Back on cinema screens from April 16 in the Wexford-shot The Sea, Ciarán Hinds tells Harry Guerin about starring as the recently widowed Max in the adaptation of John Banville's Man Booker Prize-winning bestseller.
Harry Guerin: Had you read The Sea before the film appeared on your radar?
Ciarán Hinds: No, I hadn't. I had read, I think, [John Banville's] Eclipse, and I'd read The Book of Evidence, but I hadn't read The Sea. So that's what I did when Independent [production company] and Stephen Brown [director] got in touch with me. It was quite a while ago - 2009, I think. It took them that long to get the funding for it. They gave me an outline draft of the script and I decided I'd better read the book because there's a lot of complexity in it.
It's a story of memory and loss - from both adulthood and childhood. I think the filmmakers have got the look and atmosphere of the book bang on.
Do you feel that? Well, that's good, because it's such a difficult idea to translate from a book. It's a different medium - how you put the soul of a book, which is in the reader's mind [on screen], and especially this one, because it's about a man's memory. It's all about memories, and it's very hard to post that up in a visual sense. John Banville did his own adaptation and then he handed it over very graciously - 'This is what I make of it if you're going to make a film'. He's a very clever, astute and brilliant writer. He let the filmmakers do what they needed to do with it without any interference.
In terms of your character, Max, he's not as far on in the grieving process as another widower you played, Michael in Conor McPherson's film The Eclipse.
They're very different people in a way, although they happen to have had the same fate and the same physical malfunctions or whatever. Michael in The Eclipse... It was about grief as well and memory, but Max is more of a kind of bitter man. He's kind of more sardonic about life and more lonely. [He's] Sort of divorced a little from true human connections, apart from his connection he had with his wife and daughter. But I don't see him outside that world.
Whereas Michael Farr in The Eclipse, he was a schoolteacher, he connected with other people, he was less removed. Max is supposedly in an art world, but I think he's probably a failed artist. [He's a] Bit of a time-waster dilettante so he's taken to being an art critic - a small-time art critic. He might write a book on Bonnard but never gets 'round to finishing it. I think he's got a bit of a chip.
He's a person who has lost his partner and comes across as someone who has no sense of what the world is about.
Or who they are. Or what it was that made them. He feels this pain and he's at a loss, but he's also kind of resentful that she's left him - that she died first and left him behind. 'How selfish was that?' Which is kind of a strange reaction to it. It's not that he didn't love her; I think their love was quite fractious - love/hate - but they knew each other and they got on well. They filled each other's other half in, if you like.
It's very apt that we see him floundering in the sea at the start.
He doesn't know what to do and these memories start to sort of collide and conflict of an earlier sense of grief and loss that he felt. One builds on top of the other and the way John has structured the book and the screenplay, it's all intertwined. In a book we can understand that, but it's a very intricate structure - a story woven in three different timelines rather than a direct narrative. You can understand that in a book but try and put that in a film... It can be quite complex. And I think [with] the editing and Stephen Brown directing and what they came up with they've done quite a fluid job of merging the recent past, the present and the distant.
It seems kind of quite full, the story. It has its own pace, and it's not a fast one. It's sort of a ruminative film. It's a delicate film. I feel it will appeal to a certain audience who are in no hurry and want to get involved in the storytelling.
You're working with two of your former co-stars again in The Sea: Sinéad Cusack, who plays your wife, and Charlotte Rampling, who plays the owner of the guesthouse where Max goes to stay.
Sinéad's a marvel and she's beautiful in this. So present and alive in her character's dying, if you know what I mean. We worked together a couple of times on the stage. We did Conor McPherson's The Birds and then Juno [and the Paycock] together. We get on well. We seem to connect with each other. This is the first time that we've really worked closely on film together and it was a joy to work with her. It just is.
That was a big joy when Charlotte came on board because she's such an extraordinary actress and person. I think she's an adventuress - she goes on these journeys that excite her or interest her. That are challenging and not just, 'Oh, I see, that's what that is'. There's also something mysterious about a lot of the work that she does. And that's always interesting.
On the subject of adventures, how are you finding being a part of the Game of Thrones adventure?
I've yet to really find that. The character [Mance Rayder] hasn't come directly into the storyline and I've only been in there for a few days. But it's been great: there's a great buzz and energy about it, especially being in Belfast, where I come from. Suddenly I went in for a couple of days to work at home, which is something I very rarely get the chance to do. Almost the only time I ever worked at home was on The December Bride all those years ago. There's a great buzz in Belfast now - they made The Fall, they're shooting quite a bit up there. There's a lot of stuff going on in Dublin again, which is very healthy for people who work in the industry and for people outside of Ireland realising, 'Yeah, there's a whole film community there, ready and able and willing to make things'.
Are people coming up to you asking you stuff about Game of Thrones?
I've got a fairly low profile - I go and do me shopping when I need to! There was only one guy, I think, when I was going through the airport - Belfast Airport - and he says to me [shouts], 'Hey, wow! You're going to be in Game of Thrones!' I'd only about said yes to it! But things just get out - there's no such thing as a well-kept secret!
Well, it's a phenomenon because it's so meaty.
There's so many strands and layers to it. They can take you off on one path and you'll be like, 'Wow! Where are we going?' And suddenly they whisk you off that one and take you somewhere else. And you're still intrigued by the whole lot. So it's a great big melting pot. We all wonder, 'What the heck is going to happen?' So that's kind of good. I wonder how it's going to go myself - any one of us could be roasted, toasted, butchered, crucified at any given moment!