The actor talks about playing Josef Locke in ''Hear My Song''

Ned Beatty says he doesn’t mind taking chances on an unknown director, even though it has led him to such low-profile movies as Big Bad John, Chattahoochee, and The Exorcist parody, Repossessed. ”Most of those are really awful,” Beatty admits. Every so often, though, the risk pays off, as it did with Hear My Song, newcomer Peter Chelsom’s romantic fantasy set in Ireland that stars Beatty as a reclusive singer. Now playing in several cities and expanding its run this month, the film has received raves, and so has Beatty. The actor was nominated for a Golden Globe and may even nab an Oscar nomination, an accolade he hasn’t gotten since 1976’s Network.

The Kentucky-born Beatty, 54, says he loved Chelsom’s script, but he had second thoughts about playing the real-life Irish tenor Josef Locke. ”I thought if I were Irish, I’d resent the hell out of this American coming in here to do this,” he says, ”but no one seemed to mind.” In fact, Beatty got along well enough with Locke, who is now 74, to engage in an impromptu sing-along. ”We were having dinner at a town house outside Dublin not far from where Joe lives,” says Beatty, ”and Joe was talking about the town of Derry (Londonderry), where he’s from. At some point he started singing ‘The Town I Love So Well.’ Then Joe went around the table and everyone sang something. It was one of those special nights.” But wait: Song‘s end credits list Locke as living somewhere along Ireland’s west coast — nowhere near Dublin. Beatty smiles: ”Joe values his privacy, but he doesn’t mind a little intrigue.”