One of my great ambitions in life was to be an Irish movie star. I kind of imagined I’d be this Peter O’Toole type character from MY FAVORITE YEAR, when O’Toole created the great character of Alan Swan doing live TV on the Sid Caesar show. He was charming, the ladies loved him, he told great stories and consumed huge quantities of booze while flipping off epigrams wherever he went. But when they informed him that the show would be LIVE, he panicked. The kid who idolized him said, “What’s the big deal? You’re an actor!” O’Toole then brilliantly announced, “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”
I’m way beyond the age of being an Irish movie star now, and long ago settled for being merely “eccentric”. It’s almost as much fun.
But last week I got to hang out with a real Irish movie star. He’s also the great actor, Barry Ward. He was in Chicago for the 21st European Union Film Festival screening of MAZE at The Gene Siskel Film Center on Easter Sunday. Barry was in the midst of shooting another film in Ireland and Easter was the only day he could make it to the windy city. Hence the scheduling of the artist in person on the High Holy Day.
Each year I help produce the Annual Irish American Movie Hooley with my partner Barbara Scharres at The Siskel Film Center, so I’m not exactly a stranger to Irish movie stars. We’ve hosted plenty of actors and directors from Ireland for the Hooley over the last four years, and I enjoy helping out with other Irish films screening at the Siskel. But leaving my family on Easter Sunday was not an option.
I volunteered to entertain Barry on Saturday night and Barbara very graciously invited him for Easter brunch at her home on Sunday. We recorded interviews with Barry in London for two weeks running on The Skinny & Houli Show and our pal Sean Ginnelly had him on Good Morning Ireland the week before, calling in from the Rome Irish Film Festival. I thought it would be tough getting an audience for the film on Easter Sunday, but appealed to many of our pagan listeners to catch the screening that afternoon. It worked too, they tell me the Siskel was packed!
On Saturday night I invited Barry to join my son Paddy and I at The Gage on Michigan Ave, right around the corner from his hotel. As a man of simple means I had to figure out a way to find a host because I had no intention of washing dishes or feet for our Holy Saturday supper that night.
I sent my old friend and Gage proprietor Billy Lawless Jr. a text, “Hey Billy, I’m bringing Irish movie star Barry Ward to The Gage Saturday night, hoping to get comped, can you help?”
Billy immediately texted me back with “Who the f#*k is Barry Ward?”
I explained that Barry was the star of the film playing that weekend and had also starred in the Ken Loach classic “Jimmy’s Hall”, as Jimmy! “He’s legit, google him!”
That night my son and I dined at the absolutely delightful Gage with an Irish movie star. He wasn’t O’Toole, but he was charming, the ladies loved him, he told great stories and we consumed plenty of booze and Barry did indeed flip off an epigram or two between many laughs that evening. The folks at the Gage treated all three of us like movie stars and we left that night as friends after delivering a Chicago Failte to the Irish movie star. Thanks to you Billy Lawless Jr.
Unfortunately in my reverie I had forgotten to get a photo of us at the Gage! I sent a note to him requesting that he take a selfie there over the weekend, not expecting him to waste his time. But he came through and these photos attest to that fact. Also Susan Murphy got a great shot of Barry at Easter brunch with Barbara Scharres and Tim Bradbury.
So that’s how we take care of our Irish cultural heroes in Chicago, whether it’s for the European Union Film Festival or The Irish American Movie Hooley, we treat our guests like movie stars! Please save the dates of Friday, Saturday, Sunday Sept. 28, 29, and 30th for our Fourth Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, presented by Slane Irish Whiskey, so you too can meet our movie stars!
AND as we went to press, just received confirmation of a grant from Culture Ireland to bring three Irish filmmakers to Chicago next September!