EXCLUSIVE: Brendan Fraser Talks Belfast, Soul, and Surviving a Stand Off
Brendan Fraser Talks Stand Off, in theaters this weekend
Oscar-winning Irish director Terry George (The Shore, Hotel Rwanda, Reservation Road) returns this weekend with a new crime comedy shot in and around Belfast. Stand Off stars Brendan Fraser and Colm Meaney in the tale of a fish market robbery gone wrong. When a young dad attempts to pay back a local mobster by carrying out a dangerous hiest, he accidentally steals from mob boss instead, setting up a chain reaction of events that eventually find him locked in a local curio shop run by a man that could possibly be his illegitimate father.
Brendan Fraser stars as Joe Maguire, the absentee parent in question. To celebrate the movie's release in theaters starting today, Friday, February 22nd, we caught up with this icon of humorous high adventure for a chat about his experiences on set. Fraser arrived in Belfast as one of the few Americans working on the project. He was soon met with the dangers of working in such a notoriously violent city, which is still in the midst of shedding its past transgressions.
How did Brendan Fraser cope with being the fish out of water this time out? Here is our conversation.
How did you wind up all the way out in Belfast, Ireland for this homegrown thriller?
Brendan Fraser: I had a meeting with a producer out in Hollywood, during the Oscars a few seasons back. Terry George was attached. He became the director of the piece. He had done the first draft of the script. That was supposed to be a great piece. I was told, I never saw it. He brought it to a place, he elevated the material, and made it accessible as a comedy. At the same time, he retained the tension of it being a hostage crisis. Set in, of all the wildest places, Northern Ireland and Belfast. It hinges on the identity of my character, who is an American. Who is invariably a fish out of water, as he finds himself in Northern Ireland, with the need to get out of dodge. He needs to leave Boston, because his father-n-law is connected to the mob, and things are a little too hot for him there. I don't think he is nefarious in any way himself, I just think its important for him to get out of town. He is running an antique store in Ireland. There are some revelations about the patronage of a child of his, not to mention a grandchild of his...The veracity of some very valuable coins and stamps...A fish. A machine gun left over from stock surplus from the second World War. And there is a baby pram, not to mention some very scary gangsters all worked into the background...How did I get involved with it? That is a big stew, and I wanted a big bowl of it...Irish stew! Ha ha!
Did you guys actually shoot within Belfast?
Brendan Fraser: That's right! It was made possible, because, in my view, Terry provided...We got behind the velvet cord access to towns, places, and resources, and locations, you know...That's not easy when you have cops played by extras who are toting rubber sub-machine guns in surplus PSNI Police vehicles, heavy armored vehicles, which, until only recently, was a common, every day occurrence, that seemed common place...Now, that brings some attention that you might not necessarily want. But the reality is, its make believe. We are making a film. Explaining that to the locals may have been puzzling to them, if not at all out right unusual...Maybe not unusual, but not the right time for this to happen...
As early as the mid-2000's, you couldn't really even travel into Belfast too much, let alone shoot a movie there...
Brendan Fraser: I don't know that for a fact, but I do know that it was unsafe. The hotel we stayed in had been bombed a record number of times. Something like ten, or eight...I don't know for sure. The Europa Hotel, go ahead and look it up, it's famous for it.
I've actually been in that hotel...
Brendan Fraser: Well, then, you've seen the pictures on the wall (laughs). It's an interesting place. In learning about the history, it's quite unique. The movie is a love letter to Belfast. It's a town that's...It is becoming cosmopolitan. It is reinventing itself. It does acknowledge the troubles. It knows there is a way forward. Not through violence, but through a peace accord. An open dialogue. I think that will begin to resolve our differences. That is easily said, but now try doing it. Straight up, the day I arrived...It was the year that we shot it...I awoke in the hotel, and I turned on the news. The local news, of course, and was so sad to see that a young man had turned the ignition in his car and was annihilated when it exploded. He was an off-duty policeman. Responsibility was later being claimed by certain individuals who claimed allegiance to the real IRA, though they were denounced. And absolutely discredited as that, not having anything to do with the policy makers wishes. Whatsoever. It was a horrible, heinous act of murder. And it could have potentially opened so many wounds. So quickly, violence could have erupted to horrible proportions. I'll be honest with you, I felt anxious in a way, "Where am I? Where am I now?" Oh, boy. I didn't know if you could travel too safely any longer. But, the world changes so rapidly, as we all know. I was very sad for that event, and for that family. But I was also emboldened, and I felt encouraged, and I felt that something good was made out of poison, when I saw that very afternoon, at the site of this horrible event, that the political leaders stood on the site, they all linked arms, and they said, "This is not the way forward. We condemn this. We are better than this. We have this accord for a reason, and we will not be intimidated." And, it fueled the reason why I wanted to be a part of this movie. I was, of course...Making movies, traveling around the world, seeing remarkable places for a short while, seeing things that you maybe wouldn't ever see otherwise, getting to book a ticket to a place like Belfast with a defacto tour guide that is Terry George...Let's not forget his accomplishments, and I am sure you are aware of them...He has worked with so many great actors, and last year he won the best short film Oscar for a family story, The Shore. He shot that in his backyard. The shore literary comes up to his back yard. And that became a frequent getaway spot for this cast and crew on the weekends. Bonfires and oysters. I felt privileged. I also felt like, I was offered this, I participated, I helped bring it into reality by supporting it and assuming the moniker of executive producer. This is something I felt was worthy of being created. In the climate we live in now, in terms of filmmaking, it's that they are all challenging to make. Let's not kid each other. Its not about budget and size, its about retaining material issues. That they do get done? I am convinced more and more it's because of the people that want to get it done. Either you want to be there or you don't. The film won't get made unless you really care about it. As the outsider, as the token American in this movie, which was shot under the title 'A Whole Lot of Sole' there was no lack of it, I promise you...There was no lack of it whatsoever. When I say sole, that's not just a piece of fish. (Laughs)
As you mentioned, the script was a little different before you came on. It was much darker. Do you think the film needed to be darker? Because I feel you guys hit on the perfect tone...
Brendan Fraser: Well, if you look at the history, what little I know of it, of Ireland...I'm a fish out of water here...How do they contend with...They call them, 'The troubles', as well they may be, as they deal with them as a society. What I've noticed, its been pointed out to me, its been evidenced, I've been a part of it, right now...They handle it with humor, they handle it with levity, they do so, not necessarily with gallows humor...But, maybe...They bring wit, and spoken word, and the parlance of one-upmanship, and the intellect...That is of the utmost importance. And certainly, having spent four months, and then going back to do some pick-up shots, with this band of merry, merry pranksters...I found that my horizons were immensely heightened. I learned more about my Irish heritage on my mother's side. I feel good knowing that, while this is a picture that may have a limited release, or a discrete or humble one, or an Arthouse release, whatever you want to call it...Or being available on VOD platforms, it doesn't matter. Its something that is existent. And it's a love letter to Belfast. Its fun to think about. It will be around for St. Patrick's Day. Lets call it a valentine to St. Patrick. (Laughs). You can have that. This one is unique. It is a gem. Not a diamond in the rough, but a little gem. I'm excited!