Ever since his casting as one of the new young leads in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII, actor Domhnall Gleeson has been riding a wave of public interest and fame. Up until now, he’s been quietly carving a career for himself in films like Richard Curtis’ About Time and Dredd 3D, and another one of his quirky turns hits the screen this week with the release of Frank.
Loosely based on the life of the late, controversial musician/performance artist Frank Sidebottom/Chris Sievey, it casts none other than Michael Fassbender as Frank, the leader of unpronounceable indie rock band Soronprfbs, which is less interested in popularity than they are in allowing Frank’s every crazy artistic whim, including his wearing of a giant plaster head 24/7.
Fassbender never takes off the head for 90% of the film’s runtime, yet gives a singular, hauntingly hilarious performance, assisted by Gleeson as Jon, the new keyboard player who wants to let people in the Twittersphere know about Frank.
Last week, ComingSoon.net had a fun chat with Domhnall Gleeson in New York about navigating his own newfound fame, “Star Wars” secrets, musical influences and just what might be inside Frank’s head.
But first, ComingSoon.net has an exclusive Red Band clip from the movie featuring an awkward encounter between Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays Clara.
ComingSoon.net: There’s one question our readers are going to be interested in foremost: If you hit Frank enough times in the head with a stick
will candy come out?
Domhnall Gleeson:I think poo more than candy. He’d probably s**t himself, if we’re gonna be honest. Hit a man enough times in the head and he’ll probably crap himself. I think that’s more likely than the candy. You could try, though! Michael’s pretty fit. My guess is if you hit him in the head he’ll hit back, and he’ll win, then he’ll try to find out if there’s candy in your head.
CS: He’s a walking pinata that packs a punch. The movie itself is very much a diegetic musical, so how much musical experience did you have coming into “Frank”?
Gleeson: I had no musical experience on the keyboard, so I had to learn keyboard for the film. I’d been in ceilidh bands when I was a kid, like Irish music, so I played the fiddle. I had an amazing fiddle teacher called Paul O’Shaughnessy, one of the best fiddle players in Ireland. I think the best. So I’d had a history of music but it was Irish music which is very different sort of stuff. The notion of being in a band for a while was really exciting, and a band with Carla Azar (Autolux), who is one of the most respected drummers in the world and rightly so, she’s phenomenal. With François Civil, who’s a very brilliant guitarist and very inventive musically. Myself and Maggie practiced for the movie, and Michael is a superb frontman, he has such charisma and a great voice. It was amazing.
CS: You guys were on TV last night.
Gleeson: Yeah, we were on “The Colbert Report.” Like you said it’s diegetic music in the thing, so it’s us playing in the movie. It was nice to go on TV and show we can play in a band. I think the sound could have been a bit dirtier, a little bit more aggressive just in the way we mixed it last night, but the performance was solid and exciting.
CS: You can fake it ’til you make it now.
Gleeson: Yeah yeah yeah, exactly. That’s the whole thing, we don’t even need to fake it, we just make it!
CS: Going beyond the stunt-casting aspect, why was it important that it be Michael Fassbender, a movie star, under that head as opposed to an unknown?
Gleeson: I think what you need inside that head isn’t a movie star and isn’t NOT a movie star. What you need inside that head is an amazing actor to inhabit it, to create a character who really talks to people, and is really in the room. Michael brings such energy to everything that he does, all different sorts of energies. When Michael put the head on and figured out who Frank was ’cause it was a process, also through music rehearsals as I was finding out who Jon was. Once he knew who Frank was and walked into the room, it was just stunning. You can’t take your eyes off him, and it’s because you don’t know what he’s going to do next. An anarchy, which I thought was wonderful and plays very well in the film. I think it’s powerful stuff, he can make you sad.
CS: I see a lot of fractured musical geniuses in him, a little Daniel Johnston, a little Buckethead, a bit of Brian Wilson, a touch of Jim Morrison.
Gleeson: Daniel Johnston, of course. I haven’t heard Buckethead before, that’s interesting. Certainly in the voice Jim Morrison, and I think Iggy Pop as well. A little bit in the movement and in the voice there’s a little Iggy Pop. Johnny Cash in the voice, maybe.
CS: Did the director Lenny Abrahamson reference any of those artists?
Gleeson: Obviously my journey was different than Michael’s. Obviously I think everyone saw “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” and I watched a couple Rolling Stones documentaries. What’s the one where they’re locked up in a hotel in France going apeshit, they’ve gone down the hole?
CS: “C*cksucker Blues.”
Gleeson: Yeah, that’s the one! So I watched that, and Lenny sent me a couple of those types of things. I’d seen “Dig!” before, where you see cabin fever set in. That’s what we needed, except we almost literally had cabin fever because we were literally in a cabin and it was winter.
CS: Daniel Johnston is actually thanked in the credits, was he involved at all?
Gleeson: I don’t believe so. The reason to thank him would be that he’s an influence on the film, the same way that Frank Sidebottom/ Chris Sievey is an influence on the film.
CS: To me “Frank” was about the way we mythologize, exploit and ultimately degrade artists for their mental illness. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
Gleeson: I think that is one thing that is very important about the film. I find it difficult to say that a film is about one thing, particularly one that you’re in because your job, in a way, is for it to be not about one thing. My job is not to worry about the message of the film but just to bring the character, to make it entertaining and tell the story as best you can. Messages you kind of leave behind. I certainly talked to Lenny about what we needed the film to be to be successful on its own terms, and yes exactly what you’re talking about, the notion of misunderstanding mental illness or glamorizing it, or thinking, “How amazing, he killed himself when he was 27, how tortured!” That’s just awful. It’s a human being for whom life got too much for, and it’s amazing that they made music and left a legacy. That’s a beautiful thing, but the rest of it is not glamorous, it’s not cool, it’s just something difficult to deal with.
CS: In a lot of ways your character Jon — as naïve as he is — is the antagonist of the piece.
Gleeson: Yeah, I’m in most scenes of the movie. I’m the one with the voiceover, I tell the story through my eyes, and yet I’m the destructive influence, which I think is a really nice thing. You can’t hate him all the time ’cause then that’s not a movie. I did talk to Lenny about not making him safe or too likable. As long as somebody’s entertaining it doesn’t matter how they’re entertaining. Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” is a horrible human being, but he’s our lead. He’s who we follow, and you are entertained all the way through! You’re on his side, in a way, even though you find it absolutely deplorable what he’s doing. So I found it okay for this guy to be an absolute worm, for this guy to be selfish and just takes takes takes, “Wouldn’t it be great if we ” Blind to the fact that he’s destroying these people. I really liked that, and then it’s fun when you get to see him suffer.
CS: It’s set-up cleverly in that in the beginning we see that the previous piano player has gone insane and there’s the built-in suspense of, “Oh, is Jon going to be driven mad too?” But no, your character is going to make everybody else batty.
Gleeson: Yeah, exactly! He’s going to inflict himself on the band, but then I love the fact that he drops his job. It’s not like he’s just an asshole, he’s a dreamer. He drops his job to go away and stay in a cabin for like a year. (laughs) When they’re not even recording! And he stays there. I think that’s really interesting, because he has pure aspiration but just no talent. That’s a difficult thing to reconcile.
(At this point, Max tried to get into “Star Wars” with Domhnall as well talking about his father, one of Ireland’s finest actors, Brendan Gleeson, which you can read right here.)
CS: You’ll be acting alongside some heavy-hitters in “The Revenant.” Tell us about your character in that.
Gleeson: I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say about that. I’m not sure if I’ve signed a thing or anything. I don’t know. I’d really like to talk about it but I don’t know if I’m allowed but it’s based on real life.
CS: It’s a neo-Western, right? Sort of a “Jeremiah Johnson”-style survival story?
Gleeson: I guess so, yeah, but it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. I’ve been lucky to read some phenomenal scripts in the past few years. “Unbroken” was a fabulous script. The Alex Garland one “Ex Machina” is absolutely tip-top superb.
CS: Is that based on the comic book?
Gleeson: No, it’s a three-hander, psychologically intense thriller. It’s me and Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. It’s beautiful. The “Revenant” script is right up there, it’s phenomenal.
(Photo Credit: WENN.com)