When people think of Ireland, images of emerald green landscapes and fresh clean air often comes to mind. And there must be something in the waters of Ireland, because some of the most beautiful, talented, and sought-after actors and actresses in Hollywood happen to hail from the Green Isles.
Yes, we think of leprechauns and rainbows too, but we know there’s so much more to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland than magical pots of gold, like the brilliant performers who call Ireland home.
Saoirse Ronan, for instance, has been putting on accent in her films since she was a child actress, but got to use her full-on, natural Irish brogue in the film Brooklyn (2015). Although she was born in the Bronx, where her parents were living at the time, Ronan’s is a dead giveaway of her Irish ancestry. Some of her fellow Irishmen in American movies and television shows aren’t quite as obvious. Here are 15 other fine actors and actresses, from the big screen and small, whom you might not have known were Irish.
15. Michael Fassbender
One of the biggest names in Hollywood at the moment is Michael Fassbender. His father was a German chef while his mother was Irish. He was born in Germany but the family moved to Killarney, County Kerry when he was two years old. Most recently, he received rave reviews for his portrayal of Steve Jobs in the biopic about the creator of Apple. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Steve Jobs.
His most recent film is an adaptation of the novel The Light Between Oceans, out now in theaters. He will be seen next in the live action adaptation of the video game Assassin’s Creed, which he produced and will star in, alongside Marion Cotillard. He will also soon reprise his role as the android David in Alien: Covenant, the sequel to Prometheus. Principal photography for that film reportedly started in April 2016.
14. Evanna Lynch
Better known as the eccentric and, maybe a little looney, Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter film series, Evanna Lynch went on to star in other films, stage plays, and television series in the UK. She also uses her fame to raise awareness for positive body image. Reportedly, she had been in and out of rehabilitation clinics ever since she was 11 years old due to anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder which causes suffers to starve themselves.
She has said in interviews that her love of Harry Potter helped her cope with her disorder, because the character of Luna embraced her oddities. She detailed her struggles in an essay entitled, “Why the Body Bind is My Nightmare,” which was published in 2014.
Although the last Harry Potter movie was released in 2011, Lynch uses the popularity of the series, and her connection to the franchise, to do charity work and fundraising. She is on the Board of Advisors for the non-profit organization, the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), which promotes youth activism for equality, human rights, and literacy.
13. Pierce Brosnan
The fifth actor to play secret agent James Bond is the Irish actor Pierce Brosnan. He played the role in three movies and his face was also used in the video games James Bond 007: Nightfire and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing.
Although he found fame in acting, Brosnan originally had other artistic aspirations. He left school at 16 years old and decided to be a painter. However, when he saw a fire-eating workshop one day, he decided to join. He was reportedly spotted by a circus agent while busking, which somehow led to a life in performance and acting.
As a young Irish boy in England, Brosnan said he often felt like an outsider among his British schoolmates, who gave him the nickname “Irish”. According to an interview he gave to Cigar Aficionado, discovering acting changed his life.
“When I found acting, or when acting found me, it was a liberation. It was a stepping stone into another life, away from a life that I had, and acting was something I was good at, something which was appreciated. That was a great satisfaction in my life,” he said.
12. Orla Brady
Although she has appeared in many American television series, Orla Brady originally hails from Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. She got her first big acting gig in the US as Naoise O’Niell in 2001 on the CBS show, Family Law, which ran for three years.
Doctor Who fans know Brady well from the 2015 special episode, “The Time of the Doctor”. She played the role of Mother Superious Tasha Lem, an old acquaintance of the Doctor who headed the space church, the Church of the Papal Mainframe.
She also played the wife of Walter Bishop on the hit Fox television series, Fringe in 2009. Currently, Brady appears in AMC’s Into The Badlands as Lydia, the first wife of the most powerful baron in the badlands, Quinn.
11. Sarah Bolger
Brady’s Into The Badlands co-star, Sarah Bolger, also came across from the pond in Ireland. Born in Dublin, Bolger shot to fame in 2003 for her role in the film In America, which she received an Indie Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
She also earned an IFTA nomination for her work in The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), where she played Mallory Grace, the older sister of the twins played by Freddie Highmore who had to fight goblins she couldn’t see as she was fencing.
In 2011, she, along with Sinéad O’Connor, Pierce Brosnan, and Neil Jordan were chosen to be featured in the portrait project of photographer, Kevin Abosch, called The Face of Ireland.
In ABC’s modern day fairy tale drama series, Once Upon a Time, she played the role of Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) in the second through fourth seasons.
Most recently, she has appeared in the 2015 films The Lazarus Effect, Emelie, and the biopic of American college football player, Freddie Steinmark, My All American.
10. Jamie Dornan
Jaimie Dornan was born in Holywood… Holywood, County Down, in Northern Ireland, that is. Before he became a household name and the object of many an erotica novel reader’s fantasies, he worked as a model for Ambercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani, Dior Homme, Calvin Klein, and other high fashion retailers.
His first big acting break came when he was cast as Count Axel Fersen in Sophia Coppola’s 2006 Marie Antoinette.
He also played Sheriff Graham in Once Upon a Time and returned as a recurring character even after the sheriff of Storybrooke was killed off.
But he is now most well known for playing Christian Grey in the 2015 big screen adaptation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. In that same year, it was confirmed that Dornan would reprise his role in two more films, Fifty Shades Darker (2017) and Fifty Shades Freed (2018), to complete the trilogy. His more… serious projects include this year’s Anthropoid, alongside co-star and co-Irishman Cillian Murphy, and the Netflix/BBC series The Fall, where he plays an Irish serial killer.
9. Sam Neill
Although Sam Neill identifies primarily as a New Zealander, he also hold Irish citizenship. He was born in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland where his father was stationed when he served with the Irish Guard.
Of his childhood in Ireland, Neill shared with Independent UK that it was like a garden of Eden for him.
“I would range freely around the beautiful countryside, and I vividly remember, too, going with my brother to Tyrella beach – one of the greatest in the British Isles – and fishing for hours on the rocks; no one was there; it was ours,” he said.
When the family moved to New Zealand in 1954, Neill adopted the name “Sam” for himself. He shared in an interview that he felt that his real name, “Nigel,” was too pretentious for the kids in the playground.
With more than a hundred movies, television series, and documentaries under his best, his acting resume is extensive and versatile. Playing Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park (1993) and other installments of the Jurassic franchise, the legendary wizard Merlin in the 1998 NBC mini-series, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the historical drama The Tudors, Neill has done it all.
8. Alison Doody
The youngest Bond Girl to ever appear in the film franchise was the then 18-year old Alison Doody in A View To Kill (1985). She played Jenny Flex in Roger Moore’s seventh and last James Bond movie.
She is most recognized for her role in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989) as Dr. Elsa Schneider, an Austrian colleague of Jones. She initially helps her friend find his father (played by Sean Connery) but later reveals that she’s a Nazi-sympathizer.
Interestingly, in the previous year she also starred in the Irish thriller film Taffin with Pierce Brosnan. Thus, she has acted on the big screen with three different Bonds.
According to reports, Doody only took on a few more projects before dropping off the Hollywood radar for about a decade to return to Dublin and become a full-time mother. But she has been coming back into the game with roles on the short-lived series Waking the Dead, The Clinic, and Beaver Falls.
7. Stuart Townsend
In an alternate universe, he might have played Aragorn in the The Lord of The Rings trilogy, but Stuart Townsend was reportedly fired from the first film just a day before principal photography for The Fellowship of the Ring began.
In 2010, he was also replaced in the role of Fandral in Thor. Although no specific reasons were given, it was stated that creative differences between him and director Kenneth Branagh were at issue.
But Townsend has some notable roles on his resume. In 2002, he played the vampire Lestat in Queen of the Damned, and in 2003, he played the eternally youthful, handsome, and manipulative, Dorian Gray in the big screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
These days, Townsend’s acting career has simmered down. In 2015, his brother, Dyan, a model who also has hopes of pursuing an acting and directing career, said that he had bought land in Costa Rica and had settled down with a woman there. Townsend has reportedly “put acting on the back burner” and is focusing on being a father to his two children.
6. Kenneth Branagh
Known for his string of movies adapted from Shakespearean plays which he both directed and starred in, Kenneth Branagh has earned numerous nominations and awards for over his decades-long career.
According to Branagh, he acquired a British accent while he was at school to avoid being bullied. But he has always identified as an Irish man.
“I feel Irish. I don’t think you can take Belfast out of the boy,” he has said.
Branagh’s most recent roles are in the director’s seat for Thor (2011), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), and the live-action adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella (2015).
Currently, Branagh is garnering rave reviews for his portrayal of Archie Rice in the play The Entertainer. The play is now running at the Garrick Theatre, London until Nov. 12 and Branagh is playing the part which was previously put on screen in 1960 by another actor whose career many he has many parallels with – Sir Laurence Olivier.
5. Katie McGrath
Acting fell into Katie McGrath’s lap when she was working as a wardrobe assistant on the historical drama, The Tudors. She described in an interview how one of the show’s producers suggested that she should try acting, so she sent her headshots to a few Irish agents.
One of her first big roles was that of Morgana in the BBC One series Merlin which ran from 2008 to 2012. Many might remember her as Bryce Dallas Howard’s personal assistant in Jurassic World (2015) who tried her best to keep an eye on her boss’ nephews but unfortunately got picked up by an escaped winged dinosaur (either a Dimorphoon or a Pteranodon) and dropped into the Mosasaurus tank.
In 2016, McGrath starred in the Canadian horror anthology series Slasher, about a woman who returns to live in her former home where her parents were murdered.
She will appear as Lena Luthor in season 2 of Supergirl, which will officially move to The CW when it debuts on October 10.
4. Aidan Turner
Aidan Turner is probably best known as Kili, the heroic hobbit who stole the heart of an elf warrior in The Hobbit trilogy.
Aiden Turner may have conquered the lands of Middle-Earth, but before he turned to an acting career, he was actually on a path to follow in his father’s footsteps as an electrician in Dublin.
But after graduating from The Gaiety School of Acting in 2004, he was able to get cast in several theatre productions which lead him to some roles on various British series.
His first major role came in the critically acclaimed BBC Three drama Being Human, which ran from 2009 to 2013, in which he played the vampire John Mitchell. He was also nominated for several SFX Awards for this role.
He played the titular character in the BBC series Poldark in 2015. This year, his voice will be featured as The Boatman in the animated film Loving Vincent, which is the first movie to be completely hand-painted.
3. Paula Malcomson
She played the mother of the Mockingjay from District 12 in The Hunger Games movie franchise, but Paula Malcomson is really from Belfast.
She also made a name for herself with roles on popular television series like HBO’s Deadwood (2004 – 2006), ABS’s Lost (2004-2010), the Battlestar Galactica spin-off series Caprica, and the FX Series Sons of Anarchy.
Her role as Maureen Ashby on Sons of Anarchy was the first one in her American career where she was able to speak with her normal Irish accent.
The only other role she’s played where she didn’t have to adopt another accent was in the short film, Cleansed, which was shot in her native Northern Ireland and written by Paul Caddell.
She will play the role of Ms. Turner in the upcoming drama thriller, Grass Stains. The film, written and directed by Kyle Wilamowski, is about a young man who accidentally kills the older brother of his girlfriend after a prank gone wrong. Grass Stains is currently in post-production.
2. Patricia Quinn
You may not remember her face much, but most people will definitely remember her luscious blood-red lips. Patricia Quinn’s kisser was the famous mouth in the opening song of the 1975 movie adaptation of the cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
She also played Magenta, maid-outfitted assistant of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a role she also originated in the play.
Though Quinn has worked on other movies and television shows throughout her career, she is still most sought-after for her work on The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She often attends shows and conventions dedicated to the off-kilter musical and delights audiences when she sings the opening tune, “Science Fiction/Double Feature”.
She also appeared in the quasi-sequel to the film, Shock Treatment (1981), where she played the role of Dr. Nation McKinley.
1. Ruth Negga
Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and moved to her mother’s homeland of Limerick, Ireland when she was four. According to Neil Jordan, director of Breakfast on Pluto (2005), he had never heard of Negga before, but when he saw her audition, he changed the script of the film so that she could appear in it as the pregnant girlfriend of an IRA terrorist.
Although she is one of Hollywood’s hottest actresses right now, she has shared in interviews that she often felt like an outsider as a child. “I never really fitted anywhere. I didn’t feel it was a negative thing and I was never made to feel different – I just knew I was,” she told the Guardian.
Which is why, she said, roles like Lady Taria Wrynn in Warcraft (2016) are important important to her. Not only did she get to play a strong, warrior woman, she also had a brother in the film who happened to have a lighter complexion than her – a fact that mirror’s the life of the movie’s director, Duncan Jones, whose sister is half-black.
Negga is a lead in the AMC series Preacher. She also stars in the film Loving, about the true life case of Richard and Mildred Loving, in interracial couple who were arrested and sentenced to prison in 1958 for the crime of getting married. Loving will be released in US theaters on November 4, 2016.
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