Colm Meaney has distinguished himself on more than one occasion in his career as the lovable and warm father figure. However, his latest role as a father is from a completely different side. It is also the first time he plays a king.
n drama series The Snake QueenMeaney is entertaining and menacing as the French monarch, King Francis, who reigned from 1515 until his death in 1547.
His son Henry II married Catherine de Medici, a niece of Pope Clement VII. Their marriage was plagued with problems from the start, mostly because he was in love with someone twice his age.
Using cunning and cunning, Catherine, who grew up in an orphanage, still manages to somehow keep her marriage alive and navigate life’s slingshots and arrows as a monarch for over 50 years.
During most of the 16th century and as the mother of three French kings, Catherine was described as the most important woman in Europe.
In a memorable scene in The Snake QueenKing Francis and an audience of courtiers, almost bored, settle down to watch the young couple – played by Liv Hill and Alex Heath – consummate their marriage.
With occasional four-wall breaks and a blast of hard rock in the opening credits, The Snake Queen — also starring Samantha Morton and Charles Dance — laced the story with a dash of modern boldness.
“I was sent the script and it was wonderful,” says Meaney. “When I read the scripts, I was so relieved that I realized it wasn’t some classic pseudo-Shakespearean stuff,” he says, using an ostentatiously posh English accent, “where we all talk like that, You know. It’s not the kind of wax dolls that come out and pretend to be aristocrats.
“They are real people living real lives with real desires and flaws and all of the above. That made it kind of compelling as a project. The dialogue has such a contemporary feel and I thought it was a brilliant move to connect with 21st century audiences.”
Although Meaney loves the disrespect The Snake Queen, he professes to be a history maniac. “I love doing the historical stuff – one of the last big series I did [Hell On Wheels] takes place in the 1860s and I’m very interested in medieval history at the moment. I’ve spent years figuring out the exact connection between the fall of Rome and the emergence of Europe as it is today.”
In another spit on a cliché, it’s also worth noting that Meaney’s French monarch has a Dublin accent.
“The reason Brian Friel started translating Chekhov was because he argued, ‘Why do Irish actors have to use English accents to be Russian?'” says Meaney. “So I decided to play it very heavily with my own accent but slightly adjusted to suit the tone of the piece.”
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Here Meaney softens his trademark finglas brogue as a demonstration. “It’s like he’s speaking very correctly. He gets his ‘THs’ right. He gets the ‘G’ at the end of ‘coming’ and ‘going’. He doesn’t come and go. I was just dying to avoid becoming English in order to be French.”
It’s probably fair to say that Meaney has tried every type of accent in a five-decade acting career that has spanned over 140 film roles.
Even as he approaches 70 next year, his output is stunning, with no fewer than eight projects set to be released after that The Snake Queen. After spending some time shooting a new feature film, The problem with peoplein Ireland, he has just returned to Mallorca where he lives with his wife Ines and their teenage daughter Ada (the family divides their time between there and Los Angeles).
“When you get a script that’s written by Americans, you have to be a little bit ‘Woooah, wait a minute.’ You’re a little scared, but I read the script and I think it was beautiful. And it was the Ireland that I recognize today,” says Meaney of the project, which was co-written by American actor Paul Reiser.
“There wasn’t a damn paddywhacker in there at all. And Paul is a wonderful comedian. I was blown away by how easy it was to take the picture. And even the weather cooperated.”
What does Meaney see as he surveys his hometown on the occasions he returns to Ireland to work?
“There are elements of Dublin that are still recognizable but it is in danger [of changing],” he says. “I think I remember going to Blanchardstown or some studio somewhere about 10 years ago and thinking I’d ended up in Malmo or something.
“But I think there’s a problem… we don’t have enough theaters in Dublin. We don’t have enough music venues. Of course we need to develop the city and the city will change, but we need to be a little bit aware of what Dublin is all about and that is the cultural life of the city.”
Is this project-heavy list a post-Covid activity spurt? “I don’t feel that busy,” he says. “I mean, it kind of feels normal. That [Covid] was interesting because I’m not very good at downtime. When I’m done with a job I come home and it’s great to be home for a week or two, but after about three or four weeks I get nervous, even knowing what the next job is going to be.
“Although I kind of looked around the room during lockdown and realized, ‘Well, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which isn’t anything’.”
The jitters between projects, Meaney admits, happens because he’s not a great self-motivator. “I don’t write my own projects or make my own wine, although at one point I had an idea,” he says.
“I just think in order to function and do something, I have to work.”
Meaney’s acting career hasn’t always been so breakneck. After his education at the Abbey Theater School in Dublin he first tried his luck in London, where he worked at the Half Moon Theater in the East End and with various touring companies.
He moved to New York in the early ’80s, only to find that acting jobs weren’t quite as numerous and varied as he thought (“aside from daytime soaps”).
A few years later, he switched courses, moved to Los Angeles, and earned small roles on television shows like undeclared work and Remington Steele. His break on the small screen came in 1987 when he was cast as Chief Miles O’Brien Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Another iconic role followed in 1991 when he was cast as the patriarch of the Rabbitte family obligations at the age of 38. From there he has carved a niche for himself as a popular and respected character actor. Since then there has been little let-up.
Last year he was there again obligations and the rest of the Barrytown trilogy, The snapper and the vanalong with its author Roddy Doyle in Back to Barrytowna three-part documentary series for RTÉ.
“I think we’re all still a bit surprised at how people feel about these movies and how they remember them so vividly, some of them obviously because they watch them over and over again,” says Meaney. “I still get quoted lines all the time The snapper in Dublin.”
Given the sheer breadth of his body of work, I wonder if the idea of a handful of roles following him over the decades is a blessing or a curse.
“Look, if nobody recognizes you or isn’t talking about you or the work, then things probably aren’t going so well,” he says. “I’m usually very happy when it happens.”
And yet he certainly has to listen to dialogues The snapper Quite often quoted from him? “I think it depends on what the quote is and the attitude of the person quoting it,” he says.
“You occasionally meet the Gobshite, who is a source of perpetual amusement in his own right. But no, it’s great that the films had that impact initially and now continue to be remembered and have a life.”
He recently finished filming In the land of saints and sinners opposite Liam Neeson and Ciarán Hinds. He also recently left the set of Neil Jordan Marlowe, in which he again stars alongside Neeson. It’s been a long time since the two have shared the stage at the Abbey Theater – 40 years to be precise.
“I think I’ve seen him maybe four or five times in the last 40 years, but within two or three minutes we were talking the same way we were 40 years ago,” says Meaney. “It’s just that you pick up right where you left off. It is wonderful.”
The Serpent Queen will premiere on STARZPLAY on September 11th. See starz.com for details.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/collm-meaney-im-still-getting-constantly-quoted-lines-from-the-snapper-in-dublin-41954626.html Collm Meaney: ‘I keep getting quoted lines from The Snapper in Dublin’