Oscar winner Robbins real down-to-earth hit in Belfast
Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins became the latest big Hollywood name to join the list of movie stars to visit Belfast. Matthew McCreary was among the guests at a question-and-answer session yesterday in west Belfast
When Meryl Streep came to Belfast two weeks ago one would have been forgiven for thinking that MI5 or the CIA had a hand in the visit, so tight were the security provisions.
The arrival of Tim Robbins yesterday was an altogether more relaxed affair as the 6ft 4in Oscar-winner strode casually into the hall of a Belfast college, guitar in hand and muttering 'Hi', a good 20 minutes before he was due to take the stage.
He comes across very much as a 'regular guy', his trademark coy grin seemingly genuine as he meets and greets members of the audience. There is none of the hint of the poseur about this man who has worked with some of the greatest actors and directors.
The question and answer session at St Mary's University College on the Falls Road as part of the Feile an Phobail programme has been a number of years in the organising, we are told.
But the happy coincidence of a new movie, starring Robbins, being shot in Belfast has given the West Belfast Festival a high-profile celebrity boost.
The audience is very different from that which greeted Ms Streep on her arrival - this is not a handpicked selection of arts professionals, but a cross-section of local people, movie buffs, drama students and genuine fans.
The questions come steadily from the chair, writer and broadcaster Jude Collins, who gently probes areas of Robbins personal life (we are told he is not happy discussing his family) as well as his experience of Hollywood and the difficulties of acting and directing in the same movie.
"I worked with myself on Bob Roberts and decided I was never going to hire that actor again," laughed Robbins.
Ever the professional, he also remains tight-lipped when asked if he could think of any great actors that he knew who actually 'stank' as human beings.
"Yes, but no names," he said, adding "Myself" when pressed to answer which actors he has least enjoyed working with.
And ever the diplomat he reveals the actor he most enjoys working with to be his other half, Susan Sarandon.
"It was really fun working with her on Bull Durham, that movie's lasted 20 years," he said.
He is not above a cheeky comment or two when asked about the difficulties of doing love scenes. "Is kissing beautiful women in movies hard work?" is answered with a sly grin: "How do you mean 'hard'?"
Well-known for his forthright political views, particularly his opposition to the Bush regime and the war in Iraq, it is inevitable that questions will cover such weighty topics.
His knowledge of politics is broad, and his sorrow at the actions being perpetrated abroad in his country's name palpable.
"We used to be the shining city on the hill, but now we're just an embarrassment," he said, almost regretfully.
Robbins also treats the audience to several of his own folk compositions, including one song about the war in Iraq, delivered in a Springsteen-esque angry growl.
The session ends with questions about possibly his most-recognisable film, The Shawshank Redemption, another about what it is really like to win an Oscar ("It was cool").
But perhaps the most charming enquiry - "What do you enjoy about your life?" - comes from a younger member of the audience, and prompts the most unabashedly honest answer: "My children?" smiled Robbins warmly, to a round of applause.