Domhnall Gleeson has traveled through space for Star Wars, the Wizarding World in Harry Potter (as Bill Weasley, while his dad, Brendan Gleeson, played Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody), and the English countryside with bushy-tailed animals for Goodbye Christopher Robin and Peter Rabbit.
The 35-year-old actor’s excursions have paired him with trippy projects and directors like Alejandro Iñárritu, Alex Garland, Darren Aronofsky, and now, for a second time, Frank director Lenny Abrahamson for the adaptation of Sarah Waters’ creepy thriller The Little Stranger.
EW and the Irish actor dive deeper into his career—and even a little into the ghostly realm.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Little Stranger was your second time working with Lenny Abrahamson. Was that part of the appeal?
DOMHNALL GLEESON: Yes. I’ve been really lucky with directors, but Lenny is special. Originally, he sent me the script to play a different character, and I said, “I’ll do anything you want me to do in any project, but would you mind considering me for the character Faraday?” There’s such a change in him over the course of the film, and it’s so dark and unlike anything I’ve ever played before.
How do you view Faraday, a troubled doctor who’s trying so hard to move beyond the class he was born into?
He’s got a lot of anger and bitterness bottled up, and yet he’s a good man. Lenny gave me this phrase early on and I wrote it on the front of my script: “If you’re carrying something explosive, you walk carefully.” He’s maneuvering himself through his life carefully because he’s aware that there’s something inside of him. As it goes on, you begin to feel the house is sick, the people are sick. As the doctor, he tries to cure them, and then he gets sick himself. You ask, “Where is this all coming from?” People always ask me if I believe in ghosts and all that sort of stuff, because that’s the center of the story—this child who died who may be haunting them. I’ve never believed in ghosts. But I’ve been terrified in the middle of the night sometimes. And I don’t know why. And I think that’s scarier: Your mind only gives you things that are useful.
You grew up with a parent who’s an accomplished actor. Did that influence your view on acting as a possible career?
Yes. For my dad, there was no suggestion [acting] was a path anyone would take in the family, and he really struck out on his own. The industry was very small in Ireland and he went for it, which takes a bravery I can’t even imagine. I’ve always understood that I’ve got a huge amount to learn from my father. Being around him…it makes me nervous, because you want to impress him. But it’s not a competitive thing.
Your commercial breakthrough was the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies. Was it insane to go from a short film by Martin McDonagh to something with that level of fandom?
I was a massive fan. When they asked my dad to play Mad-Eye I was so incredibly excited. I said, “Listen, if one of the other brothers’ parts comes up, you need to get me in for an audition.” I met some amazing people on that set. I loved how they all handled themselves; they were all good, generous people—that thing about art requiring suffering was just kind of dispelled. Then there was about a year between shooting and the movie’s release where I was going into meetings and people didn’t know I only had two lines in [Harry Potter], so I probably got auditions for things that I may not have otherwise.
Since then you’ve been in an eclectic mix of movies from About Time to The Revenant and Peter Rabbit. Do you intentionally pick different parts to keep things challenging?
Definitely part of it is not wanting to repeat yourself too often. I’ve just always tried much harder for the stuff that excited me, so there was a higher chance I would get it. Anna Karenina terrified me, so I worked my ass off for the audition.
Then there’s your role as General Hux in those small indie movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Harry Potter was the best possible training for that. I felt a little worried about fan reaction, but you can’t control that; all you can do is your job. General Hux is ridiculous in lots of ways, but not in a hilarious way. But just anything to do with that level of…what’s the word? Pomp and all the rest of it, the higher reigns of military, all the badges and the medals. At a certain point you say, “Why is that man wearing that hat? That doesn’t make him more powerful.”
And you were reunited with your Ex Machina costar Oscar Isaac. You’ve worked with amazing actors like Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), and Tom Cruise (American Made).
It’s outrageous the people I’ve had the chance to work with. Working with Oscar on Ex Machina was amazing. He was playing this man who’s manipulating me, and I found myself getting very paranoid around him, but he’s, like, the nicest person in the world! I love him. You do find yourself hungry to work with them again and try a different relationship on something else, like with Margot Robbie. People that talented just make you better.
I feel like you’ve probably done all the accents at this point. Does that help when you’re trying to get into character?
I think it helps now. I used to think about it wrong, like it was a hump I had to get over. And then I started thinking about it as the character, and that’s bad too. It has to come from yourself. It has to come from who you are. And so, over time, it became a way of finding the voice and finding the character at the same time. And not making it one against the other. It’s fitting a voice and an accent to a character and then forgetting about it. It’s the only way to make it work for me.
The Little Stranger opens Friday, August 31.