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The Irish Voice On-Line
12-18 May 1999

Credibly Ciaran

By Darina Molloy
HE'S played a complete bastard so often on screen and stage that people sometimes confuse fact and fiction in real life, but Ciaran Hinds takes it all in his stride. A couple of years ago, the night after Prime Suspect aired on British television, starring the Belfast-born actor as a preying pedophile, he brought his young daughter and her friend to the local swimming pool. "This guy said to me, 'Do you really think you should be doing this?'" recalls Hinds with a laugh that indicates the encounter was amusing only later. "And then he realized and he caught himself and apologized." The soft-spoken actor describes the incident as "a shocker," but it certainly hasn't stopped him from playing cads and heartless fiends.

In his current incarnation as Larry, one-fourth of Patrick Marber's hit play Closer, Hinds plays a sexual adventurer with the kind of X-rated dialogue rarely seen on Broadway. Larry, a dermatologist, is married to photographer Anna (Natasha Richardson), but after he confesses to sleeping with a prostitute on a business trip she tells him she's been cheating on him for a year, and leaves him for Dan (Rupert Graves), a writer. Their close encounters of the cheating kind devastate Dan's girlfriend Alice (Anna Friel), who blocks out the pain in the best way she knows: she returns to stripping. It's when Larry later encounters the elfin Alice in a gentleman's club and subsequently seduces her as a form of revenge on his ex-wife and her new lover that we see what he's capable of.

So Ciaran, another bastard, eh? "Well . . . that's one way of looking at it," equivocates Hinds with a smile, before pointing out that Larry only acts out after he's been treated most callously by someone close to him. "There's this woman who he actually loves, and marries, and she's been lying to him for a year. I don't have to defend him, because he does go to an extreme length of revenge. Then there's the scene where Dan asks him, 'Do you forgive her [Anna]?' and he says, 'Of course I forgive her, without forgiveness we're savages.' But his chemicals won't actually let him forgive her, so it's out of his control."

Hinds first played the role of Larry back in 1997, in a small, 300-seat studio theater in London, but left to fulfill another acting commitment when the show transferred to the West End. When producers expressed an interest in taking Closer to Broadway, playwright Patrick Marber told Hinds he had "unfinished business" with the play, and asked him to come back on board for the Manhattan run.

Once rehearsals began, says Hinds, it became not so much a matter of relearning the part as unlearning it. "You're now dealing with different human beings," he remarks of the cast change. "When you act it's always different rhythms, so you have to try and start with two people again." Describing the four characters as a passionate and complex bunch, he raves about Marber's writing. Almost on cue, the playwright himself pops his head around Hinds' dressing room door at the Music Box Theatre, before just as quickly exiting.

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HINDS professes himself slightly underwhelmed with the whole notion of his Broadway debut, but he's quick to point out that it's not a reaction born of snobbery, rather that Broadway is something that just never meant that much to him in the way of ambitions and dreams. He feels the same about Hollywood but would certainly head out west ("for the shekels") if the right opportunity came along, he laughs.

He hasn't tended to go after too many parts or roles mainly, he says, because he's not always sure what he wants to do. Asked whether he prefers stage or screen work, he's quick to retort, "The one that I'm not doing at the time -- perverse but true." His wife Helene, his partner of a dozen years, is also an actress, and the couple try to alternate their working periods so one of them is always home to look after their seven-year-old daughter Aoife. Hinds' eyes light up when conversation turns to his little girl, clearly the apple of his eye. He's finding the separation difficult, but greatly enjoyed a recent three-week period when Helene and Aoife stayed with him in New York. They'll be back for the summer, he says (he's contracted to Closer until early September, along with Rupert Graves and Anna Friel), and one gets a distinct mental image of calendar pages being ticked off determinedly.

His acting dates back to his college days, when Hinds abandoned what he jokingly refers to as a distinctly unpromising law future to accept a place at London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). His arrival in London, he recalls, was tinged with a hint of bitterness towards the English, whom he saw as being responsible for the escalating violence in his native city. "And then I met all these people my own age from Cornwall and other places, and they didn't have a clue about any of that," he remembers. It was to prove a valuable lesson for the young actor, who now holds the strong belief that, "Who you are doesn't have to inform your righteousness."

After finishing his four-year course at RADA he worked with various touring companies around Scotland and Ireland, including stints at Dublin's Abbey and Galway's Druid. ("You go to Dublin and you find that you're being asked, 'So you had to go to drama school then?'" he laughs. "And then you go up to Scotland and they say, 'What are you doing up here, taking our jobs?'") In Galway, he worked alongside director Garry Hynes, whose production of The Lonesome West is currently showing at a theater just a couple of doors up from where Hinds appears nightly in Closer.

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SO how did a young fellow from Belfast find himself slipping so effortlessly into the "awfully, awfully" upper-class British gentry roles he has played in such films as Jane Eyre (Hinds was Mr. Rochester) and Persuasion (Captain Wentworth). "I know, ridiculous, isn't it?" he roars with laughter, abandoning all pretenses at a stiff upper lip accent. "Some people have said, 'What are you doing with those accents?' Well, I don't know, I was asked! And when you're an actor you do whatever you can."

Hinds is long and rangy, and he sits huddled on a small stool, folding himself over as he contemplates my questions. He speaks with his hands a lot, and plays with his hair. He is better-looking than most of his screen personas, less hard somehow. His Belfast accent has softened through the years, it's barely distinguishable on some words, and he speaks so softly that his voice barely registers on my tape recorder at times.

Asked if he could imagine himself doing anything else in life, he rolls eyes in a mock mournful manner, and says glumly, "At this age, not really." Perking up a bit, he adds, "It would have to be something really cool like, you know, a ranger or a neurosurgeon or something like that . . . but certainly not a politician."

One of the most hilarious scenes in Closer involves Hinds' and Graves' characters getting hot and heavy in an online porn chat room (Dan leads Larry to believe he's a well-endowed, blonde, sex-starved woman). The scene plays out over seven or eight minutes, with each line of dialogue becoming more and more risqué. The typing is triggered by a special computer program after run-throughs showed it would take actors almost 40 minutes to get through the scene. Hinds thinks it's a marvelous scene, but in real life, he cheerfully admits, he's a complete illiterate when it comes to computers. Disappointing news for all the fans who've spent hours compiling adoring websites (some refer to themselves as being afflicted with Ciaranitis) -- he says he's not seen any of them. With just over an hour to curtain time, it's time for this writer to make herself scarce. Like a true gentleman, Hinds escorts me from the theater, pausing on the way to show me the impressive stage. He finishes with a joke: "'Why don't actors look out of the window in the morning? So they have something to do in the afternoon.' Now that's a pretty sad existence, isn't it?" he laughs. But underneath it all, you just know he doesn't mean a word of it.