Irish actors have never been strangers to the big screens. For as long as there has been cinema, there have been Irish actors of note. Each new generation brought with it a wave of new talent, and each generation has faced similar challenges and overcome similar stereotypes.

Actors from Ireland have often struggled to break away from their nationality and secure roles that didn’t involve the country of their birth. The Irish faces who regularly appear on the screen and the stage are those who have embraced their nationality while also being given the chance to play characters that both national and international audiences can relate to. Corkonian actor Cillian Murphy, who recently won a Golden Globe award for his performance as physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, is vocal about the challenges faced by Irish actors in Hollywood. “You are an actor who is Irish, not an Irish actor. You shouldn’t be limited by your extraction”.

One of the most celebrated Irish actors in recent years is Paul Mescal. Mescal, who studied at The Lír Academy in Dublin, became a household name in 2020 when he made his television debut as Connell in Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of the novel Normal People. Although Normal People is set in Ireland and is written by an Irish author, the series received worldwide acclaim. As if overnight, Mescal and his co-star Daisy Edgar-Jones were catapulted into fame.

a new generation of irish actors
A new generation of irish actors

Since then, Mescal has starred in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s critically acclaimed directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, where although he played an Irish character, he starred alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names like Olivia Coleman and Dakota Johnson. Mescal finally shed his native accent for his role as a single father in Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination in 2022. Neither of these films required

Despite working with prominent actors from both the UK and the US, what is endearing about Paul Mescal is that he does not shy away from working with other Irish talents. Garth Davis’s sci-fi thriller Foe, released in 2023, features both Paul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan, another national treasure. Similarly, Mescal will star alongside Dublin-born actor Andrew Scott in the romantic drama All of Us Strangers which will be released at the end of January.

It was also recently reported that Mescal will star alongside Irish actress Jesse Buckley in Chloé Zhao’s directorial adaptation of the New York Times bestselling historical fiction novel Hamnet. It has not been announced when this film will be released.

Through the lens of Paul Mescal’s career alone, it is clear that Irish talent is at the forefront of cinema and when we consider how Mescal is starring alongside a considerable amount of other acclaimed Irish actors it is safe to assume that this new wave of talent has not gone unnoticed and has been embraced by the greatest working directors today such as Chloe Zhao, Ridley Scott and Richard Linklater.

Some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors have adopted Irish actors to star at the forefront of their films. Greta Gerwig, now famous for her success in directing Barbie, first became known through her two previous films, Lady Bird and Little Women. Both of which starred Irish Actress, Saoirse Ronan.

Gerwig and Ronan have a famously good relationship, this is proven by Saoirse telling reporters that she was assigned a token role in Barbie by her friend. Unfortunately, she could not take it due to scheduling conflicts, but even in Ronan’s absence, there was an Irish Barbie on set! Galway-born actress Nichola Coughlin, star of Derry Girls and Bridgerton, waved the flag for our little island through her role as ‘Diplomat Barbie’ in the blockbuster film.

Like Gerwig, Christopher Nolan has found an Irish actor, Cillian Murphy, to be a lifelong collaborator. Having featured in six Nolan movies across two decades, Murphy finally secured the lead role.

Oppenheimer. Nolan’s latest feature film, has grossed €953 million to date and picked up five Golden Globe awards, including the Best Actor award for Murphy. The trajectory of Murphy’s career breaks the confines of many Irish actors who came before him. Murphy’s ability to break free from the stereotype of the supporting character will push not only his own career forward but also lead the way other Irish actors.

The Irish actor’s transition from supporting to lead roles is not unique to Murphy, evidenced by the fact that three of the six nominees for Best Actor in a Motion Picture at this year’s Golden Globes were Irish. The nominees were Andrew Scott (All of Us Strangers), Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer) and Barry Keoghan (Saltburn)..

Another name being mentioned recently is Barry Keoghan who rose to fame through his performances in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Killing of a Sacred Deer and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

Since the success of the Oscar-nominated film Banshees of Inisherin and more recently, Saltburn, directed by Emerald Fennel. Keoghan has found himself, together with Mescal, being considered as the leaders of a new wave of Irish talent sweeping over Hollywood.

One of the first Irish actors to break into Hollywood was Maureen O’Hara who starred in Miracle on 34th Street, (1947) and The Quiet Man (1952). Since then, a stream of Irish actresses have delighted audiences with their cinematic performances. Fiona Shaw, Ruth Negga, and Evanna Lynch to name a few.

In recent years, there has been no Irish actress more recognisable or beloved than Saoirse Ronan. Irish actor Colm Meaney has declared Ronan to be “the next Meryl Streep”.

With four Academy Award nominations under her belt by the age of twenty-six, the first of which she received at the age of thirteen, it is perhaps not difficult to see why. Ronan’s roles have been diverse, ranging from lost teenagers to queens.. Her talent grows with age and she never fails to receive critical acclaim for each character she inhabits.
Ireland is proud of its talent, but more often than not, successful Irish actors are labelled as British by the media when they are in the limelight. Actress Brenda Fricker once famously commented “When I’m lying drunk at an airport the press call me Irish…But when I win an Oscar, I’m classified as British.”

The Dublin-born actress became the first Irish woman to win an Academy Award for acting when she won Best Supporting Actress in 1990, for her role in My Left Foot.

Unfortunately, the mislabelling of Irish actors as British has continued in the thirty years since Frickers’s historic win. Only last year, during the announcement of the Oscar nominations, the BBC reported that “British actors Paul Mescal and Bill Nighy are nominated for leading roles.”

Countless similar mistakes have been made with the likes of Cillian Murphy, Andrew Scott and Barry Keoghan all being misidentified as British. Just last week, Barry Keoghan was labelled as British by GQ Magazine on their social media while announcing Keoghan as the January cover star.

The influx of Irish talent which has been seen this year shows no sign of Ireland’s artists leaving our screens but indicates a bright Irish future with very familiar faces.

John O’Connor – Contributor