At nearly two metres tall, solidly built and with a bushy red beard, Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is an unlikely romantic lead.
But that’s exactly what he plays opposite America’s Diane Keaton in the recent movie Hampstead, and there’s no doubting the enormous charisma this 62-year-old actor brings to every screen he lights up.
It’s not just the soft Irish accent, which is irresistible—there is a magnetism about Gleeson that attracts an audience, whether he is playing an Irish policeman (The Guard), a good priest facing death threats in Calvary, real-life racing trainer Dermot Weld in the Australian film The Cup or a grumpy environmentalist in Hampstead.
Gleeson is something of a chameleon, believable in whichever character he is playing at the time. He gained a new generation of fans when he played Hogwarts professor Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films (in which two of his sons had roles, proving that acting and film is something of a family business.)
The world of acting is not renowned for its wealth of stable, long-term relationships, but Gleeson has been married to welfare officer Mary for 32 years, and the couple has four sons, actors Domhnall and Brian, and Fergus and Ruari.
As a proud Irishman, Gleeson speaks fluent Irish Gaelic and promotes the language, having taught Irish and English as a secondary school teacher until he left teaching in 1991 to pursue acting full-time.
Raised in Dublin by devout Catholic parents, Gleeson attended St Joseph’s Christian Brothers school in Dublin, and later taught at Catholic Belcamp College, working simultaneously for some years as a part-time actor while teaching.
His long association with the Catholic Church made him ideal to play the troubled but good priest under threat from an assassin seeking retribution on the Church in Calvary. Despite having experienced the trauma of institutional abuse as a boy, Gleeson retains his own faith, telling The Marian Finucane Show that he still attends mass regularly.
Away from film sets, Gleeson is happy to lend his name to charities such as Hand in Hand, which supports families affected by childhood cancer, and he is enthusiastic about the way the organisation looks after people.
“They are here for one reason—and that is to help to ease the burdens and increase the quality of life of those families who are going through a brutal, draining time. What these people at Hand in Hand do best is simply this: they make lives that bit easier during an awful period,” he commented.
Gleeson is also an ambassador for the St Francis Hospice in Raheny, a place that provided his parents with a high level of care that made him see the better side of humanity.
“It was such a gift to have your parents depart this life in a way that could not have been more beautiful. There was so much humanity in it,” he told The Irish Examiner.
Gleeson contrasted the horror of many things in life with the way people volunteer to alleviate distress in a place like St Francis, describing it as a most beautiful thing and a real eye-opener for him, writing on the Hospice Coffee Morning website: “Thanks to St Francis Hospice, Raheny for restoring my faith in human kindness.”
Away from acting and charity work, Gleeson is a fine fiddle and mandolin player, having played the fiddle in several of his films. Football is also a big part of his life as he joins son Domhnall as a passionate supporter of Aston Villa.
Brendan Gleeson is well-rounded, just like the characters he so often plays, in all the ways that matter.