When Domhnall Gleeson was 19, he thought he’d hit the big time when his name appeared on a poster for a play he was starring in.
“It was a really exciting day. Then I came out of the theatre and heard these Americans making an absolute mess of [pronouncing my name], trying over and over again,” says the actor, who turns 31 this month. “I realised I’ve got a long way to go and I still haven’t got there.”
Since landing his big screen break in 2010, alongside actor dad Brendan in the final two Harry Potter films, Gleeson – whose first name sounds like ‘tonal’ with a ‘D’ – has appeared in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (2012) and Richard Curtis’s romcom About Time (2013).
But it’s the much-anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII which looks set to make the actor a household name.
We meet just a couple of days before Gleeson learns that he’s been cast in the JJ Abrams blockbuster, to talk about his involvement in the much smaller-scale film, Frank.
The black comedy is loosely based on writer Jon Ronson’s experience performing with the Mancunian singer Frank Sidebottom, the mask-wearing creation of comedian Chris Sievey.
Michael Fassbender stars as singer Frank, who hides his identity inside a massive cartoon head, just like Sidebottom’s, and Gleeson plays keyboard player and aspiring songsmith Jon.
“I hadn’t heard of Frank Sidebottom, and in a way, I don’t think there was any harm [in that],” says Gleeson.
“The problem we’ll face with some people who do know Frank Sidebottom, is that they might come to the movie expecting it to be about him. That’ll be a hurdle to get over, as it’s not about him.
“It’s in the spirit of one of his crazy songs, maybe, but there’s no biographical connection with our Frank in the movie and him – apart from the fact that he wears a head.”
At one point, Gleeson was required to don the fibreglass headgear himself.
“It turned into quite a long scene. I wasn’t really able to get it past my nose, because apparently, my head is quite big,” he confesses.
“Everybody wanted to try on the head and do the funniest move, there was a little bit of that, but the only person who really made it work is Michael.”
The whip-smart actor also helped come up with lyrics for his character, who painstakingly creates some unintentionally dire songs (Example: “Lady in the red coat, what you doing with that bag?”).
“The bad stuff that Jon sings is the stuff that I wrote with [composer] Stephen Rennicks. Lenny [Abrahamson, Frank’s director] chose the worst of a bad bunch, I think.”
Frank’s release comes hot on the heels of another Irish film, Calvary, in which Gleeson’s father delivers a brilliant performance as a priest who receives a death threat during confession.
Gleeson Junior has just one chilling scene in the film, playing a cannibalistic serial killer who receives a visit from the priest in prison.
“He’s my dad first and foremost, but when it comes to work, he’s one of my favourite actors,” he says.
“We were both hitting as hard as we could, and I’m very proud to have been in the film. It was wonderful.”
Frank is released in cinemas tomorrow