Man in the Moon at Waterfront Hall
Oscar-nominated film director Jim Sheridan arrives in Belfast to promote Brassneck's latest production
At the Waterfront Hall cafe, Jim Sheridan is holding court. In town to promote Brassneck Theatre Company's production of Pearse Elliott's challenging play Man in the Moon, the Wicklow-born film director is happily breakfasting on scones and coffee. We start by discussing Hollywood's annual industry shindig, the Oscars.
Sheridan didn't go to the Oscars this year, but as a six time Academy Award nominee, he knows the form. 'If you go when you're not nominated, you look like a wannabe.' Pressed on whether he thinks they got the Oscar results right this year, he adds: 'Cate Blanchett's a friend of mine so yes, but I thought Judi Dench, who isn't a friend of mine, was extraordinary in Philomena.'
Then comes the sting in the tale. 'I thought Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were good, but it's so predictable now. There's no real excitement.' And as Sheridan points out, the system itself has changed. 'Everybody has to put themselves out there now. When I was involved I didn't do it myself.' Although, as he also tactfully points out, the Academy is generous when it comes to promoting new talent.
The man who is now 65, and so could be called established talent, still manages a punishing schedule. Sheridan retains the enthusiasm and energy that built his astonishing film CV, with My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and In America among his best known movies.
As patron of Brassneck, and here in Belfast to promote Elliot's show – which deals with suicide while remaining comic – Sheridan says that he recognises the tone. Marie Jones meets Beckett, you could say. 'Yes, I know about dark Irish comedy and wrote a script for Universal Artists about the subject called The Smiling Suicide Club. They insisted on changing the title and it became On the Edge with Cillian Murphy.'
Moving on to the importance of getting a hopeful message out, Sheridan notes: 'It's a very hard subject, but it's good when you get it right, as in It's A Wonderful Life, which deals with suicide very quickly right at the beginning, although most people don't think it's about that.' Happily, this isn't an issue that has affected the Sheridan clan directly. 'But when you hear about it, it gets very close to you and is a condition that's very prevalent in Ireland.'
Rumours of the persistent variety have been circulating that Sheridan might be about to write and direct a version of Eoin Colfer's bestselling series of teen fantasy books, Artemis Fowl. Sheridan confirms the rumour, though he won't direct. 'What happened was that Harvey Weinstein asked me to do a script with Eoin. He liked it but I am not the kind of person to direct it. You need somebody who's done Harry Potter.'
Appropriately enough, given his current preoccupation with Man in the Moon, Sheridan admits that when relaxing at home in the States, his preferred night out might be a trip to the theatre rather than the cinema. 'A lot of the time I prefer the theatre because it's interactive,' he explains. 'Also, you remember great performances, which can be transcendent.'
Asked for an example, Sheridan immediately selects Adrian Dunbar in Brendan at the Chelsea, which ran in the Lyric Theatre a few months ago. 'He doesn't look like Behan, but for a Fermanagh boy, he got the accent. And he had some balls to play the role in Dublin. The women sitting round me all loved it and when I asked them why they liked this character, they said "Because life's boring".'
Not that Sheridan knows the meaning of the word. He mined his life story for In America, but some parts of the narrative could be revisited. Namely, the pea factory period in 1969. We're discussing the going rate for a Hollywood script, currently at least 1/2 million dollars. I observe that it must be hard work, but Sheridan's response indicates an old leftie. 'No, that's not. Working in a pea factory outside London is hard work.'
Sheridan can testify because he was one of the factory workers removing the grit from peas on the production line, as he puts it, in the late 1960s. 'I was working in the pea factory with Bob Geldof. He was the night shift shop steward, I was the day shift shop steward. You end up dreaming of peas.
'There was a strike and the Maoists, who were to the left of Trotsky, said they'd put strychnine in the peas. As a cowardly sort, I told the management, who said "Don't worry, we put much worse in".' He laughs and says he remains in touch with Geldof.
Of his collaborators, Sheridan names Terry George, the Northern Irish director he worked with on In The Name of the Father, as his chief creative partner. 'We've been really close and did our first play, The Tunnel, in New York in 1986. I suppose it is a bit like a marriage but it's easier than marriage, because it's two men...'
And finally, on the benefits of age, apart from his three grandchildren, Sheridan pauses with impeccable comic timing and observes: 'Well, you get the free bus pass.'
Man in the Moon runs in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast from March 19 – 29.