The kooky, far-out tale of musical genius Frank Sidebottom – the laconic prodigy who hides under a papier-mâché head – is in cinemas today. We're celebrating the musical caper with Frank Day, an in-depth look at how the comic persona and frontman of The Freshies made it to the big screen.
Domhnall Gleeson has come a long way in the past decade. Starting out in TV dramas and short films in the early noughties, he went on to land a series of smaller roles in bigger features (True Grit, Dredd, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2) and then the lead in Richard Curtis' time travelling opus About Time. Coming from an acting family, the Dublin born son of The Guard and Calvary star Brendan Gleeson, is now making a name for himself and is soon about to be blasted off into that infamous galaxy far, far away after landing a pivotal role in JJ Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII. This week sees the release of Domnhall's latest film, Frank, a hilarious, dark and surreal faux road-trip biopic inspired by Chris Sievey's iconic, musical/comic creation Frank Sidebottom. We met up with the youngest Gleeson to discuss the origins and production of Frank, the ideas behind its creation and what it was like growing up working with his father and brother.
Were there elements of Frank (the film) that were based on the real lives of Frank Sidebottom and his band?
Domhnall Gleeson: It's all fabrication as far as I know. The film is quite a strange mix of pathos and sadness but it's also wacky and has these big physical comedy moments. My character Jon is an absolute arsehole in many ways but had to be interesting enough to watch through the whole duration. Lenny and I looked at what he needed to be in terms of the arc and shaped that with other details. What sort of accent he should have, how good should he be at keyboards. And then we thought, 'What if he had a really bad temper?' It was a great process and I really enjoyed it.
Did you bond with the rest of the cast while on the road in a band on tour kind of way?
Domhnall Gleeson: Yeah, one hundred percent. There was a really nice vibe around the place; it was very creative. We had a really good group of people and there were instruments lying around everywhere and everyone got on really well. It was really cathartic. Carla Azar, who plays the drummer in the band, is an amazing drummer in real life. She toured with Jack White and played on his Blunderbuss album. She's incredibly accomplished and very well known in the industry.
“My character Jon is an absolute arsehole in many ways but had to be interesting enough to watch through the whole duration. And then we thought, ‘What if he had a really bad temper?’”
Were you a musical person before the film or did you have to learn?
Domhnall Gleeson: I used to play the fiddle. I can play a little bit of classical but haven't done that for years so I had to learn keyboards for the film. I had about three months, so I was practicing really hard and driving everyone nuts. Playing the same songs over and over again. I also went to watch Florence and the Machine play from the side of the stage as part of the research.
How did you find working with Michael Fassbender and reacting to his fake head?
Domhnall Gleeson: It was easy to respond to what Michael was doing with Frank because he was always active. He's a movie star for a reason and an exceptional actor. He got everything he needed you to get through that mask with his voice, with the way he moved his body and the way he moved his head and just with this sense you got in the room. I really enjoyed it and didn't find it strange except for when I was supposed to find it strange.
Was it more difficult calling Maggie Gyllenhaal a cunt and then humping her in the hot tub?
Domhnall Gleeson: (laughs) that's two questions! That was a really funny scene and it was late at night and it was absolutely fucking baltic. It was so freezing but we knew it had to be funny. We all knew what we had to do.
You can kind of sense something brewing between the characters…
Domhnall Gleeson: Yes, there was too much venom there, it had to surface some way. (Maggie's character) was either going to stab him or they were going to have sex. Originally it was just him having his head hit against a rock and then we thought, 'Wouldn't it be funny if she was half drowning him while fucking him?' and immediately we knew that was a funny idea. It always gets a laugh.
Your father and brother are also actors. Do you share advice and techniques?
Domhnall Gleeson: Yeah, but we're family first and actors second. My father (Brendan Gleeson) and brother (Brian Gleeson) are amazing actors and we talk a lot about how to approach projects and share ideas. They help me with audition tapes, I help my brother with audition tapes. My dad doesn't really need to do audition tapes but we pass advice around. My dad is my dad above all else, but when I ask about acting he pushes that to one side and talks to me as an actor with a huge amount of experience, talent and good advice to offer. For me, I know rejection and I know frustration and I know feeling out of your depth. I know all those things from just being an actor, you feel those things all the time. But with family it's uncomplicated and I'm very lucky that we have that kind of relationship.
“Originally it was just him having his head hit against a rock and then we thought, ‘Wouldn't it be funny if she was half drowning him while fucking him?’ and immediately we knew that was a funny idea”
Do you have any favourite writers and directors you would like to work with?
Domhnall Gleeson: I would like to work more with my brother and dad. I had a part in Calvary with dad where we got to act together and that was just brilliant. I also directed him and my brother in a short film and that was just amazing. Seeing the two of them go at it was fantastic. I'm a big fan of Sam Rockwell. The directors Andrew Dominik, Terrance Malick and Todd Solondz I am desperate to work with. But some of them are people I have already got to work with like the Coens, Alex Garland, Lenny and Michael on this film. They're like total heroes and I got to work with them and would like to work with them again. It's nice to be able to build up working relationships.
You're also a writer. Is this something you would like to work more with in the future?
Domhnall Gleeson: I don't know, I'm working with so many good people as an actor at the moment. I'm just so fulfilled with that side of my life but I really enjoy writing, I have a really good writing partner, Michael Maloney. We write sketches together and short pieces and longer things. I'm always writing with him but at the moment acting is certainly dominating.
Have you taken anything on board from working on Frank that you will use in the future?
Domhnall Gleeson: I want to challenge myself more, force myself to go into more dangerous places. I was very challenged on this and I liked it. Not just turning up to work knowing that I can do okay. I want to be scared – it fires me up. To get up in the morning full of excitement and nervousness, it's a great way to go to work with this fire inside you. It's exhilarating and I like to feel that about what I do.
Frank is out in cinemas today