In a tiny, overheated dressing room on the
third floor of Manhattan's Booth Theater, Stephen Rea crumples
in his chair and sits chin to knees, clutching his gut.
"Holy Mother of God," he bellows - something the soft-spoken
Rea rarely does - " my stomach just turned over."
One of Ireland's best - known stage and screen actors, the
lanky, shaggy-haired Rea has just had a sudden and unexpected
surge of Opening-in-America jitters. His 40-ish face, lined
with an optimist's innocence, stares at a blank wall, considering
the inevitability of...reviews. His brows draw together
in a deep furrow.
Rea may be in for a lot of critical inquiry, but with the
Broadway premiere last month of Frank McGuinness' play Someone
Who'll Watch Over Me (a dark comedy about three hostages
in Beirut), as well as the release of Neil Jordan's much
lauded The Crying Game (in which Rea plays a conflicted
member of the IRA), he probably won't be departing the American
scene any time soon.
His lyric turn as The Crying Game's
Fergus, the reluctant terrorist/lover, leaves audiences
feeling proprietary, wondering what will become of their
hapless guide whose descent into London's demimonde forms
the movie's emotional core. "He's an innocent because ideology
has closed him off to a lot of things," Rea explains, as
if speaking about a close but fragile friend. "And then
suddenly, when somebody becomes available to him, the floodgates
open. He's on a sort of a quest for redemption, but he ends
up sullied, doesn't he?"
While his perforrnance propels the movie, Rea says it's
Jordan who is responsible for Crying's tenuous and
surreal tone. "I'm arrogant enough to think I've done a
lot for the film, but it's completely Neil," says Rea. He's
always had this amazing vision, and he's enormously equipped
to give flesh to it."
This particular vision, like many of Rea's chosen projects,
achieves its momentum by way of a political conflict, and
yet Rea is reluctant to be considered political. It's not
too terrific for an actor to be identified with a particular
issue," he says. "People start to think you can't do comedy."
There's no getting around it, though, as Rea's personal
life begs the question. He was born the son of a bus driver
in Belfast, where he still lives with his wife, Dolours
Price, and their sons, Danny, 3 1/2, and Oscar (after Wilde),
2 1/2. Before they were married, Price, once active in the
movement for Irish independence, spent eight years in prison,
convicted of a car bombing in the early '70s, though Rea
says that neither of them is politically active now.
This last subject, which Rea rarely discusses, gets broached
by interviewers with great trepidation. "It's okay, it's
okay, it's okay," he whispers to ward off further apologies.
"I've been worked over by the English press because there's
an assumption that my politics are identical with my wife's,
and for that matter that my wife's politics are identical
with her politics of 20 years ago."
Rea stops to think just how much he wants to see in print.
He proceeds. "I don't feel ashamed of my wife's political
background, and I don't think she should either. I feel
that the people who administered the North of Ireland for
the last 20 years should be ashamed. There you are," he
says, as if he has just served soup. "That's a political
statement." Holy Mother of God, indeed.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Time, Inc.