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Brendan Coyle spends break from 'Downton Abbey' on 'Noble' cause

"Five films couldn't sum up what she's done and where she's been," Coyle tells UPI about beloved humanitarian aid worker Christina Noble, the subject of the new biopic Noble.

By
Karen Butler
Brendan Coyle and Deirdre O'Kane in a scene from the biopic Noble. Photo courtesy Aspiration Media/Continental Media
Brendan Coyle and Deirdre O'Kane in a scene from the biopic "Noble." Photo courtesy Aspiration Media/Continental Media

NEW YORK, May 9 (UPI) -- British actor Brendan Coyle says he was fortunate to get time off from his day job on Downton Abbey so he could travel to Vietnam and work on the biopic Noble with a couple of old friends.

"It was great. It was pretty much in and out for me. I was working on Downton at the time and my producers on Downton Abbey are very gracious," Coyle told UPI in a recent phone interview. "We're a big cast, so you get a lot of requests to do other projects."

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Starring Deirdre O'Kane as renowned humanitarian aid worker Christina Noble, the critically acclaimed, film-festival favorite Noble is based on the remarkable true story of a woman whose own hellish youth in 1940s and '50s Ireland made her feel connected to the children in Vietnam suffering poverty, abuse and neglect more than a decade after the war ended.

Coyle plays Irish businessman Gerry, a composite of several people who sponsored Noble in her crusade to improve the health, safety and education of the young people of Vietnam, starting in the late 1980s.

"I had never even been to Southeast Asia. I had absolutely no idea what to expect and it was just fantastic. We stayed in this beautiful hotel. Christina was there. I had to do all my scenes in and out in a week. Stephen and I and Deirdre just took to being together like a duck to water," he recalled, referring to O'Kane's husband, Stephen Bradley, who wrote and directed the film. Bradley previously served as a producer on Ailsa, one of Coyle's first movies.

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The real Noble is still working to make the lives of children better. To date, she and her organization have helped an estimated 1 million street children and their families in Vietnam and Mongolia. Coyle said he was amazed when he saw firsthand the fruits of her efforts in the form of the modern schools and hospitals she helped create.

"Five films couldn't sum up what she's done and where she's been," Coyle noted. "Sometimes biopics, they are very reductive. There's only so much you can tell, but Stephen is such a consummate filmmaker. What I think our team has done -- has managed to convey -- is an extraordinary life, but also make a really, really moving, powerful and, really importantly, humorous film. Because she is a very, very funny woman."

Told Gerry's banter with Christina fairly crackles when they share the screen, Coyle acknowledged: "We have history. We hadn't worked together in years. ... But Deirdre and I did this [2000 Irish comedy series] called Paths to Freedom where we played these insane people and we had to kick it off straight away.

"We had no choice," he explained. "Sometimes you have certain material where you have got no choice, you dive in and you go for it and you make it work, or you hold back and it's awful. Deirdre and I actually chose to dive in. She's a brilliant comedienne and I'm a nutcase. So, it worked really well. Acting with Deirdre, there is just an ease and a humor, a familiarity, even though we hadn't worked with each other for about seven or eight years or something. When you work really closely as actors -- that's the one good thing about us lot -- when you really bond and work closely, you can pretty much do anything. We picked up where we left off in terms of our friendship. In terms of our humor, we laughed a lot. ... Deirdre is a great acting partner."

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Co-starring Liam Cunningham, Sarah Greene, Mark Huberman and Ruth Negga, Noble is now playing in U.S. theaters.

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