Domhnall Gleeson stars in the June/July bumper issue of August Man Malaysia. We got to find out his take on his latest work as the award-winning Irish actor takes you on the ride of your life in HBO’s romcom-thriller crossover series Run.
As the world continues to struggle with prolonged self-isolation and economic uncertainty, there is nothing most of us want more than to get out and back to the regular swing of things. Fortunately, for those of us who still enjoy access to the Internet and television networks at home, HBO has provided us with a perfect source of escapism and entertainment in the form of Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson and the new seven-episode, genre-defying series Run co-starring Emmy winner Merritt Wever (Godless, Nurse Jackie).
A refreshing breakaway from the sci-fi, crime-drama and fantasy serials that have dominated television for multiple seasons now, the half-hour romcom-thriller Run, written and produced by Vicky Jones, follows a married woman named Ruby Richardson (Wever) whose humdrum life is thrown upside down when she leaves the suburbs and makes a dash for her college sweetheart, Billy Johnson (Gleeson), after receiving a text from him with the word “Run” – a pact they made 17 years prior, with the promise that if either one of them texted the word “Run” and the other replied with the same, they would drop everything and meet in Grand Central Station and embark on a cross-country journey by train.
Recurring guest stars include Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG winner, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) as Laurel, a woman who Ruby and Billy meet on their journey; Rich Sommer (Mad Men) as Laurence, Ruby’s husband; Tamara Podemski (Coroner) as police detective Babe Cloud and Archie Panjabi (HBO’s upcoming I Know This Much Is True, The Good Wife) as Fiona, Billy’s former P.A. Packed with dark humour, romance, tension, thrills and twists, Run is noted for the chemistry between the two lead actors and for their individual performances. Distinguished by his talent and alt-appeal, Gleeson, who plays a life guru in Run, is both a Tony Award-nominee and Irish Film and Television Award-winner. While most of us remember him from the Harry Potter films as Bill Weasley and, more recently, as General Armitage Hux in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, the son of veteran actor Brendan Gleeson has garnered widespread recognition for his performances in various Academy Award-nominated and winning films including Ex Machina, Brooklyn and The Revenant.
In the following interview, Gleeson elaborates on the series Run and his role.
How did you come to be involved in Run and what drew you to it?
I’d just done a project that was very heavy and had taken an emotional toll. I was exceptionally proud of it but felt like doing something a little more light-hearted. I mentioned that to my agent and they said actually, we’ve just gotten this script for TV. I hadn’t really thought about doing TV because I love movies, love the way they work and love the story being over in 90 minutes – I’m aware I’m in the minority on that by the way, but I said OK, I’ll read the script anyway. It was Run, and it was just incredible. I was already a massive fan of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Vicky Jones, so I went to meet them about it and liked what they had to say about how the rest of the show would unfold. It was about love and it had endless possibilities. The chance to work with those brilliant people on something so funny, fresh and exciting was too good to pass up.
Run is genre-defying, combining comedy with romance and thriller elements. Was that an attraction too?
Absolutely. It’s hard to describe but I enjoyed how unusual it was and that it never really settled. My favourite parts are the bits that are slightly more like Before Sunset, but there’s all this other stuff going on in between to keep the story moving forward. You’re continually interested in what they’re going to do next and how their relationship will end up. That’s nice to play with.
Were you excited to play opposite Merritt Wever?
Very much. I was delighted when she came on-board. I knew people who’d worked with her and knew she was capable of extraordinary things. From her work that I’ve seen, she’s never been anything less than great in stuff. I knew she’d be brilliant to do scenes with. We work in different ways sometimes but all that matters is what happens when the cameras are rolling and what the audience ends up seeing. I always felt on very solid ground with Merritt. In one-on-one scenes, you have to respond to each other in the moment. Merritt is absolutely superb at that and incredible to play opposite. I was lucky to have her to rely on.
What can you tell us about your character, Billy Johnson?
He’s a successful life guru but he tells a lot of lies, both to himself and other people. I’ve played a couple of bad guys, but I never thought of Billy that way. I understand there are parts of his character which are awful, but I think he’s trying to get better. That’s no excuse for people in real life, but in drama it is! He may be capable of change and if he is, Ruby (Richardson, Merritt Wever’s character) is the person he should be with. Although I don’t think Ruby’s perfect either. There are also aspects of her personality which are more anti-hero than hero. They’re a good pairing that way. They both have an edge, but the story doesn’t knock those edges off, it accentuates them, which I thought was a really smart idea.
Did you do much research into motivational gurus or life coaches?
Not really because the way Billy came to that career was unusual and unplanned. I figured it grew from his ability to be the most charming person in the room. That kept on happening and the rooms just kept getting bigger. I concentrated more on making sure he was a person who could do that. I also think he changes depending on who’s in the room. The only person he’s honest with is Ruby. He lies to her too but if he’s honest with anybody, it’ll generally be with Ruby. That’s a good counterpoint for all the other stuff going on with him and all the lies elsewhere.
Was it a treat to keep your own Irish accent?
I quite liked it but generally I prefer to do accents, as perverse as that sounds. An accent is a nice way into a character, I always think. An accent doesn’t change anybody, but it does change the perception of them and the way the world treats them. I really enjoy the process of trying on accents for size. Drilling the lines in an accent can be a valuable way of learning them and getting to know that personality. But it was a treat not to have to think about it for change. It’s one less thing to get in the way.
What were your favourite moments to film?
I enjoyed when we were in the midst of the relationship. When no matter what was being said or done, the scene was really about our relationship and its shifting dynamic. I also liked it when we got out and about and met new people, like Archie Panjabi’s character (Billy’s former PA, Fiona) or Phoebe’s character (Laurel).
And did you enjoy all the train travel?
Oh, for sure. I took a train across America when I was younger, at a time of great flux and discovery in my life. When I read the script, I was totally blown away by the similarities to my own experience and the questions I was asking myself at that time. It wasn’t quite nostalgic, but it definitely put me in a certain place, which was interesting.
Is there a certain romance about the idea of rekindling old flames?
For sure. The love of your life that you don’t see any more, then are suddenly reunited with – that’s always been a big theme in drama and storytelling. It’s a very potent thing, especially when it’s your first love as well. That adds a whole extra layer. It’s a beautiful and interesting thing to talk about, no matter what age you are. Those realisations and conversations about shared experiences between Billy and Ruby are really lovely and they tell you a lot in the midst of this chaotic story. It explores their relationship in a really cool way.
Is Billy a romantic at heart?
Billy does his best until it’s too difficult. That’s how he is in every aspect of his life, except for when he’s with Ruby. The reason he’s like that is partly shaped by their relationship. He genuinely thought they’d be together forever. I think he spent 15 years thinking if he was back with Ruby, his life would be better – and then all of a sudden, it seems to be happening.
How would you describe Run to a stranger?
I wouldn’t compare it to anything else, I’d concentrate on what makes it unique and the central premise. At its core, it’s about this guy and this girl who haven’t seen each other in 15 years but who were the loves of each other’s lives. They haven’t been in contact since they broke up but they made a pact that if they text “Run”, they’ll drop everything and get a train together across America. Just that set-up, I think, is plenty. That tells me everything I need to know and whether I’ll be interested in what will happen. I know when I heard it, I was really, really interested!
How does Run fit within your wider body of work?
All I try to do is work with good, talented people on projects that are different to what I’ve done before. I feel like this ticks both boxes. It was great to do some more comedy after all the dramatic stuff. There was real joy in making it and I hope it’s like that to watch too.
Do you personally ever want to make a run for it?
Well, I can’t run anywhere at the moment, with the lockdown going on! But I understand the appeal of hopping on a train across America. I think everybody gets overwhelmed at times, worries about the choices they’ve made and feels they’ve made a prison for themselves. I think that will resonate with a lot of people. I understand where Billy and Ruby are coming from, although I’m not sure I’d ever have the balls to do what they do.
How are you feeling about the show’s release at this strange time?
There are obviously far more important things happening in the world right now, but it might offer a nice bit of escapism. The stuff that attracted me to Run – the fact that it’s different, funny, exciting and about love – are still reasons to watch it, whether you’re in lockdown or not. I worked as hard as I could on it and I’m proud of it. I just hope that people like it. We’ll wait and see.
Run is now available to stream on hbogoasia.my