Interview: Gabriel Byrne Goes Walking With Ghosts on Broadway
We're so used to seeing Gabriel Byrne inhabiting the lives of other people. Dr. Paul Weston in In Treatment. James Tyrone, junior and senior, in A Moon for the Misbegotten and Long Day's Journey Into Night. Now, for the first time, the beloved Irish actor gets to play himself.
In Walking with Ghosts, directed by Lonny Price at the Music Box Theatre for a run through December 30, Byrne recounts his youth on the outskirts of Dublin, dabbling with priesthood, and eventually becoming an international star. Here, he tells us what he's learned along the way.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
This is the first time you're on Broadway in a play not written by Eugene O'Neill. What did you learn from your experiences doing Long Day's Journey into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten and A Touch of the Poet?
I think O'Neill tests actors and audiences in a way that few playwrights do. You learn a lot about audiences, and a lot about yourself as an actor, and you also learn a lot about life when you really get into it. These plays teach you about discipline and persistence and how to conserve energy. The most difficult one was A Touch of the Poet. It's not particularly an audience-friendly play. It was tough going. I think there's a great deal of reverence around him now in a way that's not great for the plays themselves. Scissors, in my opinion, are necessary.
How did that impact the creation of Walking With Ghosts, both as actor and writer?
When you strip away perceptions about the work of various great playwrights, what are you left with in the end? You're left with a sense of having been affected or touched by what's on stage. Just like what Shakespeare says: the mirror is held up to nature and you look in and see yourself in it. A great production, well-directed and with great actors, leaves an indelible mark on your spirit. You never, ever forget it. Theater is unique in that way. You don't remember it in the same way as a film. There's something about being in a live audience, experiencing live drama, that goes very deep.
When I was writing this, what I wanted to do was make people laugh and be moved, and I wanted them to think about themselves afterwards. It's not about me being up there saying "Oh, look at my life." Because it's not that. It's not in any way a showbiz thing. It's about saying, "Look, I'm going to say these things and I'm not going to be ashamed to say them." That's the thing you learn from O'Neill or Beckett or any of those guys. They put themselves out there and said, "This is the way it is. This is life." So that was the ultimate goal, and that's the experience you have in the theater.
What was it like to do the play in Dublin and England, and what does it mean to you to be doing it here in New York?
I think of musicians and footballers who say that they can go all over the world with their band or team, but the most nerve-wracking experience is coming back to play for the home crowd. It's your roots. It's people who knew you from years ago. It's like you're standing up there in front of your family. It was lovely to return to Dublin. It was a very warm reception and it moved me very deeply. The last time I had been on stage there was a very long time ago, before I event went into films, and it was the same theater.
And then we went to Edinburgh and the West End. Coming here, I still have a hard time taking it in, to be honest. The journey of a play to Broadway from where it starts is usually a long and protracted one. The fact that we made it from Dublin to Broadway in eight months is astonishing to me.