By EW Staff
March 24, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

The wearing of the green has taken on a new meaning in Hollywood. Just ask Irish director Neil Jordan, who is about to helm Michael Collins, just one of 17 films about Ireland en route to the big screen. Clearly, the trend has already begun: Witness John Sayles’ new The Secret of Roan Inish, and Circle of Friends with Chris O’Donnell (see review on page 43). But the nearly $20 million Collins, featuring Liam Neeson as the founder of the Irish Republican Army (and rumored to costar Julia Roberts and Stephen Rea), is far and away one of the more lavish productions. ”This film is a labor of love for me,” says Jordan, who promises a Godfather-like treatment. ”Liam and I have talked about this movie for a long time.” Jordan, however, isn’t the only one chasing a pot of gold. Fox Searchlight Pictures is planning a big fall push for Brothers McMullen, the toast of the ! Sundance film fest, about a trio of Irish-American brothers. There’s also Fine Line’s Frankie Starlight, based on the Chet Raymo novel The Dork of Cork and featuring Matt Dillon. And for Touchwood Film’s Divine Rapture, Marlon Brando, of all people, is reportedly being wooed to play a priest who tries to turn a lapsed Irish factory worker (possibly Debra Winger) into a saint. Irish writer Maeve Binchy, who wrote the book Circle of Friends, credits the ongoing Northern Ireland peace process for the explosion. ”The trend has been triggered by the Irish people being more confident,” says Binchy. ”There’s a feeling that Ireland’s troubles could be resolved in our lifetime.” Others believe the timing just happens to be right. Says Ray Price of First Look Pictures, which distributed Roan Inish, ”Interest goes in cycles. In the ’70s, it was Australia. For some reason, there’s a strong interest in Irish culture right now.” As well as a strong monetary incentive: The Irish government is giving tax breaks to investors and filmmakers whose movies are made in Ireland. Both Neeson’s Rob Roy (out in April) and Mel Gibson’s $70 million Braveheart (May 24), each about Scottish revolutionaries, were partially shot in Eire for just this reason. Money aside, Jordan offers a simpler explanation for this green movement: ”When you consider there are 40 million Irish Americans, and their history is, of course, one of immigration, you’ll find the answer.”