the emphatically sumptuous Merrion Hotel even Rennies
are delivered on silver platters. A packet is carried
with self-conscious pomp and ceremony by a young waitress
to the room of one Stephen Rea. The whole landing has
been taken over by film stars from an Oscar hopeful. It
is hot stuff.
A receptionist offers to walk me up to the landing personally.
I admire her dedication and consideration. Then I remember,
Ralph Fiennes is on this landing somewhere.
Security are discreetly everywhere, minding the desirable
one, "Mention us," Darragh, dressed in a black
suit, shirt and tie says with a friendly smile. "Security
never gets a mention and all the work we do."
Mention made Darragh. Darragh is minding the big jewels
- Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore who have jetted in
for the premiere of The End of the Affair and are
now jetting out. I come in a the tail end of the proceedings.
The afternoon of the morning after. The hangover sandwiches
are gone, the cafetieres are drained.
Everyone is talking about being in hospital last night.
Kilmainham Hospital. That is where the post premiere party
happened. "Wasn't it great?" everyone is saying.
There's an anti-climatic sensation. The time to go home
has long past. All celebrities have left.
Except Stephen Rea, who doesn't have security and won't
be needing it, is still doing interviews. The other stars
turned down half of their requests. Too busy. Stephen
Rea is off down Grafton Street afterwards to do a few
things. The other stars are safely housed in limousines,
couched in celebrity, shadowed by rottweiler agents and
jack russell assistants.
That is the nature of the movie industry and the ones
it polishes up to be stars. They glimmer at a distance
and cannot be reached. Stephen Rea could be a star, but
he's too busy being an actor.
He is the real thing, one who acts professionally in all
in?" he asks the photographer, referring to how the
show is framed. "I like to know."
"Everything", the photographer says. Stephen
Rea adjusts himself accordingly.
"I hate having pictures done," the down-turned
features reach further towards the ground. "At least
when you're acting you can be someone. In front of the
camera you have to be yourself. And who am I?"
He is recognised among all and many as Ireland's most
gifted stage actor and a gift on screen too. He has worked
with some of the memorable ones - Beckett and Friel on
stage. Jordan on film. He is known to be brilliant. But
he hasn't a clue who he is.
He does know he has indigestion from eating scrambled
"They were lovely at the time," he sighs, "I'm
paying for them now."
Photographs taken, we retire to a room the size of an
entire Section 23 flat to talk about film and his role
He plays Henry Miles, the man whose wife Ralph Fiennes
character, Bendrix, falls hopelessly in love with. Henry,
for want of a better is a dry shite. English, a diplomat,
a tea cup clinker. Certainly in Graham Greene's
novel he is nothing to write home about. He and his wife
Sarah, played by Julianne Moore, "Lay like two figures
in a tomb".
In Neil Jordan's script he is humanised, given insight,
something which Graham Greene's rival for the affections
of a real life woman was not seen to have, but had in
On the day that his wife Catherine died, Harry Walston
wrote to Graham Greene, the man who had a passionate affair
with her and based the book The End of the Affair on it.
The letter was in answer to the one Greene had written
to him expressing condolences and remorse.
"Most difficult to answer. You shouldn't have remorse.
You gave pain - and joy - but you gave Catherine something
no one else did. It would not be right to say it changed
her life, it deepened it in many ways. You gave her a
love of reading that deepened her.
I find that I have omitted the ostensible purpose of this
letter - to thank you for writing. I do."
Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea worked to give the man who
had this ability to love his wife, the depth of character
Greene denied him of in the novel.
"Greene was a monster," Rea states baldly. "He
spent so much time in brothels. I have never been to a
brothel. I don't think I could go into one."
He goes on to defend the character he plays:
"You alway forget the cuckold is actually in love
as well. We're caught up in the action in the old bed,
having fun with the rompers. But the other guy, Henry
in this case, is loving too, more selflessly than the
man she had fallen in love with.
"That is true love and it is very moving. He is more
loving in the movie than is in the book, audiences are
touched by that, by his concern.
"The End of the Affair is a good movie because
it about things, things that really matter. Love, sex,
death. Have you ever seen romance?"
"That's another movie about something real. You see
real sex and it can be quite unnerving. I think sex is
handled well in this movie. Sarah is seen as a spiritual
person, but also a sexual one."
This puts paid to the presumption that spirituality is
from the head up and sexuality is from the navel down,
the two can intertwine, Stephen Rea believes.
When did he first meet Neil Jordan, the man he has collaborated
with on almost every film the two of them have ever made?
"We disagree on this. He thinks we met in London
in a pub run by a man called Jeremiah O'Neill, who was
also a novelist. He had a room out the back which he called
Sugan Theatre where expats gathered. I don't remember
Does he remember what he thought of the novelist soon
to be film director?
"He was very quiet and I was very quiet. So there
wasn't much conversation going on. I can guarantee you
that. Then he came up to me and said, 'I'm making this
film, would you like to be in it?' It was like a bolt
from the blue. I always wanted to be in movies but could
never figure out a way of getting into them. There were
none being made in Ireland at that time.
"Angel was the first Irish feature film. Neil's first
movie and my first movie."
Did he keep his shiny suit?
"No! Great wasn't it? I had total respect for him
as a character, the mad lad I played."
He has to have respect for all his characters and worked
hard to have it for Henry.
"You tend to believe what other characters in the
script say about yours. So when Sarah says Henry wouldn't
know what the sound of her having an orgasm is like, well,
I didn't want to do the part at first, " he says
in earnest. That's why he and Neil worked on it, to make
him a man Stephen Rea would want to play.
Did he have a sense that he would be lauded as Ireland's
finest stage and screen actor?
"I had a destiny. I had some sense of it. I was in
a house once and someone looked at my palm and said I
was going to be successful, but it would take longer than
I'd like. It did take longer than I would have liked."
He was in his forties before The Crying Game came
along with its famous willy shot. It, coupled with Rea's
reaction, will surely go down in history as one of the
great cinema moments. That film saw him onto an international
platform, but not before he had made his name as a theatre
actor. He took the newly formed National by storm in the
late eighties with his performances in Playboy,
then The Comedians and The Shaughran.
He formed Field Day along with Brian Friel and others.
He had worked with Beckett who referred to him as the
best there was.
Don't forget he also had a fabulous role in that great
post war epic - Crossroads, he was not averse to
taking silly telly roles to pay for Field Day's productions.
"People often refer to my career before The Crying
Game as something which led up to that point. But
I was very fulfilled in what I was doing. I did a lot
of work in England and here. I was locked up in a room
with Samuel Beckett, Donald McQuinney who was directing
and Patrick McGee who is a truly great actor, for four
weeks. I was with those guys. That was formative.
I've sat around in rooms with Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney,
Seamus Deane, Tom Paulin. It was a modern day salon of
ideas. They were ordinary lads, but they said some profound
Beckett gave Rea a pearl to play with for his acting career.
"I was trying to ask what a particular line meant
in a part and he said 'It is always ambiguous'. That was
the beginning of modern acting for me. You don't have
to tell a camera everything. It gets bored if you do and
wants to look elsewhere."
He is protective of his private life. There are some documented
facts. His wife is Dolours Price, who along with her sister
was convicted for their part in the 1973 Old Bailey bombing.
It is something he never talks about it, with every good
reason. They have two children who he clearly adores.
"I would be on my feet in the night even before they
started crying. When I tell women that they are amazed.
They thought it was only a women's instinct. But I have
had it too."
He is Belfast born and bred, a Protestant with a patriot's
heart in other direction, he is a Nationalist. He did
not wish to discuss politics in this particular interview.
He did refer to one friend, a doctor, who has moved his
very successful practice to Dublin from America.
"That is a act of patriotism. If you are allowed
to have those anymore."
We talk about love which involves total surrender to another.
Has he ever felt that?
"I have felt that for my kids. There is nothing like
being a parent. Everyone I know who has resisted it, when
it happens to them, feels the same. They should have done
it years ago. They really should have. I have one friend
who it has happened to - over the moon with it.
Has he ever felt that for another adult?
His saturnine face has earned him a reputation as morose.
He would have dark times and a thin skin, but he is more
than morose. His laughter is warm and real. He is attractive
and looks 20 years younger than his age - 53. When he
was 20 years younger he probably looked 20 years older.
He has attended four funerals in the past four weeks:
"Two of them were very old people. I am afraid of
death, scared by it. I already don't know whether I exist
or not. So dying really terrifies me."
It alarms him in much the same way as parties do, for
similar reasons. We have a discussion about how gruelling
"You have to know who you are, if you don't you have
nightmares. I remember going to one and being so terrified
that I walked in and hugged the wall of the room, walked
around the room and walked out again. Terrible."
He avoided the millennium scourge:
"I was in Belfast and my kids and all were there.
I wished them all a happy new year and drove to Dublin.
I just wanted to be on my own."
He is, by his own admission, a stranger to himself. If
he doesn't know himself at all, how does he view himself?
"Through acting I suppose. Acting is way of making
What is the most important thing he has learned about
love in his life?
"Oh God, I just cannot answer that. I think that
in life you can move to a position of unconditional love
and that is what my character in this film had for his
wife. I would find it very difficult to allow someone
I love to have a relationship with someone else, because
I could not satisfy them."
He believes men have changed with regard to sex.
"They have changed with regard to satisfying women.
But there is still some truth in Richard Pryor's line
about orgasms: "I got mine baby, now you get yours?'"
Moving swiftly on, from sex to spirituality. What is his
sense of it?
"Again, I don't know. But I would like to think there
is something. I was in Belfast recently and I had to do
this very difficult thing. An old woman said "I'll
say a prayer for you'. I could feel the power of that
prayer when I went to do the difficult task. I really
He has tears in his eyes as he recounts this.
When he leaves Stephen Rea will walk down Grafton Street,
bodyguard-less. Some might recognise him, some might not,
he doesn't mind.
"I could not imagine being without the freedom to
go where I want and do what I want. I should say this
but I do take some pride in not behaving in a star-like
fashion. I believe some people in this business suffer
from fame because they behave in a famous fashion.
"It's not my place to say it, but I don't want to
act like that."
For such a distinctive face he does not get recognised
all that often, when he does in Dublin, he does not shy
away from it. He even likes it, for the simple reason
that people react in a very different way.
"I was on a yellow box and a lorry let me out, the
driver leaned over his wheel and pointed twice in my direction.
A lot of people do that here. It's a great reaction. I've
no problem with that."
The lack of bother and hassle from the general public
comes down to this. If Stephen Rea is a stranger to himself,
why should anyone else know who he is?
It seems to work, outside of office hours.