It didn’t take much for acclaimed actor Gabriel Byrne to accept the role of a widower with two sons in the 2016 film “Louder than Bombs.”

Norwegian director Joachim Trier had seen Byrne’s films, knew his capabilities and wrote the script with Byrne in mind.

About two years ago, they sat and discussed the film and the role of Gene, the father.

“I had seen his other two films, ‘Reprise’ and ‘Oslo, August 31,’ and I thought he was a really interesting young filmmaker,” Byrne said in a phone interview Wednesday of Trier. “He is a very kind of fastidious director, but within that, there’s a tremendous freedom.”

Gabriel Byrne will receive the Mid-Life Achievement Award on Friday as part of the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.

Gabriel Byrne will receive the Mid-Life Achievement Award on Friday as part of the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.

Byrne knew the role was an important one. As the father of sons who avoid talking about the subject of their mother’s suicide, the character, Gene, struggles to draw them out. The movie, released this year, was filmed last year in New York.

“The characters, in my opinion, in relation to this film, are subservient to the themes — themes of loss and grief and alienation which roam throughout the film,” Byrne said. “The idea of family and the ghost of their mother, in a way, kind of haunting all three of them. Those themes are very important. It was important that the character wasn’t a melodramatic, angry, sad person. Yes, he has grief, but he carries it, really, inside himself.”


It is with similar insight, intelligence and skill that Byrne has immersed himself in many roles for both stage and screen over the last four decades, earning him accolades and honors and a reputation worldwide as an artist whose acting abilities are wide-ranging.

Byrne, now 66, will be honored Friday with the Mid-Life Achievement Award as part of the 19th annual Maine International Film Festival in Waterville. He will receive the prestigious award following the 6:30 p.m. showing at the Waterville Opera House of one of his best-known films, “The Usual Suspects,” a 1995 film directed by Bryan Singer that also starred Kevin Spacey.

“He makes it seem so effortless, and I think that’s true of a lot of the great actors in history,” said Ken Eisen, program director for the film festival and a founder of Railroad Square Cinema.

Others who have received the award over the last 19 years include Sissy Spacek, Ed Harris, Glenn Close, Jonathan Demme, Keith Carradine, Peter Fonda, Terrence Malick, Jos Stelling, Walter Hill, John Turturro, Thelma Schoonmaker, Lili Taylor, Malcolm McDowell, Bud Cort and Arthur Penn.

Byrne said it is nice to be recognized and acknowledged for his work.

“I never thought I’d end up in America, making films; so for me, it’s a lovely honor to receive,” he said.


Being recognized by MIFF is especially touching for Byrne, who is a champion for independent film. Byrne said it makes him happy, coming to MIFF and helping in some small way to help shine a light on independent film.

“For me, small film festivals and film festivals that have integrity are important because they bring people together and they provoke ideas and they’re struggling, usually,” he said.


On Thursday, Byrne’s film “Louder than Bombs,” will be screened at 6:30 p.m. at Railroad Square Cinema. He will take part in a question-and-answer session after the showing.

A native of Dublin, Ireland, Byrne came to the U.S. when he was 37. “Miller’s Crossing,” to be shown at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Railroad Square, was the first film he did in the U.S. The movie, released in 1990, is directed by brothers Ethan and Joel Coen.

“I was quite happy working in England and Ireland, in film and theater,” Byrne recalled. “I was over here visiting somebody and my agent said these two guys are making this film. They’d done a couple of ones before — ‘Blood Simple’ and ‘Raising Arizona.’ I hadn’t seen either picture. I went to meet with them and (actress) Marcia Gay Harden and we clicked together.”


In the film, Byrne plays Tom, right-hand man to a political boss played by Albert Finney. They both fall for the same woman, played by Harden.

“I enjoyed making it, for sure,” Byrne said of the movie. “They’re very disciplined filmmakers. Everything about the film was — to the last detail. I like to improvise in films if I can. There was nothing like that here.”

Being cast as criminal Dean Keaton in “The Usual Suspects” came about as a result of his role in “Miller’s Crossing,” he said.

He heard about “The Usual Suspects” while attending a party in Los Angeles, he said. Actor Kevin Spacey, whom he did not know at the time, came up to him and told him about a script that the director and writer would love to get Byrne to read.

“I said, ‘OK, I’d be happy to,'” he recalled.

Byrne said after reading the script, he thought the film could be really awful or really great.


“The interesting thing about ‘Miller’s Crossing’ and ‘The Usual Suspects,’ is that they are not dated,” he said.

People still approach Byrne to ask when they were made. Young people, particularly, tell each other about “The Usual Suspects,” so it has kept its life and has become somewhat of a cult film, he said.

“It’s so long ago since I made both those pictures, but the thing is, it’s always great when people find those things and they say, ‘I had no idea that film was out there.’ I love the process of discovery.”

He said a couple of incidents are etched in his mind, including one a couple of years ago when he was making a film in New York and a man came over and asked if he could introduce a friend to him. “They came over and the guy was blind. The guy started quoting ‘The Usual Suspects’ from beginning to end,” Byrne said.

Surprised, Byrne asked him how he came to memorize so much of the movie.

“He said it was the last film he saw before he went blind. You just never know what people’s relationship with film is.”


Another time, a man approached him to talk about a film in which Bryne performed, “Into the West,” which he describes as a beautiful children’s film.

“The man said, ‘I have a fondness for that film. My mother had dementia and I took her to that film because she was a fan of yours. She didn’t respond to it at all, but for two seconds she came out and pointed to the screen and said, ‘Gabriel.'”

“You don’t know what people’s relationship to movies is,” Byrne said. “You never account for why people like a film or don’t like a film. It’s notoriously hard to predict.”


During his long career, Byrne has done both commercial and independent films, as well as live performances including a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” for which he was nominated for a Tony Award, for Best Actor. From 2008 to 2011 he played the lead role of Dr. Paul Weston in the HBO television series “In Treatment,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award two years in a row.

At 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the independent film “Jindabyne” will be shown at Railroad Square Cinema. It is a 2006 Australian film directed by Ray Lawrence and in which Byrne stars opposite actress Laura Linney.


Byrne understands the dynamic between independent and commercial films and the pressure filmmakers are under to make money. He reflects on that dynamic and whether independent film has a future.

“I think that we’ll always be telling stories to each other. I think that’s an essential part of human interaction,” he said.

The first films actually started in caves, with reflections of people telling stories flashed on the cave walls by firelight, he said.

“Movies have a tremendous capacity to influence and entertain and instruct, but like a great many things seized by corporations, it’s very much a marketing game now,” Byrne said. “Subjects deemed too risky for mainstream audiences will end up in independent film.”

There is no market for independent films in the commercial arena, and writers are now moving into television, he said.

“The world of low-budget and medium independent films existing 10 to 15 years ago are now taken over by television,” Byrne said. “I think we need independent films as a counterweight to mainstream commercial cinema.”


Byrne, who also is a director, producer, screenwriter and author, said that, from a motion picture point of view, the risk is in whether filmmakers can get their money back and make a profit. As the number of venues for independent film decreases, at least some outlets, such as Netflix, allow some independent films to be seen, he said.

“They get an extended life, in a way,” he said.

Independent film is worth supporting, according to Byrne, who says it offers ideas and perspective. “I believe that film and drama should be part of every school throughout the country,” he said.


Growing up in Ireland the oldest of six children, Byrne loved movies and the theater. His mother took him to the theater, and he patronized the cinema as well.

“I didn’t know you could make a living at it,” he said.


His imagination was sparked by the stories he watched. He attended an amateur drama group when he was in his 20s, and his first role was in a play called “The Advertisement,” in which he played the main female character’s lover.

“I dread to think what it was like, looking back on it,” he said. “But I loved it — I loved every minute.”

Asked what role he would like to play that he has not already, Byrne paused, searching for an answer. “There are really not any other roles that I covet, that I think I would want to do. Maybe when I get older, and if I have the energy for it, I’d do King Lear.”

Byrne recently completed the filming of “Mad to be Normal,” in which he plays 1960s revolutionary psychiatrist R.D. Laing. It is expected to be released next year.

Meanwhile, Byrne and his wife, Hannah Beth, who live in New York, look forward to coming to Waterville on Thursday.

“I’ve been to Maine several times,” he said. “I’m very fond of the place and it’s, physically, not a great leap from where I’m from in Ireland. It’s got the same turn of topography and terrain. At times, you look up and you could be in Ireland,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful state to move through. We just take random journeys to various places and stay in bed-and-breakfasts.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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