Film: Actor stephen rea, one of the stars of Trojan Eddie, talks to John Lyttle

Stephen Rea has a grand total of five films in the Screen on the Green season, part of the Barbican's forthcoming "From the Heart" festival (3 to 17 April). The very thought makes him moan. "Five you say? Ach, God, no." Ach, God, yes. It's almost a guided tour to his career highlights. Here's his early, breakthrough performance as the repulsed, and finally vengeful witness to an IRA murder in Neil Jordan's Angel. Here he is again, defected to the other side, as the on-the-run IRA man in the Oscar-winning The Crying Game, for Jordan again. We drop to a minor key for a cameo turn as a name dropping taxi driver in the under-valued Last of the High Kings, then see him as a nationalist hero in the controversial Michael Collins, before enjoying a return to full-blooded form with a preview of Trojan Eddie, in which Rea (above right) plays a bullied market hawker with a grudge against gypsy godfather Richard Harris - a spectrum of Irishness, and humanity, that never allows itself the laziness of cliche, nor the luxury of grandstanding. So what's the boyo's problem?

"I can't bear to look at myself," Rea groans. "The first time I saw The Crying Game, I thought, `You're okay'. The second time, all I saw was what I hadn't done, what was wrong. The third time I had to leave." If that makes the actor sound as lugubrious as his screen image, it's a case of projection: critics and public alike tend not to remember the sly wit he brought to his fashion photographer in Pret-a-Porter or the utter, easy going charm radiating from the laidback husband of Les Blair's Bad Behaviour. As he says, "I can take a joke, and I can crack a joke."

If he seems serious, well, fundamentally he's a serious man, but that, if you dip into the clippings file, is a quality he shares with his fellow members of the "Murphia"; that star band of Irish names who have taken Hollywood by unexpected storm. Liam Neeson, Gabriel Bryne, Patrick Bergen, Pierce Brosnan, and even those craving honorary membership, such as Daniel Day-Lewis, all have a whiff of Celtic angst about them. Or perhaps that's the material they appear in. Certainly, Rea's busy CV - 23 films since 1982, plenty of theatre (Chekov's Uncle Vanya and Pinter's Ashes to Ashes amongst them) and some "important" TV (most recently Shadow of a Gunman and Hedda Gabler) - tilts heavily towards social issues, and politics, specifically Irish politics. In fact, his next picture, the aptly named A Further Gesture, again casts him as an IRA gunman, and, once more, offers a complex portrait of loyalty and tortured ideology that bears out Rea's assertion that he "isn't, in any way, interested in narrow nationalism". Furthermore, "I wouldn't say I have an agenda. I just choose work that means something to me. There's not much point otherwise." True enough. But, modesty aside, his work for Field Day theatre company, and championing of new Irish authors such as Seamus Deane - "My God, such writing" - not to mention a newly resurgent Irish film industry, places him in the forefront of a culture's search for identity beyond the now imploding certainties of Church and Free State.

The point is often lost on some British critics, whose objections, frankly, seem less to do with art, and more to do with a certain imperialism. Ask Rea for an opinion, and he sighs: "Now, I don't want to be attacking anyone, or making a fuss." Which is kind, given he's been getting flak as far back as Angel, never mind the character being definitely anti-paramilitary.

Then there's The Crying Game, in which the IRA man has had enough of bloodshed and wants out. "I know," Rea says. "It's as if critics here couldn't see it. They couldn't get the point. The Americans got it immediately." So you have to ask if Rea, an actor who can hold audiences spellbound, doesn't occasionally get reviews that read like ambushes because he once provided 16 minutes of Gerry Adams voice-over for Channel 4, and because his wife, Dolours, was convicted of bombing offences in 1973. Rea won't be drawn, instead muttering something heartfelt about "the process of decolonisation". But then, his work, at its most eloquent, carries his voice very clearly. As he says, "You try your best. Some people watch The Crying Game and they see fiction. Some people watch and see the reality. You hope they learn. That's it really. You've got to start somewhere."

`Trojan Eddie' is on release at selected cinemas (see review, page 8)

Rea also features in five films as part of the Screen on the Green season at the "From the Heart" Festival at the Barbican, Silk St, London (0171- 638 8891) 3 to 17 April

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own