Close-up: Liam Cunningham

Can the actor's role as a priest help Ireland come to terms with its past?

When Liam Cunningham was invited to audition for Hunger, Steve McQueen's film about the 1981 IRA hunger strike in Northern Ireland's Maze prison, his reaction was hardly one of delight. "As soon as Bobby Sands' name was mooted, I grimaced; it's still an open wound in Ireland," says the 47-year-old Dubliner.

The 27-year-old Sands starved himself to death in 1981 in an attempt to win political-prisoner status, and remains an emotive symbol of the complexity of Ireland's past. "I remember all these black flags in windows in Dublin at the time," Cunningham recalls. "And there was Margaret Thatcher on TV trying to dehumanise these men."

It was the combination of McQueen's thoughtful approach and Enda Walsh's powerful script that led Cunningham to accept the role of the prison priest with whom Sands (played by Michael Fassbender) debates the morality of his protest. Their impassioned exchange – shot in an incredible, 22-minute single take – is the centrepiece of a largely dialogue-free film. "When Steven told us how he wanted to shoot it, Michael and I looked at each other and said, 'We'll have to move in together.' We spent five days going through that scene 15 times a day. The assistant producer would come round to slide our lunch under the door."

Having played an IRA member in Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), does Cunningham see Ireland coming to terms with its past through such films? "It's a measure of the peace process that we are able to deal with this on screen," he reflects. "Some beautiful art has come out of a horrific situation."

'Hunger' (15) is screened today and tomorrow at the London Film Festival ( www.bfi.org.uk/lff/). It is released in cinemas on 31 October

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
These photographs released by the University of Maryland Medical Center show images of full face transplant recipient 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia
mediaGQ front page features man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on