Although the biggest winner at the Oscars was clearly “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once”, and although “Banshees of Inisherin ” went home without an award, it is worth noting that alongside a record number of Asian nominations, we have never seen so many nominations for Irish actors (five out of 20 nominations). And let’s not forget “The Quiet Girl”, which was the first Irish-language film to be nominated at the world’s most important awards ceremony on Sunday.
For a relatively small island, there is no shortage of familiar Irish faces when you look at film history. From kings and queens to international spies and genius wizards, Irish actors have played a number of impressive roles over the decades.
Let’s start with the greatest! Three-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis is considered one of the greatest actors of all time for a reason, in part because of his method acting approach. Day-Lewis is known for completely embracing a role, letting the role consume every aspect of his life, not just a job or a state of mind when he’s on set. She has done extensive research for all his roles, for example, on the set of “The Crucible” (1996), he lived in a replica of a 1600s Massachusetts village, in a place with no running water or electricity, and even built his own house on set. Day-Lewis retired from acting in 2017, and during his career, he has brought such classics to the stage as “My Left Foot” (1989), “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) and “There Will Be Blood” (2007).
Liam Neeson established his acting career at the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin, before cementing his name among Hollywood’s biggest stars many years later via numerous nominations and awards. But his road to fame was far from easy: he was still making his name in Irish theatres at the age of 20; he continued his 30s with television miniseries roles and it was only after his Oscar-nominated role in “Schindler’s List” (1993), at the age of 41, that the film industry realised he might be worth trying out for bigger films. In blockbuster films such as the new Star Wars trilogy of the late ’90s, “Batman Begins”, followed by “Taken” (2008), which created a very popular and successful category in the action hero palette: the angry dad.
Belfast’s Kenneth Branagh’s contribution to cinema is not only due to his acting, as he was the first person to be nominated for an Oscar in 8 different categories. His filmography is full of Shakespearean works: he starred in and directed “Henry V” (1989), “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993) and “Hamlet” (1996), but he was also seen in “Othello” (1994), to name but a few. Branagh directed and played Viktor Frankenstein in the 1994 film “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein”. And of course, in 2002 Branagh played fan favourite Professor Gildroy Lockhart in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”. He has also directed films such as “Thor” (2011), one of the first films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the 2015 live-action “Cinderella”, the first of the live-action Disney remakes.
Saoirse Ronan is currently one of Hollywood’s most popular young actresses. Born in the Bronx borough of New York, she moved to Ireland with her Irish parents as a young child. Since then, she has become one of the most successful Irish actresses, coming to the attention of the industry at the age of just 12 when she was nominated for an Academy Award for “Atonement” (2007). But unlike most child actors, she has been a regular at the annual awards: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) “Brooklyn” (2016), “Ladybird” (2018), “Little Women” (2020), to name but a few.
And if we are looking to the future, we have Paul Mescal! “Aftersun”, written and directed by Charlotte Wells, was one of the most emotional and beautiful films of the year. The low-budget film about the father-daughter relationship may not have been as loud and spectacular in this year’s field and Oscar buzz, but Paul Mescal, playing the depressed young dad, scored his first Oscar nomination for the lead role of his life. Although the gold statuette went to the returning Brendan Fraser for his performance in “The Whale”, one thing is for sure: Paul Mescal put himself on the world map and proved that he is much more than a charming, sad-eyed pretty boy.
Mescal, who was originally meant to be an athlete, decided to give up sport and dive into the theatre because of a jaw injury. We’re all very happy with this decision, think of “Normal People” (2020) or “The Lost Girl” (2021), but it’s certainly a sign that Ridley Scott has cast him in the lead role in the new “Gladiator” movie, which will debut in cinemas next year. Incidentally, another recent Oscar-nominated Irish actor, Barry Keoghan, has been cast in another important role in the film.