Dancing with Donleavy

Dancing with Donleavy

Michael talks about the joys of Irish whiskey and the dangers of method acting

Musings with Michael Jackson | 20 Apr 2007 | Issue 63 | By Michael Jackson

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“Quiet, please. Quiet on the set. Thank you.” The set represents the exterior of The Bleeding Horse. It is a pub. Or is it a grave? Or a horse? The text is not clear.I should have been paying more attention, reading more carefully. When I read J.P. Donleavy, I feel that I have fallen drunkenly into a large rabbit-hole: not in pursuit of some silken-haired Alice, but fatally seduced by a copper-coiffed Colleen. Tumbling through a warren of bars and bedrooms, I lose connection with space and time.When the director shouts, “Action!” I am silently to count three beats, then enter by the side door. I need to know what it is that I am entering.There’s a lot of that stuff in Donleavy. He also talks of entering a barrel of Porter, when he is dead, and decomposing in it.”I wonder, will they recognise me?” he muses.“Cut! Three beats, not a bloody daydream,” The director doesn’t understand I am a method actor. I need to know my motivation. He sighs.“Someone pour the Power’s Gold Label.” There’s a lot of that in Donleavy, too My motivation glistens on the table. I am nearly distracted again. I have a line here: “My bile is green”. My timing is okay, but I read it as “bible”. The director likes that. He wants to keep it. In an interview later, he will cite it as an example of an actor’s improvisation enhancing the script. “A subconscious allusion to priest-ridden Ireland”.“Action!” This time, I stick to the script, and my delivery hits the right note of boozy rubbish; “I want to die in a country district, with the cemetery not far away.” The director smiles.“Good. The cemetery is a good place to terminate. Let’s stop there for the night. Anyone fancy a pint in The Gravediggers?” Daydreaming or drowning? Someone had pressed rewind.Edinburgh was where I was introduced to single malts, at an otherwise charmless pub called Marshall’s Bar, opposite the newspaper office where I worked. Serious study proceeded at The Canny Man’s, both charming and cranky, in Morningside.When or where I got the Irish virus I’ll never know, but at least once a week I put an “e” into my whiskey at Paddy Crossan’s, in Rose Street.“So you are leaving us, going back,” said my randy landlady, fingering the surviving buttons of her housecoat. “You’ll miss my breakfast specials. You’re no awa to stay awa?” “Back across the border,” I agreed.“I am not going back to Newcastle, or to Leeds.” I was going somewhere I had never been. To London. I was going to put away childish humour and become a legendary drinker and best-selling author of novels banned in Britain but published in Paris.At 6pm that evening, I arrived at King’s Cross station. In one hand, a portable typewriter, in the other, the rest of my possessions in a Woolworth’s suitcase.The ‘friend’ who was supposed to meet me didn’t. Luckily, I fell in with wrong crowd. By 9pm that evening, I had been introduced to Finch’s, in the Fulham Road and Paddy Whiskey, from Cork.The year after I arrived, the complete text of The Ginger Man enjoyed its first British publication. My attempts to be The Ginger Man were not confined to the Fulham Road. I met a girl from Tipperary who was on an extended holiday in London.Then I had an extended holiday with her in Ireland, home of preferred Gravediggers. “We were all Ginger Men then,” recalled my friend Fergie. He runs a pub in Philadelphia, where the calling seems to have taken me.One of Fergie’s business partners suggested they start a pub named after me. I would be seen around the place, dispensing the odd witticism. I don’t somehow see this as a big money spinner for anyone, but it would cut my taxi bills.Coincidentally, the very suggestion was made a year or two ago by Bob Precious who runs The Ginger Man pub in New York. Nothing came of it. Nor did anything seem to arise from Bob’s proposal that I appear in a movie to be made from Donleavy’s novel and play.Even more coincidentally, scarcely a week after my discussion with Fergie, I had a call from Bob, who wished to set up a meeting with Donleavy. Two or three days later, the meeting was put on the back burner.“They want Johnny Depp for the movie, and that is causing delays,” Bob explained.Johnny Depp is quite a whiskey-lover. I hope there is room for both of us. Just in case, I am stepping up my rehearsals. That is to say, my reveries.
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