sullen, saturnine, terminally morose and an unmade bed
are but a handful of terms used to describe the slack-jowled
face of Stephen Rea. It is an unforgettable phizog, oozing
character and a crumpled vulnerability. If ever a real-life
of Deputy Dawg is filmed there would be little need for
special effects. Right there in the saddlebag eyes and
thoroughbred creases dwells the screen persona of one
of Irish acting's most unsung treasures, the Celtic melancholy
that has poured truthfully through the likes of Angel
(1982), Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Michael
Collins (1996). It is also a mug highly adaptable for
a spot of Euro-villainy; Rea most recently donned a Catholic
smock to play Cardinal Richelieu in The Musketeer.
he is not at all miserable. Rea likes to think of himself
as happy, sauntering his way through the acting career that
he always wanted with a shrugging wryness and an easy smile.
It is something that the camera lens refuses to acknowledge.
ask me to smile for the camera, but somehow it always comes
out gloomy,' he says. 'Hangdog's the word people use. I do
smile, you know. It's just that it doesn't come out right
all the time.' He would love to remind us that he has done
comedy quite successfully - Bad Behaviour (1993), the
sad rockers reunited silliness of Still Crazy (1998)
- but it is the gender-warping IRA drama The Crying Game
(1992) that sticks out on his CV.
Jordan's film was a small, highly unusual love story that
became the chattering point of dinner parties from Preston
to Poughkeepsie. Rea gained an Oscar nomination and 'hangdog'
was suddenly the in-look for Hollywood, launching him on to
a whole new stage. It signalled a coming-of-age both for him
and his director of preference Jordan.
are nigh-on inseparable. They have made eight films together,
with Jordan utilising Rea's talents as everything from a loquacious
bloodsucker (Interview with the Vampire) to the cuckold
of the excellent The End of the Affair (1999).
seen him on stage before I did Angel', Jordan has said of
his favorite actor, 'and I remember thinking he was like a
movie actor, you know, one of those grand and impassive stars
such as James Dean or Robert Mitchum. I wrote Angel with him
in mind. He has an extraordinary range.'
The stardom of The Crying Game provided a rude jolt
for Rea. He was an actor not a star, a quietly spoken Belfast-born
dreamer who read English at Queen's University and, lubricated
by a pint of Guinness, was happy to wax for hours on literature,
poetry and history. While he could drift through the inevitable
procession of meet-and-greets the cocktail parties, it was
the sudden press scrutiny over his private life that was so
difficult to deal with.
The Protestant Rea is married to Dolours Price, who served
seven years of a life sentence for participating in the IRA
car bombing outside the Old Bailey in 1973 and was released
in 1981 on medical grounds. This is a reality that ran uncomfortably
close to the subject matter of the movie he was busy promoting.
He had to learn quickly and has maintained a fierce silence
over all matters relating to his family.
As much as he wearily protests that his is just an actor,
this is an actor who had gone from Belfast to train for the
stage at Abbey Theatre School in Dublin and then to films
teeming with political content. There is no denying that the
Troubles have cast a long shadow over his work and he has
recognized this fact. 'I am an actor and that is what I can
offer.' runs the party line, 'to highlight for the Irish people
and for the rest of the world what is going on, the impact
The self-confessed workaholic rarely takes holidays and cannot
bear those long thespian lay-offs that can drift into months.
So he doesn't stop, directing documentaries between movies
and picking up many varied roles between Jordan's regular
output. They always lean toward the Irish sensibility, naturally;
he has just completed the small-town drama Evelyn for
Pierce Brosnan's Irish DreamTime and, if they can get clearance
from the estate, there is talk of him playing Leopold Bloom
in a screen version of Joyce's Ulysses. And if anyone
could carry that role off Rea can. It's written all over his