Domhnall Gleeson Dishes On Frank Of Ireland, His Star Wars Ending, And Being A Massive Harry Potter Fan - Exclusive Interview

Domhnall Gleeson has been acting since the early '00s, but Harry Potter fans have come to know the talented actor by one name: Bill Weasley. The longtime Potter fan snagged the role in 2010, just in time for both Deathly Hallows installments. Between his stints in the Wizarding World, Gleeson headed back in time (sans Time Turner) to the Wild, Wild West for the 2010 remake of True Grit opposite Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld before heading to Russian high society in the 19th century for Keira Knightley's Anna Karenina

Solidifying his name in rom-com territory, and unearthing more time travel mojo, Gleeson starred alongside Rachel McAdams in About Time. Eventually, foreshadowing his Star Wars future, the actor appeared in the 2014 film Ex Machina alongside Oscar Isaac — who would later become Poe Dameron in the third Star Wars trilogy, beginning with The Force Awakens in 2015. 

Gleeson joined the cast as General Hux — a.k.a. Kylo Ren's petty right-hand man. No big deal. But between his attempt to take over a galaxy far, far away, Gleeson appeared in 2018's Peter Rabbit, along with its sequel, before starring as Billy in the 2020 TV series Run

Now, Gleeson is in the hilarious new comedy Frank of Ireland. The actor cooked up the Amazon Prime/Channel 4 collaboration with his brother Brian Gleeson — a series that finds them playing goofy friends who haven't yet figured out this whole adult thing in their 30s. Looper spoke to Domhnall Gleeson during an exclusive interview, and he dished about all things Frank of Ireland, what he thinks about Hux's The Rise of Skywalker ending, and just what it was like bringing Bill Weasley to life. 

Double double brother and trouble

You star alongside your brother Brian Gleeson on this project, and both of you have producer and writing roles as well. How did you come up with the idea for the show? And what's it like writing and producing the series instead of strictly acting?

Well, there's a lot in that. So thank you for talking to me as well, by the way, I really appreciate it. Myself and Brian... Brian was saying we should do something together that's funny. I thought that was a great idea. We'd done a play, and we'd done a couple of short films before that were funny. And we really enjoy trying to be funny together. I had written all these sketches with Michael Moloney, a fantastic writer who I've known since I was a kid, basically.

We decided the three of us should see if we could come up with something, and the thing that we came up with was this character of Frank. That's where it all started. For Brian to play this kind of misanthropic, angry guy who thinks the world owes him something, and who maybe isn't the brightest sometimes.

Pre-premiere acceptance speech

So we start there. The show grew out of that, including all of the other characters. It all came out of Frank, really. And it changed a lot over the years. It took us five years to get it, from talking about it to getting to set to shoot it. And being a writer and producer, as opposed to just an actor, doing all those things at the same time, was very difficult. I'll be honest with you. It was intense in a way I haven't been expecting, even though I'd seen these amazing people do it before. I'd seen Vicky Jones write and produce and do all this stuff along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is just amazing. And I'd seen people do it, seen how hard they worked, and I thought, "Jesus, that's a lot."

And it was way more than even I thought. It was intense, but I had my friend and my brother, who were also very talented at what they do, around. We had a great director and then another great director who came on to help finish out the show. Wonderful producer, Sharon Horgan, Clelia Mountford, Channel 4, and Amazon... It sounds like I'm accepting an award. "Channel 4, Amazon, I want to say thank you for everything." But yeah, we have such a great team that makes everything better.

Snagging the Star Wars and Harry Potter fandoms

That's awesome. What do you think fans of your other projects like Star Wars and Harry Potter will enjoy most about this series?

Jesus, I don't know. I don't know is the truth. The sense of humor is specific. And I don't know if it will be for everybody, but it makes us laugh a lot. It was for us. And all you can do is make something that makes you laugh. So I don't know. I really hope people like it. Or if people watch it because they've seen me in other things, I hope that they're not disappointed. But I think if you give the show a chance, it'll grow on you. Because I think Brian's performance and the performances with Brian are so wonderful. And I think it's funny, and all we wanted to do was make it funny.


Oh, I'm glad you agree.

I loved it so much.

That's nice. I mean, it's so nice to hear. And yeah, I think if you make people laugh — man, especially now, everyone can use it. So why not?

The cutting room floor

Were there any scenes that had to get cut for time or any improvisations that you did on the spot that you can remember?

There were lots of little things, oftentimes with improv, not strict improv, like the way that the greats are great at improv. But oftentimes, when you're filming, the way that improv will happen is at the end of a scene, it'll keep rolling, and somebody will say another funny line, and it will be funny. But oftentimes, there are these firsts that have to go in the edit because it's written to use this line to throw into this next scene. So lots of that sort of stuff.

And the people in the show are so funny. There're loads of stuff in the cutting room, or I wish we could have gotten in. But as a result, they're quite... they're not dense, but they're compact. There's a lot of jokes per page. And I think we needed to keep that, to keep that speed up, that sort of way. And so it's one of the things I'm happiest with in the show is that it's got a pretty high, I think, gag per minute ratio. And so we kind of have to maintain that. And that does mean cutting some great stuff. It's just the way it goes.

Funeral Marketing: 101

Right. There's a scene when Doofus is selling merchandise at a funeral, and I couldn't stop laughing for about 10 minutes. Then I completely lost it when Frank handed out mix CDs during the service. I don't know why that hit me so hard, but are there any other scenes like that or absurd situations where you just couldn't keep a straight face during filming? Or any that you're particularly proud of?

I mean, I'm not sure I can be proud of any of it. It's all so disgusting. And in those situations, going up and handing out EPs at a funeral, saying, "EPs be with you, EPs be with you." It's such a terrible thing to do. It's an awful thing to do in real life. But in a comedy, it's that awfulness, where you know it's not happening in real life, so you can laugh.

There was one scene where we had this thing, where you... Maybe this is a bit of a spoiler. There's a thing in American TV and films when we were kids that you would see, and it always blew my mind. I was like, "Why would you do that?" Which is pooing in a paper, no, sorry ... Which is putting dog poo in a paper bag and lighting it on fire. And we were knocking on the door and the person stamps on it. And we had this idea that, that they would do that. But that Doofus wouldn't have been able to find a dog in time. So he just pooed himself. And it wasn't a paper bag. It was a clear plastic bag, like a Ziploc bag. And then it's not solid. Like, it looks like he's not been well.

So we had this idea that they will be trying to light that on fire, on someone's doorstep. And I can say it's probably the least proud I am of anything in the show. It really made me laugh. When we saw the bag on set, we were like, "What have we done? This is so awful." And yet we spent a long time laughing. So yeah, maybe that.

Honoring the greats

There are a ton of movie homages and references in Frank of Ireland: Misery, Memento, and I even got sort of a little bit of a Home Alone vibe from episode four. So which of those were most important for you to include, and which were your ideas specifically?

So all of the movie references came out of the stories first. I think with the Home Alone one, we were like it would be fun to do a Home Alone episode. But yeah, everything else, it was like, it came from the story. So you're writing the story, "let's have Frank do this, let's have Frank do that." And then you go, "Oh, this is a little bit like this. And we can use that." A lot of the reason it's there is because Frank sees himself as the hero of his own story. And he grew up on the same movies that we grew up on. And so he imagines himself as these characters. He thinks he's got this mythic element in his life, which is not there. We know it's not there.

So there was none that were important to include, but like we've got Memento in there. We've got Dances with Wolves, Misery — yeah, they're all over the place. And then we have one where he mixes up. He's hired to write music for an all-female production of 12 Angry Men called 12 Angry Women. And he makes a mistake and instead writes music from A Few Good Men. He gets it all wrong. That's the crux of one episode. So in terms of where it really comes to a head, I would say that's probably the most reference-specific that we get.

Doofus, Bill Weasley, and General Hux walk into a bar...

Can we expect maybe a season two, or is it sort of a one-off show?

We structured the first season so it actually builds to something. We didn't want it to be like, okay, if you tune in another week, episode seven will be the same as episode six. We wanted the six episodes to really build to something. So we did that, but I do think that I love the world. And so you never know. I think what you do is you set the world up. And myself and the boys text each other all the time with ideas about, "Wouldn't it be funny if?..." Myself and Michael Moloney and Brian Gleeson. And so, you never know, I guess. But I think that there's a real journey there.

How does Doofus compare or contrast to some of your other characters, like Bill Weasley or General Hux?

I mean, he's very different from every other character I've played — I hope. He's very, he's got a lot of love and passion for life, for living. He's got that nine-year-old mentality when things are going well, it's the best day of your life. It doesn't matter if it's just that you heard someone's got biscuits. You're like, "Oh, this is the best day." He's got that amazing thing. And then when something even slightly bad happens, total depression.

He's got that intensity of existing, which is specific to being young. And yeah, so he's got that. I think that kind of contributes to his overall makeup. And then Frank is the same, but Frank goes into anger mode when he's kind of down. And so it's bumping those two things against each other that kind of gives the comedy to that relationship.

Star Wars: The Pettiest Redemption Awakens

So switching gears a bit, General Hux has one of the funniest redemption arcs that I've ever seen. If you can even call it redemption. He turns on the First Order, purely out of pettiness and spite against Kylo — and it's so great. How did you feel about that ending for him? Was it on point for his character? Or did you feel like you wish he had an actual change of heart?

No. I think that it made sense for the movie. And when I read it, I was surprised, and I think that's good. Also, when I read Rian Johnson's script for the second one, I was surprised by it. And I think that's a really important thing. I think that you can't just do the same thing over and over and do what people expect — because then it won't mean anything. So I was very game to do whatever it was that J.J. Abrams felt worked best for the film. And I found a way to do it where I felt like it worked for Hux. And so yeah, I thought it was everything that it needed to be.

You had such a great dynamic with Adam Driver onscreen. What was it like working with him? And did you guys have any funny outtakes together?

I had a wonderful time working with him. He is such an extraordinary actor. And I mean, Star Wars can be sort of operatic, but he brought a seriousness to it. Which had lightness and all the rest of that built in, but he just brought a lot of rigor to it. And yeah, I thought he was great company, and I thought he was just wonderful in the film. So I always enjoy doing scenes with him, because good actors make you better. And he is certainly — he's not just a good actor, he's a great actor.

Bill Weasley: homemaker and curse breaker

Awesome. Ever since rumors came out about a Harry Potter TV series, people have been speculating possible storylines. Would you be down for a Bill Weasley, Curse Breaker TV show? How would you want it to look, and who would you want to see return?

I mean, well, I don't know. I mean, obviously, I loved playing Bill for as brief as it was. I was very young and not a lot of experience. And so there's lots of stuff I would love to do with the character if it ever came back. And in terms of who will be involved or what it will be about, all I know from the book is that he and Fleur are happily married and have kids and are in a good place. And I think you just throw some extra drama in on that and you've got yourself a great show, but you never know.

Definitely. With all the Disney+ Star Wars spinoffs, maybe there's a chance for a General Hux pre-death show as well. Could you see his character returning for a cameo or even his own series?

No idea. To be honest with you, that's kind of, that's in the lap of the gods. We know what happened to Hux in the film. So, I mean, I think that's up to them. But I've certainly not heard anything about that. I think we told his story, and I think we told it well, but you never say never.

Harry Potter fan turned Harry Potter actor

What was your last day of filming Star Wars like — and Harry Potter, since they're such big franchises?

I'm going to be honest and say I can't really remember, because on both of them, there were reshoots at the end. Like every film in those series would always come back to get extra stuff at the end, so your last day was never actually your last day. It always ended up some other day. So honestly, I can't really remember. All I remember about those sets generally was the bonhomie and the feeling of everyone being in it together and being good people. That's really what I remember when I think about them.

Were you a fan of either franchise before getting your roles? And how did you react to those castings?

I was a huge fan of Harry Potter — a massive fan of the books and the movies. And with Star Wars I hadn't seen, I think I hadn't seen a couple of them since I was a kid, basically. But I loved them, that sort of way. So yeah. It's like, it's not the sort of work... When you start being an actor, when I started being an actor, it wasn't the sort of work that I was aspirational to do. Because I didn't even think it was a possibility. And so the call is just so bananas to get to go and do it. It's just a celebration, really.

A Marvel future?

Were there any scenes with Bill that you can remember that didn't make it into the final cut? I know it's so long ago.

I can't remember. I mean, I know there must have been stuff that we shot that didn't make in. There must have been. No, I can't remember if there's anything specific, though. It was a long time ago.

Now that you've done Harry Potter and Star Wars, would you be interested in completing the fandom trifecta with a Marvel role?

I think if the work is good, I'll do anything. A lot of the Marvel stuff is great. They're big, sort of extravagant. They are different from every other sort of film. It's just a different thing. And when they're good, they're great. So yeah, being a part of an experience like that would be amazing. I certainly wouldn't say no.

Fans can watch Domhnall Gleeson in his funniest role to date when all six episodes of Frank of Ireland debut on April 16 on Amazon Prime Video.