"It was hard. It was just hard. There are no two ways about it," Gleeson told UPI in a recent phone interview. "It was relentless and, yeah, it took its toll. I was exhausted in a way after that film. I was exhausted after the first read of [the script] with everyone around the table, never mind the end of the film. But it took me a couple of months to get back to a place... I didn't recognize it at the time. It took me a while to get back to myself afterwards."
Set in contemporary Ireland, Calvary is about what happens when a man enters Father James' Catholic Church confessional and tells him he is going to kill him a week hence. The man confides he was sexually abused as a child by a now-dead priest and says he wants to make headlines by slaying an innocent cleric in the pedophile's stead. Father James spends the week reconnecting with his adult daughter, who is recovering from a suicide attempt, and counseling his parishioners, many of whom are lonely, angry and bitter, until the day arrives when he must meet his fate and possibly sacrifice his life.
Gleeson said he could relate to Father James, who became a priest after his wife died, because he, too, began a second career later in life, leaving his job as a teacher and becoming a full-time actor in his mid-30s.
"That was an easy one. I had no real barriers in the way of understanding him. He had been a teacher, too, in his previous career, so I kind of knew all about that," the 59-year-old actor said of Father James. "So, it was good from that point of view. It was easy enough."
Gleeson went on to emphasize the film itself is not meant to be an indictment of the Roman Catholic Church or people who believe in God.
"You have to treat people as individuals and there are a lot of people who are essentially good people within the church and without it and we, specifically, went out to tell the story of a good man who has to face up to the reality of what has been happening in the organization in which he represents," he explained. "This is what we kind of wanted to tell the story of and we tried to do it without an agenda, without attempting to take a didactic approach about anything. But just to open the people up to the story and tell the story and see where it brought us. I think it's kind of being appreciated... that everybody feels there is a fair crack of the whip being given to all sides of the argument or all sides of the confrontation that happens. Everyone has truth on their side in this film and I think they are all treated with that kind of respect."
Co-starring Chris O'Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Kelly Reilly, David Wilmot, Pat Shortt and David McSavage, Calvary is earning rave reviews from critics. It is in U.S. theaters now.
Gleeson's other film credits include Braveheart, Troy, The General, In Bruges, The Guard and the Harry Potter blockbusters.