Irish actor Colm Meaney reflects on his relationship with “Midnight Express” and “Evita” director Alan Parker, who died last week.
I first met Alan in 1990 when auditioning for “Come See the Paradise”, his remarkable and, I think, under-appreciated film about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. He was seated across a table, behind a camera, smoking and reading the part of the brother to the character I was reading for.
I remember thinking, “How can he judge what I’m doing when he’s so busy operating the camera, reading the other character and not burning his fingers?“ I later learned that this was Alan’s preferred way of watching a scene.
During takes, he always sat right beside the camera, as close to the lens as possible. It was almost like he wanted to be inside the scene to get a real sense of how it was going.
On “The Commitments” he had an old Bentwood bistro chair that was placed right next to the lens, even though video monitors were available to watch the take. During the last few days of shooting, the crew decided to have a laugh and cut an inch or so off the legs of the chair every day. Alan would sit and look down quizzically at the chair and floor knowing something was not quite right. On the final take, they lopped about six inches off so the chair had practically no legs and placed it beside the camera. On seeing this, Alan cracked up and said “I fucking knew it, you bastards.”
I owe Alan an enormous debt. Not only did he give me my first decent film role and the chance to work with a master at the height of his powers but he also reconnected me with Ireland.
When we did “Come See the Paradise” [in 1990], I had been living in the U.S. for almost 10 years. In those days, actors did not flit across the Atlantic for pilot season. When you left, you left for good.
Alan wanted to cast “The Commitments” entirely in Dublin with local actors. He made an exception for me and brought me over. That led to so many more opportunities for me on that side of the Atlantic.
Alan was a master who could work in all genres. His great works were musicals ( “Evita”), films with music (“The Commitments “) and great dramas like “Mississippi Burning” and “Midnight Express.” I doubt we’ll ever see his likes again, as we say in Ireland.
Colm Meaney is a Golden Globe-nominated actor whose career spans both TV (“The Singapore Grip,” “Gangs of London”) and film (“Layer Cake,” “Con Air”).
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