Damien Dempsey

Between Albums, Dempsey Goes ‘Between The Canals’

Damien Dempsey in ‘Between The Canals’


Described in some quarters as one of Ireland’s great singer-songwriters, and in others as one of the greatest lyricists of his generation (that doesn’t leave many quarters left!), (Northside) Dubliner Damien Dempsey, may well have another string or two to an already somewhat overcrowded bow before the year is out.

The former amateur boxer, as known for his survival of Dublin’s mean streets as he is renowned for his musical talents, Dempsey, or ‘Damo’, as he’s affectionately known by most of his adoring fans (including Morrissey, who has long championed the singer’s cause), is currently starring in Irish gangster movie, ‘Between the Canals’, which premiered last week at CraicFest, the festival promoting Irish movies, music, comedy and everything in between, in downtown New York City.

Written and directed by Mark O’Connor, the Dublin-based film (which also stars young up and coming actors Pete Coonan, Dan Hyland and Stephen Jones) tells the story of three small-time Irish criminals, and their (mis) adventures around Dublin on a boozy Saint Patrick’s week.

Dempsey, in his first film role, plays Paul Chambers, an inner city crime boss. The Irish Examiner’s Michael Fitzpatrick spoke with the artist recently about the picture.

Mike Fitzpatrick (MF): Can you tell us a little about ‘Between the Canals’?
Damien Dempsey (DD): Yeah, well, I was just approached by the director (Mark O’Connor). He wanted me to play a gangster, and, I’d never acted before, so, you know, I said to him that I didn’t think I could do it justice, but he kept on at me, and said, come on down and do a rehearsal and see how you do, you know, see how you like it. So, I tried it out, and he said, you can play it, and so, I said to myself, well, I’ll be a long time dead, and it was only one day’s filming, so I just went and did it! (At first) I wasn’t really into it. I didn’t think I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off, you know? I was afraid that I’d have been ****in’ sh**, you know, that’s what it was, fear.

MF: Growing up in Dublin, music was obviously a large part of your life, were you as passionate about films?
DD: Well, about some films maybe. I mean, the amazing ones really touch you, you know? I mean, the first time I saw that movie, ‘Blade Runner’, Jesus, I was blown away, it really touched me. I mean, it’s like a good song, a good movie can really touch your heart, or your soul, you know?

MF: It’s not the first Irish film set in inner-city Dublin, but it’s been described as one of the most realistic, why do you think that is?
DD: Well, one of the reasons that I took the part, that I agreed to do it, because (the director) said that he was using all locals. 90% of the cast were from Sheriff Street and Sean McDermott Street. Most of the movies portraying the inner city, they’d use like, 5% of locals. So, when I heard that, you know, I said I’d do it.

MF: How’d you enjoy the filmmaking experience?
DD: Brilliant, yeah, it was great! I mean, you had to loads and loads of different takes, or even the same take of the same scene, again and again, but, if you think you’ve played it right, and then you see that you’ve done the part justice, you know, it’s a great feeling. It’s interesting to try and work up an emotion, out of the blue, you know, get angry, or sad. Just to push yourself a certain way, even if you’re not feeling that way at the time, is something.

MF: You play the role of Paul Chambers, a crime boss, how much, if any, of the character was influenced by other such figures, either real or fictional?
DD: Ah well, I knew a few, you know, a good few hard men. In my time I’ve come across them, just from growing up on the northside (of Dublin) I’d have met them. So, you know, I’d have thought of them when I was playing the character.

MF: Is acting something you’ve always wanted to pursue?
DD: No, not at all, I’d never really thought about it, but I’d always sort of knew I could play an angry part, you know, a role that had to be a bit of a tough, someone with a bit of aggression. I always thought that if I ever was to be in movies, I could play that part, you know, I’d just think of my father, you know?!

MF: Are there other roles in the pipeline?
DD: I’m not too sure, I’ve not heard of anything yet. But, sure, I did enjoy it, so I think I would do it again if I was approached, but I won’t go chasing it. I think I could have played the part a lot better though, but we only had a day to do it.

MF: We’ve seen some great Irish films over the years, have you any particular favorites of your own?
DD: Hmm, Irish films, let’s see, what’d be a favorite? I suppose ‘Adam and Paul’. I thought that was ****in’ brilliant. It was the most realistic film I’ve seen about heroin, ever. I mean, it had its humor, there were funny parts. Very like a Greek tragedy, a tragicomedy, or something. So that’s one of the best Irish films I’ve seen, then ‘The General’, of course, and that other one, ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’, there were some great ones. Brilliant movies.

MF: You’re not the first Irish singer to venture into acting, we’ve seen Glen Hansard, Bob Geldof, Don Baker, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Andrea Corr and Gavin Friday to name a few, did you look to any of those for inspiration?
DD: Well, I suppose so, I mean, Glen’s a good friend of mine, and I saw him doing so well, so I thought, sure I might as well give it a lash myself! I think though, that ‘Between the Canals’, was more of a comedy, for me, you know, you’ll get a bit of a laugh out of it.

MF: What does the 2011 hold in store for Damien Dempsey?
DD: A new album, I’m just working on that at the moment, just writing away, then when we have ten songs or so, we can start recording. C

‘Between the Canals’ opens at the IFI in Dublin on March 18th. For more Damien Dempsey-related news, visit www.damiendempsey.com, and for more about the film, log on to www.betweenthecanals.com

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