By Eileen Murphy
Last Thursday, we caught a taped run-through of a sitcom pilot starring Irish heartthrob Gabriel Byrne. The publicists swore us to secrecy about the show (which is an odd thing for publicists to do) but surely they didn’t mean we couldn’t tell you guys about it.
We won’t (can’t) go into specifics, but suffice it to say, Byrne is terrific as the funny and touching title character, Madigan. In the show, he’s a recently divorced Irish architect with a teenaged son and a devilish old codger of a father, brilliantly played by Byrne’s "Moon for the Misbegotten" costar Roy Dotrice.
The writing is snappy, the supporting cast is top-notch, and Byrne shows a flair for comedy that he doesn’t often get to exhibit in his movie roles. Byrne is also the executive producer of the show, which explains the Irish flavor and the general high quality. The studio audience at the taping was very enthusiastic, and Byrne’s dark good looks drew audible sighs whenever he ventured near the bleachers. And another thing . . . whoops! We hear the publicists banging on the door . . . gotta go!
Suffer the little children
You know, it’s hard being a kid these days, what with having to trudge to school, sweat over homework and troubleshoot the family’s computer system. Is it too much to expect that they can spend their Saturdays afternoons as the Good Lord intended, spitting soda at one another through a straw at the local Cineplex?
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It seems that, compared to the Northern counterparts, children in Ireland have a limited number of movies to choose from. This is thanks to the Irish Film Censorship Board, which employs a stricter set of guidelines about what’s appropriate entertainment for those little pitchers with big ears.
The ever-crusading Sunday World recently discovered, after a long investigation, that 10 of the most popular movies in current release can be seen by younger audiences up North. Or can only be seen by older audiences down south. Ach, it’s all so confusing.
For example, the movie touted to be this year’s "Full Monty" is "East is East," directed by Damien O’Donnell. In O’Donnell’s native Dublin, no one under 18 is permitted into the theater. In Belfast, 15 year olds can saunter in without a bother. The age gap for Oscar-nominated "The Cider House Rules" is even wider: a 12-year-old can buy a ticket in Derry, while in Kerry, prospective viewers had better be old enough to vote.
It gets weirder. The Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy comedy "Bowfinger," which seemed pretty innocuous to us, is restricted to ages 15 and over in, say, Edgeworthstown, although the babygrow set can see it in Enniskillen. "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me"? Well, if we had our way, nobody would be allowed in, but in the South, you have to be at least 15 to see why it was so bad, compared to 12 years old in the North. And the hilariously filthy "South Park" movie? Delicate ears down South must be 18 years old, while the Northies are apparently ready at 15.
Possibly the funniest restriction was the one slapped on the kid-oriented "Toy Story 2." In the North, there are no age limits on the film. In the south, well, you’d better be on the express train to puberty: 12 and over, puh-leeze. Apparently, Irish parents are ticked off over this.
"They even had signs up outside the cinema warning parents they would not be able to buy tickets for kids under 12," fumed one witness.
"It must have been because of a scene where one of the toys gets accidentally minced," said another.
Simply the Best
Soccer fans of a certain vintage will be thrilled to hear that a movie about the life and times of footie legend George Best is set to open this spring. The film, which stars Belfast actor John Lynch ("Sliding Doors," "Cal") and was directed by Lynch’s wife, Mary McGuckian, has the blessing of the man himself. The film also stars Stephen Fry ("Wilde"), Linus Roache, Ian Harte ("The End of the Affair") Patsy Kensit (Mrs. Liam Gallagher), Jerome Flynn and Sophie Dahl.
The Manchester United legend, who was born and raised in Belfast, is amazed by the movie’s authenticity.
"I’ve seen the photographs, and it’s uncanny how like me [John] appears," he said.
"And Linus looks just like Dennis Law, and Jerome like Bobby Charlton," he said.
"It’s a bit weird, like being in a time machine. I have to sit back and detach myself."
It’s best life for Westlife
Conventional wisdom dictates that there’s no way to keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris, and this holds true for Irish boy band phenomenon Westlife.
In the space of a year, these five clean-cut teens from "down the country" have taken the world by storm. They’ve charted five No. 1 hits in a row — enough to get them into the Guinness Book of World Records — and they’ve managed to crack the all-important American market with their single "Swear It Again," which is getting heavy airplay on the top 40 stations.
The band traveled to Los Angeles last week to take part in the all-star tribute to Arista Records honcho Clive Davis. They joined the ranks of stars like Whitney Houston, Puff Daddy, Toni Braxton, Faith Evans and the Eurythmics’s Annie Lennox, which must have been a heady experience for them (for Westlife, that is). During the party, the lads had a chance to compare notes with superstar Whitney.
"Although she is such a huge, huge star, we found Whitney to be a very friendly person," wrote ‘Lifer Micky in the group’s weekly column.
"She came over to chat with us" — it’s always a good sign when they come to you — "congratulated us on our success and the fact that we got five No. 1 hits in the UK.
Whitney asked the group if they were enjoying their fame.
"We told her that we were having the biggest thrill of our lives, living out every teenager’s dreams," wrote Micky.
Whitney must have been touched by the sight of the five innocent faces staring adoringly at her. She offered a warning.
"In six months’ time, you’re going to be absolutely shattered from all the work you’re going to be doing," she said. This sounds about right, because the lads are getting ready to embark on their first concert tour. They’ve already sold out 10 shows at the Point Depot, and more shows will be added as long as there is a demand for tickets. The Westies are hoping to break the Point concert record set by Boyzone last year, and they’ll have the full blessing of head ‘Zoner Ronan Keating. As you’ll recall, Keating is the co-manager of Westlife, along with music impresario Louis Walsh.
No soccer balls for Dolores
We’re seeing a lot of Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan these days — she’s on the cover of Hot Press this week, and she’s interviewed in some of the Irish Sunday papers as well. The interest is prompted by the fact that the band’s latest album, "Bury the Hatchet," has reached the 5 million mark in sales (despite tanking in the U.S.).
The articles cover the same ground as when we interviewed her last year — her poor health, which forced the band to cut short their last American tour, the joys of motherhood, the cult of celebrity, etc. — but with one notable exception: the Hot Press interviewer asked Dolores if she’d ever consider having a boob job.
"I think I speak for all women who have small breasts when I say that we can be beautiful too, without getting a big pair of soccer balls hanging off us," said O’Riordan with a touch of amused indignation.
"I’m not insecure about the fact that I have confirmation-size breasts," she laughed.