People are talking: Poor Kate, let down by the in-laws again
The Sunday Independent, 23 February 2014
Poor Kate Middleton – she works hard for her in-laws, the former Saxe-Coburg Gothas, she was the perfect Princess bride, produced a male heir in suitably quick fashion, and never puts a foot out of place. And those feet – they’re often seen in the same pair of shoes! Thrifty Kate recycles her outfits – unheard of in British Princessy circles before she came along, likes to mix up her haute couture with high street fashion and wears her Granny-in-law’s jewels rather than splashing out on her own. Thus the pretty prudent Princess has proved that you don’t have to be a toffee-nosed toff to be a Royal.
Shame that such a hard-working girl married into a family that's so determined to shoot itself in the foot. But that's the problem, the Windsors like shooting, even young enlightened Harry and William enjoy pointing firearms at running animals. And yet, there they were, along with Daddy Charles at the world's largest conference about the illegal wildlife trade, only days after blasting a few boars in Spain.
Of course, there is a huge difference between hunting endangered species and plugging the odd stag or boar. The problem for the hunting classes is that most tax-paying plebs aren't part of the elite who can distinguish between a 'bad' hunter and a jolly good sport.
In an effort to help save elephants from being poached for their tusks, William apparently told primatologist Jane Goodall that he would like to see all of the ivory owned by Buck House, a priceless collection, destroyed. And this would help elephants how? Allegedly, it would send out a message. Yes, Wills, it would, the message that you have more money than sense.
- Anne Marie Scanlon
People are talking: Having a laugh, a la Francaise
The Sunday Independent – 16 February 2014
ONLY a few weeks ago, the French media were sniffily denying any interest in what their President got up to in his chambre à coucher.
The French, they condescended to tell us, were too sophisticated to care about le sex, and it was only all of us gauche galoots west of Calais who concerned ourselves with the smutty details.
Is this the same French who earlier last week could hardly contain their excitement when a rumour emerged that US President Obama (pictured) was crazy in love with Beyonce? After Pascal Rostain, the paparazzo who took the shots of Hollande visiting his non-official girlfriend, made these claims on radio, the French papers could hardly wait to inform their sophisticated readers. The following day, Monsieur Rostain announced he had been joking. Ah oui, très droll, no doubt Michelle O is killing herself laughing.
Linking world leaders with much younger, well-known women seems to be quite the thing at the moment. Former President Bill Clinton was alleged to have had an affair with Liz Hurley, a rumour that went viral before its source, Tom Sizemore, dismissed the whole thing as the "ramblings" of a drug addict (himself). But, luckily for fans of scandal – real or rumoured, the mill was soon churning again with claims that Wendi Deng (the ex Mrs Rupert Murdoch) had a crush on former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. So who's next? Will we hear that Enda has been dallying with a Dublin Wife? Or Michael D close dancing with Dana? In cyberspace, anything is possible, and so what if it's not true, you can just say you were having a laugh – French style.
- Anne Marie Scanlon
‘Good friends are very rare’ – Marian Keyes & Anne Marie Scanlon’s 30-year friendship
By Marian Keyes and Anne Marie Scanlon on May 27, 2013
Marian Keyes’ has said her latest novel would not have been written were it not for her best friend Anne Marie Scanlon.
Best friends, they each reflect on a bond that has now spanned nearly 30 years.
‘With Anne-Marie, I can tell her everything’
By Marian Keyes
ANNE MARIE SCANLON is my friend. My true friend. She is a rare and wonderful person and I feel so grateful to know her and that we’re so close. She and her son Jack are family to myself and my husband, Tony.
Sitting down to write this piece has made me focus on what I value in her most and I suppose the first thing is her loyalty. She’s on my side, I know it in my gut. And her loyalty is to me the person, not me the writer. She stands up for me and she never judges me.
Even though we live in different countries, we’re in constant contact – email, Twitter and phone calls – and we’re a great support to each other. She understands my dodgy mental health and I know that when I’m in a dark place she will never take the position, “What has she to be depressed about?”
She listens to me, gives me compassion and it’s such a relief for me to be able to blurt out everything I’m feeling. I never feel I have to self-censor or only tell her part of the story – with Anne-Marie, I can tell her everything.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it. She’s great company and always full of recommendations for interesting books and television shows. She’s a uniquely gifted raconteur and probably the funniest person I’ve ever met. No-one makes me laugh like she does. Even when we’re talking about the darkest of subjects, we end up having a scream.
I suppose our senses of humour are perfectly aligned, we find the same things funny and if some sort of news story breaks, all she has to do is text me three words that might seem entirely random to anyone else but has me in convulsions.
Here’s an example – ‘Leo Sayer’s jocks.’ That’s meaningless to anyone other than myself and Anne Marie and to explain why it’s funny would be impossible because it’s a long story that goes back years.
That’s another thing about Anne Marie and myself – we’ve known each a long, long time, probably 30 years. She’s younger than me, she was originally a friend of my sister’s but during my years of living in London, Anne Marie and I became close.
As a result, we share countless memories. To have that sense of rootedness and continuity with her is something I really value. I’ve known her for more than half of my life, she didn’t just parachute into my life when I was a successful author, she knew me when I was a broke accounts clerk.
I wish we lived in the same country, I really do. But when she comes to Ireland, she and Jack stay with myself and Tony and we all get on great. We’re extremely relaxed around each other. She goes off and does her own stuff during the day and I’m always impatient for her to get back to me because she’s such a brilliant story-teller that she turns the most mundane events into a performance.
Regarding my work, I trust her implicitly. I always show her my work-in-progress and she will comment honestly – she won’t flimflam me.
If she feels something is unconvincing or confusing, she’ll give it to me straight.
But she’s always kind and always constructive. In fact, I have Anne Marie to thank for the inspiration for The Mystery of Mercy Close because for years she’s been saying that “poor Wayne Diffney” deserved his own book. When I went through a long spell of being unable to write, she insisted that I get working on Wayne, and it kick-started me again.
With her journalism, she’ll often ask me to take a look at her work before she submits it. She’s a brilliant writer, an insightful and gifted interviewer. But I wish she was on telly. I’d love if she had a spot, reporting on Corrie and other TV dramas. She’s so articulate and clever, such an astonishingly gifted and forthright communicator that she’d bring so much pleasure to so many people (especially me).
There was one year when Tony and I were away during Celebrity Big Brother (actually it might have been the year of Leo Sayer’s jocks) and Anne Marie sent us daily email dispatches on the show, and I swear to God, I’ve never read anything so brilliant. In a stream-of-consciousness style, she conjured up the whole series, second-by-second. It was better than watching it.
Anne Marie is full of thoughtful gestures. When I go to stay with her she has all my favourite foods in and lovely pretty bed-linen on the bed and she waits on me hand-and-foot. She goes to an awful lot of trouble for me. There was one time in Marks and Spencer’s and I was trying to buy a scarf but the assistant couldn’t find a tag on it, so it couldn’t be sold. But a few days later, Anne Marie produced the scarf for me – she’d gone to another Marks and Spencer’s and got it.
What I also value about Anne Marie is the way she includes my husband Tony in everything – we really are family.
Good friends are very rare and I love Anne Marie Scanlon with all my heart
The Mystery of Mercy Close is published by Penguin Books
Marian Keyes’ has said her latest novel would not have been written were it not for her best friend Anne Marie Scanlon.
Friends for nearly 30 years, they each reflect on a bond that has now spanned nearly 30 years.
‘We are our own worst enemies and each other’s biggest fans’
By Anne Marie Scanlon
WHEN I first met Marian she was the glamorous, sophisticated and thoroughly unapproachable older sister of my friend Caitriona.
The gap in age between us isn’t that big but back then I was a gauche schoolgirl and she was a stylish university student.
She had great clothes. Sometimes Caitriona would open the wardrobe door and we would stare in awe at Marian’s fantastic array of fashion.
Looking was all we could do, we were most definitely not allowed touch any of the threads.
It’s funny, 30 years down the line (I cannot believe it is actually that long), that I was once scared of a woman who is the very embodiment of kindness, generosity and approachability, and who I love better than the sister I never had.
These days Marian still has a fabulous wardrobe but now I’m afraid to admire anything because she has a habit giving me things I say I like (with the exception of her husband Tony).
Most friendships, no matter how strong, become diluted with age, as priorities change, responsibilities increase – people marry and have children. Perhaps it’s partly because Marian and I only managed the whole package between us (she got married, I had a child) that we have grown closer over the years despite the fact that we’ve lived in different countries for the past two decades.
Marian’s readers are right in thinking that they know her – she is “warm & witty” as a thousand reviewers have said, but in real life she is even more so.
Marian is not just kind and generous but ferociously intelligent and is one of the funniest people ever born. Seriously funny – she could be a successful stand-up if she wanted.
In fact she is so smart and so funny she really could do anything that she wanted to do. I get very cross when I hear people slagging her books off, dismissing them as mere “Chick Lit” and not really proper writing (proper writing being of course earnest, po-faced and above all dull).
I know I am biased but I think Marian’s books are in a class all of their own and she should be loudly applauded for her ability to tackle difficult subjects without leaving her readers wanting to top themselves.
Many assume writing is an easy job and Marian spends her days reclining on a chaise lounge, eating chocolate and reciting her novels into a Dictaphone. Maybe some writers work that way but Marian is not one of them – I have witnessed at first hand just how much effort she puts into every book and how hard she works herself trying to make every sentence perfect.
In the course of our relationship Marian and I have both been through some very dark times and she is the person I will usually turn to in a crisis.
We have a very honest relationship and we’re not afraid to tell each other the truth.
I always know Marian will be frank with me and tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear, and because Marian is so willing to risk my ire (which can be fearsome) for my own good I am more willing to listen. She’s usually right as well.
The birth of my son Jack in 2007 highlighted just what good friends Marian and Tony are.
At the risk of sounding self-aggrandising, I’m a pretty good house guest. I clean up after myself and don’t expect to be entertained – although I do have a bad history of accidentally setting off burglar alarms.
Having a baby or a small child in your house is no picnic (even when you are the child’s parent) but Tony and Marian have always been so welcoming towards my son and have never appeared put out – even when he locked us both in the bedroom on Caitrona’s wedding day and dropped the key through the floorboards – necessitating Tony to start hunting for spare keys a few minutes before he was due to drive the bride to church; or when Jack vomited all over their lovely beige sofa or the endless times he stank up Tony’s fancy car when he was a baby.
Since he was three, my son insists that Tony and Marian are part of our family. He’s right, we may not be related by blood but they are much more to us than just friends.
I love spending time with Marian because we amuse each other greatly, she is not just a great entertainer but she’s also a wonderful audience.
One of my favourite things in the whole world is to watch Come Dine With Me with Marian – we shout at the telly and kill ourselves laughing. Our relationship is symbiotic, we are both inclined toward self-doubt and harsh self-criticism, we are own worst enemies and each other’s biggest fans.
I won’t mention words like ‘Ying’ and ‘Yang’ as she’d call me a feathery-stroker and probably never speak to me again – which would be a pure disaster.
People: Meet a businesswoman who has the complete package
From selling fresh eggs at the tender age of eight to delivering delicious food to the A-listers, Jennifer Irvine personifies the word entrepreneur
The Sunday Independent – 26 January 2014
Entrepreneur is a much devalued word, bandied around by contestants on The Apprentice, reality TV stars and other eejits to the point where it is more as a badge of shame rather than a mark of pride. If anyone can reclaim the word and return it to its original meaning, Jennifer Irvine can. Jennifer, who has just published her second recipe book, The Balance Diet, grew up on a farm in Eyeries in Beara, west Cork. One of four children, Jennifer's interest in food started young and her earliest memory is of churning butter when she was three.
Despite her roots in farming, neither of Jennifer's parents comes from an agricultural background. Jennifer's mother, Veronica, is originally from Dublin and studied at UCD where she met her future husband Norman Steele, who is from Worthing in Sussex. Norman was a lecturer in Philosophy at Trinity but was in UCD to deliver a guest lecture. After they married the couple moved to west Cork to pursue a life of self-sufficiency. "Self-sufficiency sounds very romantic," Irvine says, "but it's very, very hard work. It does teach you a lot, how to milk a cow, churn butter, make yogurt and cheese. I learnt how to make a sausage before I learnt how to drive."
The Steeles are well-known among foodies for making Milleens cheese – a tradition now carried on by their only son, Quinlan.
Jennifer's entrepreneurial career began at the age of eight when she started her first business. "It was a business," she says, "I did proper accounts and everything." Her parents had such a surplus of eggs on the farm that there was a constant worry they'd eat a bad egg by mistake. Jennifer remedied this by getting on her bike and selling fresh eggs to local restaurants. Jennifer never let an opportunity to turn food into money pass her by. After going to Newtown Senior School in Waterford as a boarder Jennifer would sell biscuits for 5p each to her dorm-mates at night. "That's some profit margin," she laughs. In no time Jennifer was running the school tuck shop.
Not content with her various food-based enterprises, Jennifer purchased a street traders licence and hitched from town to town selling "whatever I could". This was prior to the Celtic Tiger and there were no jobs "and you had to be very innovative to raise the extra money needed to go to the pub". she says. "I used to collect flowers from hedgerows, press them, buy three frames for a £1 from the Pound Shop, frame the flowers with their Latin name inscribed beneath them and sell them for £5 at markets."
After studying food marketing and economics at Reading University, Jennifer began working for Neal's Yard Dairy in London. While working full time she started her own business, The Pure Package, in 2003 while still in her early twenties. Pure Package is a food delivery service providing clients with three meals and two snacks on a daily basis, what Jennifer calls "convenience with a conscience". It began with one employee, Jennifer herself, doing everything – cooking, delivering and answering the phone. "I'd answer, pretending I was a receptionist and say 'Hold on, I'll just transfer you' and then I'd switch the receiver to my other ear and say 'Hello'." It is now a multi-million pound, award-winning business with a roster of A-List clients including Julien Macdonald, Anya Hindmarch, Erin O'Connor and Hugh Jackman.
Soon after starting her own business, Jennifer married her Scottish husband Stephen Irvine and very quickly had three daughters, (the couple are currently expecting their fourth child). "At one point I had three under three," Jennifer says. Despite being busy with her new family, Jennifer won the Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2005 and Harper's Bazaar Entrepreneur of the Year 2007. She is quick to attribute the success of her business to the fact that she genuinely loves food. "I'm obsessed by food, I love food, I wake up in the morning and wonder what I will have for my dinner. As a woman I also think about how I can eat delicious food and look good at the same time." (She is blonde, slim and pretty, so she's managing that part very well). "I never like to feel guilty about eating and thought a whole load of other people would feel the same."
Because The Pure Package is based on fresh healthy food it is only available in a limited area. In response to increasing demands for recipes, Jennifer wrote The Diet for Food Lovers in 2011 and the current book The Balance Diet, which extols Jennifer's prime food philosophy that "flavour is fulfilment". Since the publication of her first book Jennifer has been inundated with correspondence thanking her for sharing her love of good food.
"I love the fact that my philosophy of food is helping people around the world," she says sounding genuinely thrilled.
Anne Marie Scanlon
In This Week's Sunday Independent
Miley: Dancing Teddy to Homeless
Is it really only a year since Miley Cyrus made 'twerking' a common word and practice? It feels like a lot more than just twelve months since last year's MTV VMAs (Video Music Awards) when Miley got tongues wagging with her OTT performance of 'Blurred Lines' with Robin Thicke, a large foam hand and a dancing Teddy Bear.
Since then the former Disney starlet has packed in more bum-baring, hip-gyrating, tongue-wiggling, wrecking-ball straddling, Sinead-dissing, marijuana-apologising, sex-move simulation and public near nudity than most people manage in a lifetime. If they manage it at all. And she's still only 21.
What happens when you've done it all by the time you are legally eligible to drink? How do you cause a fresh furore when you've already clambered nude onto an industrial machine?
Fair play to Miley, she actually managed to top her own shenanigans by bringing a homeless person to the awards ceremony. Amazingly, despite the alleged spur-of-the-moment nature of the gesture, she managed to find a hot, young, blue-eyed, blond, total eye-candy homeless guy. (But sure, it's LA, we assume even the homeless population have to conform to industry standards.)
Photogenic 22 year old Jesse Helt, accepted the Video of the Year award on Miley's behalf and that "of the 1.6m runaways and homeless youth in the United States". Miley looked on from the wings (well, the front row) like a proud Momma and wept.
Cynics suggested that the stunt was more about promoting Brand Miley than raising awareness of homelessness. Unfortunately, for both Miley and homeless people, new poster boy Jesse has an outstanding arrest warrant in his home state of Oregon. God alone knows what Ms Cyrus has planned for next year's awards - how on earth is she going to top this? Be afraid, be very afraid.
The Sunday Independent
November 25 2012
Colin Farrell has a great new movie under his belt and couldn't be more contented with a life far removed from his earlier hellraising days
NOT all actors are stars, and not all stars are actors. Rarely do the twain meet. But they do in Colin Farrell. That the 36-year-old Dubliner is a star is beyond debate, but he is also one of the most talented actors on the big screen today. When he walks into the room, the atmosphere shifts. There is little doubt that you are in the presence of a bona fide celebrity – all eyes are drawn to him despite the fact that when he walks through the door it is without pomp or fuss. When he sits down to talk to me, we have a proper chat; although he is a huge star he is ordinary, unassuming and friendly – it's like meeting some nice bloke (albeit a very good-looking one) at a cousin's wedding. In simple jeans and a T-shirt, clean-shaven and with short hair, he could be any guy, and it's this ability to appear average that sets him apart and lets him fully inhabit the characters he plays.
I met Farrell primarily to talk about his latest film, Seven Psychopaths, a comedy in which he plays Marty, a boozy screenwriter with writer's block (he's trying to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths). The movie was written and directed by Martin McDonagh and this is Farrell's second collaboration with the award-winning writer, (the first was In Bruges in 2008). Farrell says that working with McDonagh "is so much fun on so many levels ... from the language to the way he shapes voice and characters, it's very distinctly different from any other writer's work ... there is a deep emotional current that makes it more significant and more profound than just a trick of smarter better writing. There's nobody like him really."
Seven Psychopaths has an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. Farrell was somewhat star-struck meeting Walken, whose films he grew up watching. "I've been at this racket (acting) for 13 or 14 years but it's not like you get on set and it's like (he adopts a dismissive tone) 'there's Christopher Walken', you know there's a kid in you that always stays there and it's f***ing mortifying to be on a set with him, but in a really lovely way. I loved working with him, he's such a f***ing cool man, really sweet, really kind and really ... " Farrell pauses for a few moments before finally saying "different" and laughing.
"He's really uncommon, all of us are kind of versions of each other in greater or lesser form and we all rub off each other in certain ways. I don't know who the f*** rubbed off him and what made him what he is, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. More than anyone, he's like nobody I've ever met."
In 2000, the relatively unknown Farrell, who had previously had some small parts on film and in television (including Ballykissangel), exploded into the public consciousness in Joel Schumacher's Tigerland. With his undoubted talent and his strikingly handsome looks, the 24-year-old became hugely famous.
Fame was quickly followed by infamy, as Farrell became notorious for partying, boozing, taking drugs, sleeping with scores of glamorous women and appearing in a sex tape. The man who sits in front of me could not be more different from the tearaway who conquered Hollywood. After making Miami Vice, Farrell checked into rehab in December 2005 and has been sober since. Healthy-living suits him – he looks far younger than his 36 years and I tell him he looks fabulous. "Thanks," he says, looking delighted, "I feel good. I'm genuinely so happy that I don't do it any more, I really am," he says smiling. "Everything in my life, every experience be it fear or joy or upset or pain or uncertainty or excitement, all the good, all the bad, it's all fully experienced and I love that. I get off on it big time."
Recalling his days of wild abandon, he says: "I stayed in that ring for too long."
These days, he has little time for partying as his schedule is filled with work and time with his two sons James, 9, and Henry, 3. "I've learned from other actors who went before me and I try to be as much part of their lives as I can so that neither of them can say at the age of 18 'ah he was good fun – when he was around'. To be around enough to be considered a pain in the arse by the boys – that would be brilliant." Farrell, the youngest of four, was born in 1976 and grew up in Castleknock, Dublin. As the baby of the family, he admits he had things easier than his older siblings who, unlike him, were "as good as gold".
"By the time I was grown up, the rules that dictated certain behaviours within the Farrell household were being cast aside," he says with a smile. After attending three different secondary schools he was "f***ed out" of the final one, Bruce College, a few months before the Leaving Certificate.
"The first two years at Castleknock College, I wouldn't say I was a perfect student, but I think I gave it a go," he explains. "Then third year, fourth year and fifth year were a f***ing disaster." When he was eventually asked to leave Bruce College for threatening a member of staff, he was relieved rather than anxious.
"I took to Sheehan's (pub) and had a couple of pints," he recalls laughing. "It was great, it was a long time coming, I thought 'At last! Thank f*** that's over with'." In retrospect, his attitude appals him.
Again, there is a contrast, for a man who was not academically inclined he is obviously highly intelligent, articulate, a voracious reader and shows a keen curiosity about a variety of subjects. During our conversation he demonstrated his wide-ranging interests by referencing subjects as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and the pop culture reality show Celebrity Big Brother. (I don't know why, but the idea of Colin Farrell sitting at home watching Celebrity Big Brother seems utterly bizarre, though far less bizarre than the idea of him reading a literary classic.) It's easy seeing why Farrell cuts such a swathe through the opposite sex.
Not only is he ridiculously good-looking (yes, that old cliche, he is even better looking in real life), famous and rich but he's innately charismatic and charming. During the time I spent with him he was quietly solicitous, making sure to fill my glass before his own (we were both on the water) and appeared to be genuinely interested in my opinion.
At that point he hadn't seen the final cut of Seven Psychopaths and quite nervously inquired "Is it any good?" He appeared both relieved and genuinely thrilled when I said it was brilliant. (It is brilliant; I wasn't just trying to keep in with the star).
There are quite a few references to heaven and hell in the film; does Farrell believe in these concepts?
He takes a moment to consider his answer, then says: "I don't know about such things but I believe there's very little that could be experienced in another realm that can't be experienced here with enough focus, determination and patience. I'm sure there are people who are experiencing a veritable hell on the planet right now and there are those who are living in great peace and happiness and great joy that's not necessarily dictated by their economic or monetary status or even by their health."
Speaking of hell on earth, I ask him how he would feel if either of his sons followed him into 'the business'. Surprisingly, he wouldn't mind.
"Whatever they want to be," he said, "In an ideal world they'll find something that they apply themselves to because they have interest, curiosity or passion for."
When I express surprise and say that the movie industry is a very cut-throat business, he laughs. "Being a human being is a very cut-throat business – check any school yard. Trying to find your place in society, trying to find where you fit in ... "
He's not gone on Facebook or Twitter either. "It would be too easy to get lost in. I have such an addictive personality, although I would have had worse addictions in my life," he laughs, but then adds: "I think it's too easy to say things you don't mean (on the internet). It's too easy to be negative because you're not responsible or culpable. I'm over bullying. I'm over people saying mean things. I'm over cynicism. I am really f***ing tired of it, sick of it; I just want everyone to have fun. I know it sounds puerile and innocent and naive, but f*** me, I'm glad I have no time for meanness."
In Seven Psychopaths, Farrell's character Marty is a bit fond of the jar and there are several references to alcoholism being a particularly Irish disease. Farrell laughs: "If alcoholism was sole property of the Irish people the world would be a lot more of a nice place. But it's not. You can fly to any country in the world and within 20 minutes of arriving find yourself in an AA meeting if you so desire." He has no regrets about sobering up when he did.
"I literally can't believe how much freedom I have in my life now that I'm not chasing it (alcohol). I was a 'divil', I'm not boasting because I can look at it now like it's someone else. It's a very distinctive chapter that the page got turned on."
I ask him if he feels sorry for 'that guy', the old Colin, the drinker, partier, carouser – the wild man who was trapped by his addictions and compulsions. "No," he replies emphatically, "that's dangerous. I feel for that guy and I'm glad I'm not him. He was awful sad and confused and felt like a worthless piece of shit. I don't claim to be the king of anything," he says with a wide smile "even my own thoughts, but I'm OK with myself, and to be OK, truly OK with yourself, is a pretty big deal".
'Seven Psychopaths' is due to be released on December 7
EWAN's mission: possible
The Sunday Independent, December 30 2012
He's played many characters over the years but none of them has been himself, says Ewan McGregor, as he proves he can still reinvent himself in his new role as a tsunami survivor in 'The Impossible'
Ewan McGregor is relieved. Despite having been a successful film actor for nearly two decades, one renowned for the diversity of roles he's played (from a junkie in Trainspotting to the love interest in Little Voice and Brassed Off, to a Jane Austen ne'er do well in Emma, to James Joyce in Nora) all most people want to talk to him about is his part as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. His relief is due to the fact that I'm more interested in his new film, The Impossible. Besides, if I did want to chat about his back catalogue of movies, I'd be more interested in the early 'willy waving' years when McGregor regularly got his kit off on the big screen.
Or at least I thought I would. The Ewan McGregor I meet is a far cry from junkie Mark Renton, his breakout role in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting or Curt Wild, the black-eyelinered Iggy Pop-like rock star in Velvet Goldmine who can't keep his leather trousers on. This Ewan, with his neatly trimmed beard and chunky-knit sweater puts me in mind of a respectable Edwardian seafarer. If he whipped out a pipe and started smoking it, I wouldn't be at all surprised. It isn't that he's glum or dour, (far from it) but he's just exuding so much decency and sheer niceness that I would be utterly mortified to ask him about his lad.
I realise that, like lots of people, I've made the mistake of mixing up the actor with the characters he plays. With his latest role in The Impossible, McGregor plays Henry, a man that is not too dissimilar to himself – a husband and father who has a good job and a happy family life and, as a result people, are already confusing him with Henry. "It was written in production notes that I played Henry as myself and that's not the case," he explains. "I used my own voice and didn't attempt to do a different accent... but no I didn't play myself; I could never do that – unless I was making a film about me."
The Impossible, which also stars Naomi Watts and three very gifted young actors Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin, is the true story of an ordinary family who were holidaying in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hit. Where The Impossible diverges from more traditional 'disaster movies' is that it is brutally raw. When the freak wave hits the coast, the family are separated and washed away in different directions. Although lucky enough to have survived the initial impact, they are quite literally cast adrift amid ruined buildings, fallen trees and other dangerous debris in rapidly moving water. They are all plunged into absolute chaos and a fight for survival.
Prior to filming, McGregor did not get a chance to meet the real-life Henry, but the director Juan Antonio Bayona "knew him very well" and "the writer (Sergio G Sanchez) spent many weeks with the family so he was on the page and I just played the guy that I saw on the page – every beat of the script is really their true story".
In the aftermath of the tsunami, Henry and his two younger sons are separated from his wife and eldest son, having no idea whether they are alive or dead. I was horrified at the scene where Henry sends the two little boys aged seven and five to the safety of higher ground by themselves. "I never questioned it," McGregor says. "What else would you do in a way – there was lots of talk about a second wave coming and that was, to them, then, a really serious threat, lots of survivors we talked to said that the second wave was a really big thing as they believed it was coming again."
I ask him if he would be able to do the same thing, to leave his children alone to fend for themselves in a strange place. "I don't know," he replies, "I hope to never have to be in that situation but I never questioned that he (Henry) did that. His wife and his other child were still there, he just had to find them. He did what he thought was right, he didn't question it at the time."
McGregor is lucky enough never to have had the experience of temporarily misplacing a child but does have vivid memories of when he "got lost in a theme park in Holland when I was about seven or eight. I was walking along with everyone and then I was not with anyone. I was looking around; I remember that, being there with everyone being big and around you".
If the two youngest cast members felt apprehensive surrounded by strange adults during filming it certainly doesn't show, and McGregor is full of praise for them saying Oaklee and Samuel are "amazing little actors ... I spent a lot of time with the boys – reading the scenes, working on the scenes, playing games, making it so that they were familiar with me because to begin with they didn't know me and we have to be father and sons, we have to be tactile ... but we got there really quickly – they just got used to me, and I love kids, I'm happy just being around kids and they could feel that".
As a father of four girls ranging in age from one to 16, he missed his family while filming. "Naomi had her kids there and I didn't have mine because my wife was pregnant with our youngest so she was at home and the kids were all at school. On the weekends I would just adopt all the other families and tag along– we had little weekend trips – went canoeing and things. I used to take pictures of me and my boys and send them home to my kids and say 'look here's my other family in Thailand'."
Home these days is Los Angeles, where McGregor moved with his family four years ago. He says: "It's been great for my kids, it's a nice place to have children in." Before that McGregor lived in London for 19 years. "I love London," he tells me. "I have read that it was a parking ticket on my motorbike that spurred me to leave, but I don't think that's true," he says with a laugh, "although it did annoy me at the time – that you have to pay for motorcycle parking in the street – I was like 'f**k that'."
He's also spent a fair bit of time in Ireland and it was on his first shoot here making The Serpent's Kiss in 1997 that he first met his good friend Charley Boorman (the pair have since gone on to make several documentaries on their beloved motorbikes).
"That film was the first time I've worked in Ireland. I loved it. We were in Sixmilebridge which I just adored. It was back in the day when I used to drink so it was a good place to do that in." I ask him if he's in recovery and he says: "No, I just don't drink, not for 12 years." But why, I ask, hoping for the scoop on his inner demons. "I was just a big drinker," he says matter of factly, "and it's better not to be." The neatly trimmed beard was grown for August: Osage County which he just wrapped filming on – he's shaving it off as soon as he gets the OK from post-production. I'll bet that even without the facial hair, he will remain a nice respectable man who just happens to dress up (and sometimes undress) for a living.
Not too Posh for a trip to the chipper
Sunday February 03 2013
OMG! I hear you cry, Victoria Beckham, alias VB, alias Posh, former pop star and full-time fashionista, has been spotted in a chipper! Of all places! OMG indeed. To listen to the outrage this sighting has sparked, you'd swear the sight of Posh with her oversize handbag and Louboutin boots ordering food in a chippy was one of the first signs of an imminent Apocalypse.
Cut the girl some slack, people. She's back in England after spending the past five years living in LA, a city so carb-phobic that the humble fish & chipper is considered on a par with a crack house. (Worse even, carbs make you fat, crack on the other hand ... )
Carborexia (eschewing all carbs) is not just a way of life in LA but a near-religion – any and all carbohydrates are considered evil and as detrimental to personal health and public good as cigarettes and Class A drugs.
Yes, dear readers, in Tinseltown, carbs are considered A Very Bad Thing. It's simply amazing that bread and potatoes are still legal there.
Besides, when David takes up his five-month contract at Paris St Germain, Posh will be surrounded by pains and frites, so she was quite possibly on a practice run.
What nobody saw fit to comment on was Victoria's companion on this trip to the carb side, her seven-year-old son Cruz.
There has been much speculation about what diet Posh may, or may not, be following. Whatever regime she is on (or not), it looks as though she's not inflicting it on her young son, and whatever you think of VB, that can only be A Very Good Thing.
BettaNY'S BEAUTIFUL MIND
The Sunday Independent
19 May 2013
THE DASHING PAUL BETTANY DREW FROM HIS OWN INNER TURMOIL TO TAP INTO HIS LATEST CHARACTER IN NEW FILM 'BLOOD'
PAUL Bettany is rather taken aback when I tell him that he made me cry. The 41-year-old Londoner is kitted out in a tweed three-piece suit and wearing glasses with round frames. He looks like the epitome of the English gent – even a tad Bertie Woosterish – and certainly nothing like a cad given to making ladies cry.
He's relieved when I explain that it was in his role as surgeon Stephen Maturin in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World that he got me blubbing. The film, which also stars Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey, is set during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805 and Bettany's character, an eager naturalist, has been promised several days exploration on the Galapagos Islands. At the very last moment, Captain Jack abandons the plan in order to chase an enemy vessel. The way in which Bettany managed to portray his character's utter devastation was extremely understated yet so powerful that I wept aloud (and I'm not given to sobbing in the picture house). I left the cinema that night raving about this wonderful new actor – I hadn't recognised him as the same wonderful new actor I'd raved about in A Beautiful Mind two years earlier.
Bettany, despite his leading man looks – tall, blond and very handsome (so handsome that he can get away with the Bertie Wooster get-up) – has a chameleon quality that allows him to disappear inside the characters he portrays.
In his latest film, Blood, he plays Joe Fairburn, an ordinary middle-aged policeman, in an everyday British town (although it does have the fanciest police station ever seen on film). Joe is quite a bland character; he's been married for 20 years and has been in the same job his entire adult life. He grew up in the town where he works – his brother Chrissie (Stephen Graham) is also a policeman and his father Lenny (Brian Cox) has retired from the force.
Joe's life could be described as happy but dull.
Underneath the seemingly content exterior however, Joe has plenty of mental turmoil – his overbearing father Lenny (an impressive performance from Cox) is suffering from dementia and his teenage daughter is no longer Daddy's little girl.
As Bettany sees it, the character of Joe has no way in which to process all of the upheaval and instability in his life. "Someone like Joe," Bettany explains, "has absolutely no introspection." When Joe and Chrissie are called to investigate the murder of a young girl, the stress of the case proves the tipping point and Joe's inner mayhem physically manifests itself in an act of violence that leads him to have a complete mental breakdown.
While Blood initially appears as a standard police procedural/thriller, it is really about the breakdown of both an individual and a family unit. Watching Joe go from seemingly happy family man to a hopeless wreck, although compelling viewing, is not always easy to watch. So how does Bettany as an actor tap into the psyche of someone like Joe? He tells me that his job as an actor is to see where he does and doesn't identify with the characters he's playing. When he identifies the character traits that he has himself, he "cleaves to them whilst working on the others."
He explains that with Joe, there was quite a bit of personal material to work with as he's suffered from two separate mental breakdowns when he was younger.
He's happy now and strongly advocates therapy ("it helps people make sense of their lives") as it helped him to get "rid of all the mud" that was weighing him down.
Bettany then adds that although he is very rational, and even though he was able to intellectualise and understand why he was so unhappy, after having therapy he felt as though a "monster had released me from his jaws".
This is a very powerful image of mental suffering and one that could easily be applied to poor Joe as he becomes unmoored.
Was it a very gloomy set, I wonder. Bettany says that when working with heavy material like this, he always tries to keep it light on set and goes on to praise all of his cast mates, especially Brian Cox, whom he describes as "magnificent" adding that Cox was the only logical casting choice for the man who is simultaneously fearsome and fragile.
"Nobody else could portray the father, nobody has the finesse but with that hint of menace. He's an old man but he could still lamp you one."
Although he tried to keep things light on set, he says he could not help but take the character home with him. For the past nine years, home has been New York where he lives with his wife, actress Jennifer Connelly, whom he met on A Beautiful Mind, and their three children.
For a long time he and his family lived in Brooklyn. "Jennifer is from a typical Irish-American Brooklyn family," he explains, and then adds while shaking his head and laughing, "Irish Americans – they're more Irish than Irish people." The couple, who are known for their non-celebrity lifestyle, recently moved to Tribeca (downtown Manhattan). They both like the relative anonymity of living in New York. "New Yorkers are too cool to act impressed by fame," he explains.
Although he loves his adopted home, Bettany – born in London in 1971 to thespian parents – admits that he does miss a lot about England, especially pubs, curry and the English sense of humour. But, he's quick to point out that he can't stand the whole Englishman abroad routine. He visibly cringes when he talks about LA "being stuffed full of Brits complaining that American people have no sense of irony".
"That's ironic," he laughs. He's not into the whole home away from home thing either. "I've been to those English pubs (in New York) at 7am to watch the football and there is nothing more depressing," he says. It's not just English pubs but theme bars in general.
"The very fact that you are pretending to be somewhere else, denying where you actually are, is isolating in itself," he says. Being a big fan of fish and chips, he recently braved a themed English chip shop in search of a fix. "I felt as if I'd walked into a time warp. There's Silver Jubilee bunting everywhere," he says gesticulating with his hands, "the Clash playing ... but I have to say the fish and chips were very good and I know about fish and chips because I used to make them (for a living)."
Apart from working in a chipper, Bettany was a busker for a couple of years in the early 90s. He can't quite recall just exactly how long he plied his trade on the streets and subways of London as "I was quite mad at the time." Soon after he left the busking scene ("a terrible job") he made the film Dead Babies (2000).
He's not particularly proud of the film but on set he met Charlie Condou, who Coronation Street fans will know better as Marcus Dent, who has become one of his best friends – they are godfather to each other's children and both families spend every second Christmas together.
Despite his friendship with Condou, Bettany doesn't watch Coronation Street and never did, even when he lived in the UK. He explains that this has nothing to do with being a high-falutin' thesp or soap snobbery but a deep seated fear of commitment. "Apart from my marriage, I'm a commitment phobe. I don't want to start watching something on TV if I have to keep watching it!"
Given the number of roles Bettany has played, it's doubtful that he has the time to watch TV anyway.
Blood is available on Video On Demand and Pay Per View on May 31 and on DVD and Blu ray from June 10.
The Sunday Independent – 01 December 2013
People Are Talking: Win or lose, Kian is our King of the Jungle
CommentsWas there ever a worse time to be Irish? Austerity, high prices, beaten by the All Blacks – if we had any national pride left it would be at an all-time low.
Thank God for Kian Egan who has been giving us all cause to celebrate our Irishness in this year's I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here. The show annually takes a bunch of slebs from D-list to Z-list (usually more of the latter than the former), throws them into the Australian outback with paltry portions of food and a series of ever more horrendous trials; sits back and watches as the whole thing rapidly descends into Lord of the Flies territory.
Without the benefit of hair, makeup and a decent night's sleep it isn't long before the slebs' real personalities emerge and usually it aint pretty, but this year we've been presented with a real no-nonsense hero. Who would have imagined that a former boyband member, who fits all the criteria of vacuous celebrity including a gorgeous showbizzy wife, the former Hollyoaks actress and Wonderland singer Jodi Albert, a baby with an odd name – Koa – and a side-line in judging on a talent show, would be such a genuinely decent guy?
Even in the face of the bugs he shares the camp with, Kian has remained charming, helpful, and just lovely. While Joey "Can't Blow His Own Nose or Tell the Time" Essex has been grabbing all the headlines with his "Joeyisms" (what the rest of us would call criminal stupidity), Kian along with royal dress designer, the utterly fabulous David Emanuel, have proved that you don't have to be thick, back-stabbing or whinging to be entertaining. Win or lose, Kian is our King of the Jungle.
Anne Marie Scanlon
Sunday Independent 06 October 2013
Mrs O's dig at 'dark' Dannii
It's déjà vu all over again. Sharon Osbourne appears determined to reignite her feud with former X Factor judge Dannii Minogue. In her current autobiography Unbreakable which is being serialised in a tabloid newspaper, Sharon says Dannii's affair with head judge and master of the world Simon Cowell made her "stomach churn". This from a woman who lets her many dogs do their business all over the house, not to mention sharing her bed with the self-styled Prince of Darkness Ozzie Osbourne, a man who's bitten the head off a bat!
At least Ozzie stopped at bats (and the occasional dove); his missus seems determined to take the head off just about everybody else. In her book, Sharon says the public don't see the real Dannii who is "dark, very dark" and to be fair Mrs O does know quite a bit about darkness. However, her feud with the Australian singer occurred in 2007, several millennia ago in showbiz years. As one Dannii fan said on Twitter, Sharon needs to "build a bridge and get over it".
But then again, after two previous books the 60-year-old plastic surgery fan is obviously running out of material. Just as well she had a spat with Lady Gaga last year as that manages to fill a few more pages. Shazza labelled Gaga a "publicity-seeking hypocrite and attention-seeker". There'll be no mention of pots and kettles here.