Brendan Gleeson, Star of Live by Night, Talks Working With Ben Affleck & His Love for Gangster Films

09 Jan 2017

“I just think he’s an amazing filmmaker,” Brendan Gleeson says of Live by Night director Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck’s highly anticipated crime thriller Live by Night lands in cinemas nationwide next Friday (January 13). Ahead of the film’s release, we caught up with Brendan Gleeson, who plays Affleck’s on-screen father Thomas Coughlin, to chat through his love of the gangster genre, his fondest memory from set and what it was like working with Ben Affleck both in front of and behind the camera.

Brendan Gleeson as Thomas Coughlin in Live by Night.

QUESTION: When Ben Affleck first approached you about the project, what made you want to come on board?

BRENDAN GLEESON: I was really excited about the idea. Well written. Great Director. Ben is such a powerful force. It was a no brainer, basically.

QUESTION: How did you find Ben as a director and what was it like working with him? 

BRENDAN GLEESON: It was brilliant. As a filmmaker, he’s incredibly prepared and assured. He frames what you can do as an actor in such a secure place that it’s a joy to go to set. You feel this is a place where people understand the nature of what we’re trying to do here. All you have to do is step up to the plate. And there’s time; there’s no pressure to slam this out because we haven’t prepared this or that, or something’s going wrong here or there. It’s just a fantastically secure place he creates. 

He’s really something special, Ben. Everyone knows he’s bright but he has wonderful instincts too and this is a really brave move for him. He’s daring to take on possibly the most beloved genre of all, in terms of the classic movies, and he dares to go in there and make a movie for 2016. That takes guts, just amazing fearlessness, and there’s excitement underneath that. What he’s doing with this film is saying, ‘Okay, here’s the balcony; it’s very, very secure. Now I’m going to jump off it.’ I just think he’s an amazing filmmaker.

QUESTION: You play the father of Ben’s character, Joe Coughlin. What can you tell us about Thomas Coughlin? 

BRENDAN GLEESON: Thomas Coughlin is Deputy Chief of Police – a practical man, as he says. He’s seen his son go off to war and come back a different person. He can see him trading one kind of hell for another, I think. He understands that Joe is living in torment, and it’s not easy to watch your son do that. At the same time, he has his second family in the cops and the notion of a cop killer is anathema to him, too. So, he’s under pressure. Because of his position as a father, he’s supposed to be a moral rock, but that’s not enough, obviously, when you can see your son drowning.

QUESTION: Your first scene in the film is when Joe invites his father to a restaurant to meet Sienna Miller’s character, Emma, and things don’t go too smoothly. How was that scene to shoot?

BRENDAN GLEESON: It was great, and a lot of fun. Sienna was terrific, and we had a great laugh doing it. Again, there was that atmosphere of being entirely secure. It was one of my truly outstanding memories of making this film – just because it was as it should be and exciting in terms of what it might be.  

QUESTION: The film is a big production in terms of filming on location and on epic sets with lots of period detail. Is that a fun landscape to work in?

BRENDAN GLEESON: Yeah, but the other fun thing was that it’s a genre movie. My first night on set, we were filming a scene when Ben comes out of the nightclub and I’m walking backlit by the headlights of all these 1920s cars – it just doesn’t get any better than that. They had wet down the streets and you see the reflection of all these lights; Joe’s down there in a heap and you’re talking to your son. It’s a proper meaty part, and you’re dealing with a great actor. I thought, ‘Ah, I’m in a proper movie.’ 

Everywhere you look, the detail and the expertise of the crew – you can see that everyone’s working at a high level. Bob Richardson is an amazing D.P. The film is going to look stunning. That’s what’s class about it: just the pure professionalism and instinct and creativity there. Everything about it is telling you it’s an exciting project. It was brilliant.

QUESTION: When we spoke with Ben, he said that one of the things he loved about the production was that it felt like making an interconnecting series of short films, each starring a different actor. What was that experience like for you?

BRENDAN GLEESON: It was fantastic. I was only out there for two or three weeks of filming; it wasn’t a huge chunk of time, but, because it’s properly written, the characters are properly served. I feel really lucky just to have had the chance to go out there and have that particular character realized in whatever amount of screen time. And, again, with Ben writing the script, all that complexity could be there without overselling the story.

QUESTION: Ben has said this film is his homage to the gangster classics of the past. Are you a fan of the genre as well?

BRENDAN GLEESON: Yeah. I remember my father watching Edward G. Robinson on telly and laughing at all his lines. It makes you wonder, ‘Where has all that writing gone?’ But then you get a chance to be in an actual gangster movie, and one with a degree of class. It also happened at the end of a year when I was a bit shattered. I was kind of saying, ‘Ah, really, I should stop.’ Then Live by Night comes along. I knew that first night that it was going to be something special, and when I saw the finished film, I was so happy because Ben really pulled it off. I’m really proud of this film, fundamentally.

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