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Ciarán Hinds gets his Irish up in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

Ciarán Hinds, left, and Debra Monk during a

Ciarán Hinds, left, and Debra Monk during a performance of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York. Photo Credit: AP

Ciarán Hinds gives his passport a workout. He grew up in Belfast, forged an acclaimed acting career in England, raised a family in Paris, and now is tackling a quintessentially American role -- Big Daddy, redneck patriarch of a Southern clan in Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winner "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

The Broadway revival, which opened in January at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and runs through March 30, also stars Scarlett Johansson as sexually charged Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor's role in the 1958 film version), and Benjamin Walker as Brick, a troubled husband and potential heir to Big Daddy's fortune.

Hinds, who turns 60 on Saturday, is soft-spoken, reserved, yet no stranger to larger-than-life roles, having played Richard III with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Julius Caesar on HBO's "Rome" and the mythic Mance Rayder, king of the wildings, in the hotly anticipated upcoming season of HBO's "Game of Thrones."

He recently met Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio at a midtown diner.

So, how many ways has your name been bastardized?

Well, it's even bastardized by the Irish because I have a minorly pretentious accent. It's called a "fadda," which means "long" in Irish. So theoretically you should pronounce my name Kee-RAHN.

What does mom call you?

KEE-rin. I'm from the north of Ireland, where they speak flatter, wider.

Were you familiar with "Cat"?

Vaguely. From the film. But of course they didn't touch on the homosexuality at all. At all. Yet, here's Tennessee Williams addressing it, saying look, if it's human, it's real.

Were you intimidated, tackling an American classic?

When Rob Ashford asked me, I said, are you sure? But others see bits of you that you may not be aware of yourself. I have the great joy of... grabbing hold of Scarlett at the very end, and...

Tough job.

Yeah. She's extraordinary, picking up ideas quickly, then having the chops to drive them through.

In Act Two, it's pretty much you and Ben Walker, alone onstage.

We go to war every night. It feels alive! You throw open those doors, walk onstage and you've got this burst, for just under an hour. Then you walk off and go phew.

Why do directors turn to you for these weighty roles?

I have no idea, Joe. They asked me to do Richard III because the lead actor -- his disc went.

How last minute?

Eight days.

You learned "Richard III" in eight days?

Yeah... I was younger then. I couldn't have done it without that brilliant company. I remember getting through the first night, numb, and someone says, "The show tomorrow is at 8..." And you think, "You're joking -- I have to do that again?" I had a panic attack the second night.

You grew up Catholic during a tough time in Ireland's history. Were you glad to go?

I think I was. I was 19. If I stayed, I might've gotten involved. You'd see all these soldiers on street corners, all squaddied up...


British GIs are called squaddies, like in a squad? All you'd see is this violent image in the streets. Of course, you get older, wiser. I came back in my late 20s, and saw the uniforms -- and what's in the uniforms -- scared 17-year-old boys.

Did you hang with Liam Neeson? He's from Northern Ireland.

We met to a theater course in Holland. We were teenagers and had never been off the island of Ireland. We got on right away. Maybe because we had a load of sisters each and no brothers. We've been close ever since.

The death of his wife, Natasha Richardson...

Yeah... the loss of 'Tasha. Terrible. She was a beautiful person. Generous spirit. Things happen in the world you can't fathom. But this was just a small skiing accident. Everyone who knew them were broken to pieces.

I saw photos of you from "Game of Thrones," swaddled in fur pelts, wind blowing -- it looked cold.

Yeah. Not just Iceland. Northeast Iceland -- in November. It was just blizzards. Of course, it's an extraordinary place. And watching the technicians work in those conditions... laying down tracks for cameras... amazing. 'I never thought I'd be in the Winter Olympics, but'... it seemed like that.

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