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Hinds & O’Donoghue Discuss 'The Rite'

February 24, 2011   |   Written by IFTN

If ‘Father Ted’ has taught us anything, it’s that the partnering of Irish actors in priest roles leads to great success. Such is the case again in new feature ‘The Rite’, a supernatural thriller starring Irish heavyweight Ciarán Hinds and newcomer, Colin O’Donoghue. IFTN spoke with both actors about their performance in the feature which goes on nationwide release Friday, February 25th.

Directed by Mikael Håfström and inspired by true events, the film follows seminarian Michael Kovak, played by Colin O’Donoghue, who is sent to study exorcism at the Vatican in spite of his own doubts about the controversial practice and even his own faith. Once there, Michael challenges his superiors to look to psychiatry, rather than demons, in treating the possessed. However, once he is sent by Ciarán Hind’s Father Xavier as an apprentice to the unorthodox Father Lucas, played by Anthony Hopkins – a legendary priest who has performed thousands of exorcisms – Michael starts to question his beliefs.

An audition tape filmed in his best friend’s back garden nabbed Colin O’Donoghue his feature film debut in the thriller. The Drogheda actor landed the lead role as Michael Kovak after years of work on Irish TV series such as ‘Fair City’, ‘The Clinic’ and ‘The Tudors’. He sent the audition tape off to the producers and then played the waiting game. ”I didn’t know if anyone would ever watch it,” he tells IFTN. ”I hadn’t spoken to the director and I didn’t really know what they were looking for but you just have to do what you feel is right and hope that is what they are looking for. I was just told to pick a couple of scenes and read them and, I guess, hope for the best.”

Colin earned his first on-camera role in the Irish TV movie, ‘Home for Christmas’ where his role as Norman lead to him winning the Best New Talent IFTA. He mixes television work with theatre work like his co-star, Ciarán Hinds. Ciarán is well accustomed to supernatural thrillers having last year collected a spate of accolades – including a Tribeca film Festival Award – for his lead turn in Conor McPherson’s ‘The Eclipse’. Has the actor found his niche in clever atmospheric thrillers? “I like these sort of films because they’re not just meant to be scary,” he tells us. “I’m not going to put all the blame on Conor McPherson but strangely enough he offered me a part in ‘The Seafarer’ years ago and I was playing a character called Mr. Lockheart, who turned out to be the devil. And then we discussed ‘The Eclipse’, and then the next thing I know, sure enough I’m playing a Dominican priest in the Vatican in this film. And I’ve just finished playing the devil in ‘Ghostrider’… so I don’t know, it’s clearly out of my control. And I don’t know where I’m going after this… straight to hell maybe!”

Ciarán will be seen later in 2011 in the concluding film of the ‘Harry Potter’ series in the role of Aberforth. He was last year given the Career Achievement Award by the JDIFF to mark a portfolio of award-winning roles in projects such as ‘Rome’ and ‘Veronica Guerin’ for which he received acting plaudits from the Irish Film and Television Academy. He has also starred in successful international features such as ‘Munich’, ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ and ‘Margot at the Wedding’.

Following the arrival of his audition tape Colin was invited to LA to screen test with his future co-star, Anthony Hopkins. Though extraordinarily but “understandably” nervous acting alongside what he calls “The master!”, Colin clinched the role with director Mikael Håfström noting that “I think Colin is somebody that you just innately trust and, therefore, he serves as a very good guide into this world.” Thus, preparation for an exorcism film role began in earnest for Colin. A somewhat bizarre experience by all accounts: “I went to Rome for a costume fitting and then I was stranded because of the ash cloud. I got a call from Matt Baglio who wrote the book which went along the lines of ‘Hey Colin, are you well? Do you want to go and see some exorcisms?’ So I said ‘yeah ok’ and then I suddenly thought, ‘What have I got myself in for?’ So I saw about five or six exorcisms and it was important for me to do that; to see how people react and to see how I would react watching those things.”

The actor also hit theology books with a fervour, spoke to various other exorcists and priests and met with psychologists – all to get a feel for Michael Kovak’s experience. “I think you can never be over-prepared,” he explains. “I think sometimes you can be over-rehearsed but you can never be over-prepared. So it was important for me to do that.”

Though Colin’s Michael Kovak is plagued by doubt throughout the feature, Ciarán’s Father Xavier is very solid in his convictions. It’s Father Xavier’s job to pass on the tried and tested methods of dealing with exorcism, and the necessary balance between the psychiatric and pastoral implications of their work. Did Ciarán have any reservations about taking on such a black and white role? “No I didn’t because,” he says, unfalteringly, “in all walks of life you meet people who have true belief and faith and that has always fascinated me. Because we don’t all have that so when you meet these people it’s fascinating. Watching the film last night for the very first time it struck me that it was like ‘this is business, focus right in’ – I thought it was done very well.”

The film shot in Rome and Budapest at the height of the tourist season, a far cry from Drogheda but Colin’s friends, family and neighbours were all in attendance at the film’s premiere… “I met them all, all 200 of them,” Hinds whispers. 30 year old Colin tells us he is delighted at the reception he and the film have received from his home town: “It’s been lovely,” he starts. “People have been coming up and saying that they are delighted. And the way they say it is ‘Ah it’s great for the town’, which is brilliant!”

Following their global press tour for ‘The Rite’, both men are straight back to the day job – Ciarán is taking to the stage of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in September to star in ‘Juno and the Paycock’ alongside Sinead Cusack whilst Colin is hoping to get some local employment in the near future “I’m supposed to be doing something in Wales, but I would love to do something here. Maybe somebody might give me a job in Ireland!”

Who Is Colin?

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Colin O’Donoghue is an Irish actor/musician. He was born in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland on January 26th, 1981. He is best known for his role as Captain Hook in Once Upon a Time and his role as Michael Kovak in the Rite.

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