As much as we might associate Ciarán Hinds with his more fearsome roles, such as Julius Caesar in HBO's 'Rome', mob boss Eamon Cunningham in 'Kin', or even via CGI in 'Justice League' as the alien conqueror Steppenwolf, the reality is much different.
He laughs easily and often. He jokes with his young co-star Jude Hill frequently. There's a warmth that exudes from him, even over Zoom. He sits comfortably in a well-lit hotel room, hair slicked back into a stylish wave and chuckles to himself as we're formally introduced. "So very formal," he laughs as the interview begins. Born in Belfast - the very name of the movie he's currently promoting - in 1953, Hinds' early efforts in Queens' University would have seen him as a lawyer, but by 1975, he had abandoned it entirely and graduated from RADA and was well on his way. By 1981, Ciarán Hinds had a supporting role in John Boorman's operatic saga 'Excalibur' and was cutting his teeth in the Druid Theatre, the Abbey, and more frequently Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, where he stood shoulder to shoulder with future 007 Pierce Brosnan, fellow RADA alumni Mark Rylance, and the late, great Alan Rickman.
When it comes to his memories of being on the set of 'Belfast' however, Hinds cracks a smile and remembers his most frequent scene partner, Jude Hill, who's on the interview with him. "That little scamp," he remarks wryly and points to his co-star. "The nerve of him at ten years of age to come up with such a performance." Jude Hill, who's now closer to eleven, laughs and wriggles in his seat while receiving his compliments from his fellow actor. "I think, maybe the maths scene, where I was teaching him how to cheat at maths and just looking at that openness in his face. That doesn't go away."
"Another scene," he continues, "that comes to me was when we were walking down the back entry - the four of us, Jude, Judi (Dench), Jamie (Dornan), and myself - just having done the shopping or something. We did it more than once." He flashes a little look, and adds that they did the scene twenty times, beating his original estimate of twelve. "Ken (Branagh, the writer-director of 'Belfast') didn't want to break it, so every single movement was caught. It was a lovely memory, you know, because we were all looking at each other like, are we about to be fired?" As Jude recounts his own memories of the set of 'Belfast' - laughing constantly with Jamie Dornan, who it seemed couldn't help corpsing at every available opportunity - Hinds can't help but beam a smile across Zoom at the young actor.
Indeed, when Jude Hill is asked if he received any advice on acting from Ciarán Hinds, the elder actor mouths 'no' to him and shakes his head to warn him. "He told me to always have fun with whatever scene, because you can have a little giggle when they're changing the cameras," to which a mock-shocked Hinds tries to keep him quiet.
When it comes to the political realities of Belfast at this time, Hinds makes it clear that while he remembers the city well, the purpose of 'Belfast' is not to give a chronological order or retelling of it. "It's heightened by an innocence, there's no agenda there, there's no attitude," he explains.
"He's just watching the world unfold, and I have to say, I'm still amazed by it and I wasn't involved in the shot, but at the very beginning and how it goes from the colour of the city as we know it today and the camera peers over the wall and - so economically - we're back to the sixties and the street life. Another one," Hinds notes and becomes animated as he does so," has the camera circling Buddy and the audience doesn't know what it is, it's out of focus and then suddenly snaps into it and then this violence is unleashed. That did prompt a kind of insanity when people gather in bands and let the beast. That did bring back the horrors of that time when riots were happening all over."
He pauses for a moment. "It's not a memory I'm particularly fond of."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
'Belfast' is in Irish cinemas from January 21st.