senses: We know we have five. But apart from quoting film titles like The Sixth Sense or the myth of the seventh son of the seventh son -- who has the powers of healing -- we have an understanding of things that seem to us otherworldly. Or maybe they're not otherworldly. Maybe they're part of this world, we just haven't had our eyes open to them yet.
You've played so many roles, but more than the eclecticness of the roles or scripts, I look at the directors: Paul Thomas Anderson, Todd Solondz--
Sam Mendes. I don't know how I got to work with these guys.
Do you think yourself as a director's actor?
I know I don't go looking for directors. I always wonder why they chose me. Really. There are a lot of choices to make. You say, "Why?" It's still a mystery. Whether somebody said, "He's not difficult to work with," or "He's cheap," whatever the reasons. And there's more than one reason. Maybe they see you in something, and whatever they see, they like enough to want to use. One moment I thought, "Maybe I'm just in fashion." I really don't know, because that, too, will pass. The way I look at it is that someone has put their trust in you, and you say, "Wow, that's fantastic." Then you say, "Don't fuck up." For them, because they somehow asked you to do something. You have to find out not the reason why they asked specifically, but the way to fulfill what they've asked you to do. Now, sometimes it's a bit scary -- "I don't know if I'm up for this" -- but somehow you have to find a way.
I was just watching There Will Be Blood again a few weeks ago, just to see how it held from blowing my mind in 2007. And yep--
It holds up.
Good. I'm glad, because I'm looking forward to seeing it again. I haven't seen it since it came out.
Three years on from making it, what is your take on the reception for and the ensuing culture around that film?
Well, I was there, and some people come up to me and say, "Did they cut a lot of your stuff out?" I say, "Yes, I did other stuff. Whether Paul [Thomas Anderson] said, 'That was so bad, put it in the bin,' or whether he said, 'I'm just going to focus on the main issue, which is oil and religion,' and then narrowed it down in an extraordinary, brilliant way, that's OK. I admire the film so much, and what I loved about it was that I was on there for seven or eight weeks, and I was working, and sometimes I wasn't working. And just to observe two great, great artists... I don't use the word "artists" lightly. "Art" is for art. These guys -- Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson -- where they're coming from is this mindset and physicality and desire and a drive. "Whatever this is, this is all the time we've got." And so I watched them not just for their creativity, but to see them roll their friggin' sleeves up and work and work and be like laborers and never give up and never say, "I think we got that." Just keep going.
You'd see the state of them by the end of the week; they were doing six-day weeks. They were knackered. They'd get a couple of drinks and were preparing for the next week. I mean, relentless. And it shows in the work. Also the camera, just working, working, working. "Give me another lens." They used all the time they had. And then when I saw it, I wasn't just amazed. I was thrilled, because they sort of broke the rules of how you're supposed to make a film. We've got license to do more kinds of different films in Europe than in America. Of course you can get somewhere, but it's difficult to break into American markets. Just the idea that he broke the rules of how you're supposed to make films in America -- for something that big -- and that was a thrill visually. And to watch it being made -- to see. So I'm looking forward to seeing it again.
[SPOILER ALERT] How did you wind up in a Harry Potter film (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) playing a member of the Dumbledore clan?
Dumbledore's kid brother! Dumbledore was about 123, so that makes me 115. Dumbledore's passed away in the story, but there's some link back to his earlier childhood that needs to be revealed to the... well, they're not so much kids anymore. They're young adults. I was asked, "The director wants to meet you, because he knows your work and thinks you might suit this role." We just met, and he was very lovely. It was just, "I'd like you to do this; I think it's going to work out." It was only like four days', five days' work. But it did involve a lot of prosthetics. What's great is that I won't be hassled by anybody in the street because they won't know who was in there.
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