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The Journey: Paisley and McGuinness friendship shows there is a way forward says Colm Meaney

Actor supported McGuinness’ presidential bid but two had no contact for film role

Irish actor Colm Meaney has said the story of Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley's friendship in upcoming film The Journey is one of hope that “even the most seemingly irreconcilable characters can come together”.

Colm Meaney has had a long and successful career playing everyone from Don Revie in The Damned United to Chief O’Brien in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”.

Other big screen credits include The Dead, Into the West, Layer Cake, Con Air, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and the “Rabbitte Trilogy” of The Commitments, The Van and The Snapper.

In his latest role he plays Derry politician Martin McGuinness in the era before the 2006 St Andrews Agreement when the Sinn Fein man and DUP stalwart Ian Paisley came together to begin a new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

More: The Journey: First trailer as Paisley and McGuinness film premieres at Venice Film Festival

What was your first reaction to The Journey?

I was sent the script and was dreading a dry political tale. I was so surprised and happy when I read it because it was an imaginative, funny, drama. I read the script straight through which very rarely happens. It was a page-turner.

The device Colin Bateman used to tell the story is remarkably clever. It intercuts what is happening in the car between our two main protagonists with observations from base by the British Prime Minister and the Irish Prime Minister. Even when you are inside the car, and the two characters are going back and forth, you are aware that there is an outside eye on this, which gives it an added tension. It’s also an incredibly human story. There is great drama in there, great tension but also humour and humanity.

Were you aware of Martin McGuinness previously?

I have followed events in Ireland quite closely over the years even though I haven’t lived there for a long time. I obviously followed the peace negotiations and knew quite a bit about Martin. I met him once - I supported his bid for President of Ireland in 2011 and we met at a rally. But in preparing for the film I did not contact Martin. I felt it is probably better that way. When you are playing a real person you have to approach it as an actor, with an objective view. I don’t think he would want to influence us in any way. He is a very smart man and he would respect our process and how we go about creating this fictional story.

How do you approach playing real life characters?

Because we know what the real person looked and sounded like there is always the added complication of the look and sound. In this I’m playing an iconic figure, but in a fictional situation.

If you are playing a fictional character who happens to be a blacksmith then have to learn how to do that. It’s much the same with real characters.

There is tragedy mixed with the comedy, isn’t there?

There is a great tradition in Irish writing – if you go back to Sean O’Casey you see terrible tragic events. And yet there is huge humour in them. One of the great things about this script is that it achieved that kind of level. I certainly laughed out loud when I was reading it and I hope the audience will laugh too.

Do you feel there’s a message in The Journey?

Possibly that even the most seemingly irreconcilable characters can come together. I was reading a book about the Camp David agreement, and there are similarities there. You  would never think these two guys could be in the same room together. I would hope this film will convince audiences that there is always a way forward, there is always hope. Most importantly, that enemies have to talk to each other.

You worked with Timothy Spall before, didn’t you?

Yes, in The Damned United I played Don Revie and Tim played Brian Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor. We had a couple of scenes together but for the most part we were in separate areas of the film. It has been such a pleasure to work with him more closely on this. He is an extraordinary actor as he proves every time he works. Our first two weeks of shooting was just the two of us in a very confined space and we developed a rhythm together. We almost became co-dependent.

Would you ever consider a career in politics?

It has been suggested to me a few times. I am quite political in an armchair sort of way. But my mother would have conversations with my father about what my three brothers and I were doing. And my father would say that at least they did not go into politics. Both my parents seemed to think that was a fate worse than death!

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