Belfast Telegraph

Martin McCann's tribute to Richard Attenborough who helped get Northern Ireland film industry rolling

By Ivan Little

Belfast actor Martin McCann has paid tribute to the Oscar winning movie maker and pioneer of the Northern Ireland film industry Lord Attenborough.

McCann – who was given his big break on the silver screen by Attenborough seven years ago – said he had spoken to him a few months ago about a movie that he was hoping to make.

Martin, an award-winning star from the Divis area of west Belfast, said he owed everything to the English actor and director, known as Dickie, who died on Sunday aged 90.

Attenborough was one of the first film-makers to use the fledgling movie facilities in Belfast and insiders say he played an influential part in the development of the film industry here.

He also became a friend and mentor to McCann (30), after casting him in a film here, even phoning his friend Steven Spielberg to talk to him about Martin, who was auditioning for a major role in one of his TV series.

"Lord Attenborough was not only a brilliant director but also a lovely human being," said Martin, who's currently filming horror movie Generation Z in Cardiff. "I was gutted when I heard the news on set after finishing a late shoot."

Martin had been appearing in local theatre productions when he was approached in 2007 to take a role in Closing The Ring, an Attenborough film about the discovery of an American airman's wedding ring in a crashed B-17 bomber on Belfast's Cavehill.

Martin said: "I wasn't star-struck when I first met him. Obviously I had heard about his reputation but my first reaction was 'that old dude' from Jurassic Park."

Closing The Ring, which was shot in Belfast and Toronto, also starred Pete Postlethwaite, Christopher Plummer, Shirley MacLaine, Mischa Barton and Neve Campbell.

"I was really green about screen acting but Lord A steered me through it with some fantastic advice," he added.

Some time later Attenborough rang Steven Spielberg to speak to him about Martin, who was being considered for a role in The Pacific – his classic mini-series about America's battle with the Japanese during World War Two.

Martin said: "Contrary to what people think, Sir Richard didn't actually get me the role. I had already gone through an auditioning process in London and I was told by the casting director and the producer in London that they wanted me to go to LA. I rang Sir Richard to tell him my news. I didn't think he would pick up the phone to Spielberg, but not only that, he also sent him scenes from Closing The Ring, which hadn't even come out at that stage."

Over the years Martin became close to Attenborough and visited him at his house in Surrey.

"I still can't believe that he has gone. He had moved into a nursing home after a series of falls.

"Four months ago I spoke to him. he was tellling me he wanted to make a film about Rolls Royce. But sadly that will never be made now."

A row over Northern Ireland almost landed Attenborough in jail. He was chairman of Channel 4 from 1987 to 1993 and became embroiled in legal proceedings over a documentary which alleged there were links between the RUC and loyalists here.

The programme, called The Committee, alleged systematic collusion, and that police officers, loyalist terrorists, and Protestant community leaders and businessmen were on a committee which arranged the murders of suspected IRA supporters, resulting in at least 20 sectarian killings.

The RUC denied the claims.

Attenborough appeared at the High Court in London in a contempt hearing but Channel 4 and programme makers Box Productions were jointly fined £75,000

Afterward he said: "Channel 4 and Box Productions faced an impossible dilemma in this case – whether to reveal identities we had undertaken to protect, at risk to human life, or whether to come into conflict with the law.

"The court's judgment shows the court has recognised the dilemma, though they did not in the end share our view of it.''

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