Interview: Actor Ray Stevenson of Kill the Irishman

Disc Dish chatted with actor Ray Stevenson — Titus Pullo himself from HBO’s Rome! — regarding his new film Kill the Irishman, the colorful crime thriller written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher). The film is based on the true story of Danny Greene, a tough Irish enforcer who worked with the Mob in Cleveland during the 1970s. Kill the Irishman is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay.

The last couple of years has seen Stevenson pop up in able supporting roles in The Book of Eli, The Other Guys and the summer blockbuster Thor. Kill the Irishman represents his first starring role since 2008’s ultra-violent Punisher: War Zone.

Disc Dish: How did Kill the Irishman come your way?

Ray Stevenson: I was shooting The Book of Eli in New Mexico when Jonathan Hensleigh called me up and told me about the story. Then I met Jonathan and he gave me the script to read. And then it hit me that four or five years earlier, I was watching a show called American Mobsters or something like that and it had a segment on Danny Greene. It wasn’t until I read the script that I remembered who he was. At the time, the movie’s title was The Irishman.

DD: But you had met Jonathan Hensleigh before, yes?

Kill the Irishman movie scene

Ray Stevenson is Danny Greene in Kill the Irishman.

RS: Jonathan’s wife Gale Anne Hurd produced The Punisher, and I had met Jonathan one night while we were doing it. He’s an interesting guy. On the surface, you meet a guy who’s a trained lawyer, but there’s a quirky artist beneath that as well. What’s funny is that Kill the Irishman came out of the blue. Gale hadn’t told me anything about it. It began with that phone call from Jonathan.

DD: It was one of many successful casting phone calls he apparently made, along with others to Christopher Walken ($5 a Day), Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Brooklyn’s Finest).

RS: It’s really a testament to the movie and the actors that nobody brought any ego or status to the film. They were all there and jazzed to do the story. It’s a true collective piece; there’s no time for messing about when it’s that kind of project. When it’s a movie like Thor, which cost $150 million, you’re an important part of the engine. With Kill the Irishnman, which had a budget of about $10 million, there’s more of a collective ownership, a collective piece of all of us in the movie.

DD: I imagine every actor wants to make a gangster film, and with Kill the Irishman, you got your opportunity to do so. Tell me about making a Mob flick about a 1970s tough guy.

RS: It’s important that you mention that, because it’s with historical hindsight that we say that he lived in that era. Danny Greene didn’t get up in the morning saying ‘I’m gonna be a Seventies guy.’ It’s such an amazing period — the last great fling of Americana, with the oversized lapels, cars and sideburns. Nothing ever got bigger. It was all larger than life! After that period, things began to get smaller, sophisticated and more hidden. You didn’t really see crime on the streets after that. I’m talking about serious mobsters. They would be out on the street, walking among us and conducting business. Back then, you would sort out your business yourself. I enjoyed that aspect of the role.

DD: There must be a dream role lying somewhere between your portrayal of a centurion in Ancient Rome and a gangster in 1970s Cleveland. What would it be?

RS: Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is the role I’d like to play. Coriolanus is my favorite play and it has so much contemporary resonance. Here’s a guy who’s literally born to lead a country but has to humble himself to others in order to do it. And then the tribunes get him lambasted. It raises so many issues that are not palatable — the idea that there are people who are too stupid to vote, all the stuff about everyone being born equal when we’re not. Fantastic stuff. I’ve seen it on stage so many times, and I’d love to do the role. If it’s meant to be, it will happen. And if it doesn’t, I can always enjoy reading it again and again.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.