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The Look of the Irish: They're Filling Our Screens, and It's Glorious

By Sarah Carlson | Lists | November 10, 2011 |

By Sarah Carlson | Lists | November 10, 2011 |

At least three TV series in the past week featured storylines involving Irish immigrants in America: “Boardwalk Empire,” “Hell on Wheels” and “Glee.” The first two’s treatment was poignant; “Glee,” on the other hand, featured its Irishman — Damian McGinty, of Derry, Northern Ireland, one of the winners of “The Glee Project” — always dressing in green, singing “Bein’ Green” and going along with a dumb character’s belief that he was a leprechaun. (What’s next, having him gnaw on a raw potato? May the spirits of my ancestors haunt you, Ryan Murphy.)

Regardless, the trend had me thinking of actors hailing from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, whether they have moved to the U.S. along with their film and TV work or not. There are plenty, and they all are lovely. Just look at this roundup of roles Irish actors have starred in this year alone:


Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn: This Shakespeare aficionado — whom many American high school students no doubt thank for creating films such as Hamlet they can watch in place of actually reading The Bard’s work — hails from Belfast in Northern Ireland. He directed this summer’s Thor, but I’m anticipating his turn as Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn opposite Michelle Williams.


Pierce Brosnan, I Don’t Know How She Does It: Brosnan, who was born in Navan, County Meath, Ireland, and moved to England at a young age, is one of the rare actors who can bounce between both good and bad projects (usually bad) but still maintain an air of untouchableness. He’s just cool. Who cares that he stars in tripe such as I Don’t Know How She Does It? He’s just … suave.


Michael Fassbender, Jane Eyre: What, you thought Joanna was the only Pajibian who finds ways to work Fassbender into every post? Ha! I’m on her side! And although our dear Michael was born in Heidelberg, Germany, his father’s native country, he was raised in his mother’s land of Ireland — Killarney, County Kerry, in fact. He’s had quite a year, starting with Jane Eyre, continuing with X-Men: First Class and finishing with the upcoming A Dangerous Method and Shame.


Colin Farrell, Fright Night: Farrell belongs on a list of Most Improved Celebrities, those who started too cocky, were knocked down and have used smaller roles to redeem themselves with the public. This year, the Dublin, Ireland, native starred in the revamp of Fright Night and also had a stint in Horrible Bosses, rocking a fake gut and comb-over.


Ciarán Hinds, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Hinds, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, certainly is a That Guy, a splendid character actor and chameleon. Did you know that was him playing Aberforth Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2? Look for him as Roy Bland in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on John le Carré’s novel, out Dec. 9.


Evanna Lynch, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: We’ll let Lynch, of Termonfeckin, County Louth, Ireland, represent the numerous Irish actors starring in the Harry Potter films, including the aforementioned Hinds as well as Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), of Dublin; the late Richard Harris (the original Dumbledore), of Limerick; Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody), of Dublin; Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley), of County Cork; Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan), of County Kildare; and Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley), of Dublin.


Colm Meaney, “Hell on Wheels”: I may always associate Meaney, of Dublin, Ireland, with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” but he’s built a steady career in his time since those sci-fi years. Now, he’s having fun as railroad boss in AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” which essentially is “Deadwood” light. He has the potential to make the drama worth your while.


Cillian Murphy, In Time: My favorite androgynous actor, Murphy, of Douglas, County Cork, Ireland, is of the rare breed of beautiful people whose looks read as both seductive and sociopathic. We’ll forgive him his involvement in In Time as we await 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.


Liam Neeson, Unknown: Neeson has no doubt drifted quite a bit from his Schindler’s List days, recently sticking with action flicks such as Clash of the Titans, The A-Team and Unknown. Instead of watching those, let’s keep on waiting for The Dark Knight Rises, in which Neeson, of Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, also stars.


Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids: Melissa McCarthy may have received most of the publicity for this comedy, but O’Dowd, of Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland, stole as many scenes as the sweet police officer Nathan Rhodes. He also stars in Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends With Kids.


Saoirse Ronan, Hanna: The child star of 2007’s Atonement (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award) and 2009’s The Lovely Bones now plays a teenaged assassin in Joe Wright’s Hanna and surely will need therapy by age 25. She’s only 17, but Ronan, born in New York and raised in County Carlow, Ireland, has more depth and range than most adult actors. But would a comedy kill her?


Fiona Shaw, “True Blood”: Shaw easily owned the Southern vampire saga’s fourth season as Marnie, a troubled witch who had problems with possession (the spirit kind). If only the writers had found a way to keep her around. Shaw, of County Cork, deserves more than simply being known by many for her role as Aunt Petunia. She’s fabulous.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh corgi.

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