It's kind of a weird way for a relationship to start. This great big Irishman falling for a wee small man made out of clay and his silent, long-suffering dog. But to hear Brendan Gleeson tell the tale, that's exactly how he wound up working with Aardman Animations on their latest feature-length production, The Pirates! Band of Misfits.
"Have you seen the Wallace and Gromit movies?," Gleeson asked during a recent phone interview. "They're absolutely amazing, don't you think? When I saw those cartoons, like everyone else, I thought that they were funny as hell. But I also admired the wit of the things. The subtle performances that the animators got out of those characters, the attention to detail."
Which is why -- when Brendan finally got the chance to meet the powers-that-be at Aardman -- he immediately volunteered his services.
"I told them that if they ever wanted me to do the voice of a character in one of their movies, I'm in. I don't even care who the character is, I'll do it," Gleeson laughed. "Which is how I wound up doing the voice of the Pirate with Gout in Band of Misfits."
Now what's intriguing about The Pirates! Band of Misfits is that it's kind of a Harry Potter reunion for Brendan. Given that -- among the well-known British performers who voiced characters for this Sony Pictures Animation release were Imelda Staunton (who played the despicable Dolores Umbridge in Order of the Phoenix and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) and The Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant (who played that death-eater-in-disguise, Barty Crouch Jr.).
"Mind you, I didn't get to record any of my dialogue with either of those two. That's not how animation works. You record your bits separately and the director & animators then stitch it all together after you're gone," Gleeson explained. "Which -- come to think of it -- is exactly what Mike Newell did when David Tennant and I were both playing the same character in Goblet of Fire. When they were editing that 'Harry Potter' movie, Mike deliberately chose the takes where my performance was more like David's and David's performance was most like mine. So that when it was finally revealed that (SPOILERS AHEAD) my character was actually Barty Crouch Jr. in disguise, it all made sense. When you watch that film a second time, you can see that we did in fact play fair. The clues were all always there that there was something not quite right about Alastor Moody in that movie."
So now that the Potter saga has officially wrapped production and Brendan has moved on to other projects like The Pirates! Band of Misfits as well as John Cusack's latest, The Raven, does he miss anything in particular about working on that acclaimed series of films?
"To be honest, my experience on the 'Harry Potter' movies wasn't what Robby Coltrane warned me it would be," Gleeson stated. "When I was initially cast to play Mad-Eye, Robby pulled me aside and said 'Your life is never going to be the same now. From now on, you're never going to be able to walk through an airport without some kid coming up to you and asking you for an autograph or asking if they can have their picture with you.' But that honestly never happened with me."
And why was that exactly? Brendan credits Alastor Moody's signature make-up (i.e., that large leather strap which held his character's magical eye in place) for making him virtually unrecognizable whenever he's out in public as a civilian.
"Typically it's the parents who recognize me. And they're the ones who then bring their kids over and say "Say 'Hello' to Mad-Eye Moody," Gleeson said. "So first their kid looks at me and then looks back at his parents as though they're daft. Because the man who stands in front of him looks nothing at all like Alastor Moody."
So while he doesn't get recognized (at least while he's out in public) as one of the more memorable characters from this eight part cinematic saga, Brendan still has fond memories of the time that he spent at Hogwarts.
"I remember when I brought my son Domhnall on set while we were shooting Goblet of Fire. And soon as they saw Domhnall's bright red hair, everyone on the production immediately said that my son looked like a Weasley. That we've got to find a way to get him cast in one of the movies," Gleeson continued. "Well, four or five years later, when they started casting The Deathly Hallows, who do they wind up hiring to play Bill Weasley but my son Domhnall."
So did father and son ever get to act together in those final installments of the Harry Potter series? Sadly no.
"Alastor and Bill weren't in any scenes together. Though Domhnall did get to announce my character's death once everyone else made it back to the Burrow. So I guess that's sort like we were in a scene together," Brendan remarked.
So what's next for Gleeson? If all goes according to plan, he'll soon be making his directorial debut by helming the movie version of what many have called the unfilmmable book: Irish author Brian O'Nolan's 1939 novel, At Swim-Two-Birds.
"At this point, I'm just waiting for the apple to fall. I've got my dream cast for this movie lined up. And the funding seems to be all be in place. I recently did another pass of the screenplay. Which -- if I'm figuring correctly -- is my 17th draft. So we should be ready to go soon," Gleeson said.
But before that can happen, Brendan has to finished working on Smurfs 2. Which is currently shooting up in Montreal.
"Yeah, I've traded little clay pirates for tiny blue men," Brendan laughed. "Though if this new Aardman movie makes enough money, maybe someday I'll get to work on Pirates 2."
Which isn't as far-fetched an idea as you might think. In a recent interview, Pirates! director and Aardman Peter Lord revealed that he already has an idea for a "Band of Misfits" sequel.
So here's hoping that that actually happens. Because -- just as he did on the Harry Potter films (where he got three opportunities to play Mad-Eye Moody) -- Brendan Gleeson would love to have another go at voicing the Pirate with Gout in a new Aardman Animation production.
Jim Hill is an award-winning entertainment writer who lives in New Boston, NH. Over the past 30 years, he has interviewed hundreds of veterans of the animation and themed entertainment industry and written extensively about the Walt Disney Company.
Jim is currently working on a behind-the-scene history of the development and construction of Disneyland. For his more immediate musings on movies, TV shows, books and theme parks, please check out his blog, jimhillmedia.com.