One hectic afternoon last summer, Domhnall Gleeson found himself suffering from what can only be described as a post-lunch slump. He wasn’t sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen, whiling away the hours until end of play. Instead, he was at Pinewood Studios, preparing to shoot a scene for Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, Disney’s $200m mega-sequel.
“On a film set, you need to hit the ground running, but there were these sleepy half-hours,” recalls Gleeson. “Luckily, the assistant director had this megaphone and — right before a take — he’d shout, ‘Do not forget, people: this is Star Wars!’” The 32-year-old Dubliner smiles. “There was a rabble-rousing element to it; everyone would be high-fiving, like, ‘Yeah! Come on!’”
The Force Awakens — for those of you who’ve spent the past few years in a galaxy far, far away — is director JJ Abrams’ hugely anticipated sequel to the original trilogy’s final adventure, 1983’s Return Of The Jedi. Set 30 years on, it follows a band of new characters as well as returning old-timers, including Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, a couple of famous droids and a notable wookie. Gleeson is the villainous General Hux, joining a lineage of infamous Star Wars bad guys crowned by the greatest of all: Darth Vader. Did living on the dark side get under his skin? Gleeson laughs. “If you bring a character like that home, you’ll end up trying to rule a small country. But there was great fun to be had with him.”
If he sounds relaxed about this big break, then perhaps it’s because Star Wars is not his first huge movie franchise: he played the eldest Weasley brother, Bill, in Parts One and Two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, alongside his father Brendan, the eminent Irish actor. Did that experience prepare him well for The Force Awakens? “At first I got really excited, and then the nerves did follow. But you have to just look at it as one movie and figure out your place in its story.”
Since Potter, Gleeson has compiled an eclectic CV: a lovelorn time-traveller in Richard Curtis’s About Time (2013); a murderer, again opposite his dad, in Calvary (2014); a nervy computer programmer in Alex Garland’s terrific Ex Machina (2015); and most recently, Jim Farell, suitor to Saoirse Ronan’s character in Brooklyn (2015).
If Star Wars is his most high-profile movie to date, there will also be a fair amount of scrutiny on his role in The Revenant, director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Birdman. Set in the 1820s, the film tells the story of a fur trapper (Leonardo DiCaprio), seeking vengeance after his companions, including Gleeson, rob and leave him for dead when he’s mauled by a bear. The shoot was arduous: “I knew it was going to be difficult,” says Gleeson. “I knew Alejandro was going to push everybody. But it wasn’t like he was a dictator in a castle. Everybody went through the shit on this one, him included.”
Gleeson’s father is routinely described as a “character actor”. Would the son be happy with the same description? “If a character actor is someone who can play different kinds of roles and not just the same thing all the time, then bring it on.”
Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens is out now.