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SHY GUY IN THE driving seat

Colm Meaney is late. The girl from the film company is in something of a tizzy. Having flown into Dublin last night specifically for a handful of interviews this morning, Colm has gone AWOL. "We have eight different people trying to track him down," says Nell from Element Pictures, as we begin looking at a later time, if not a later date.

And then, suddenly, there's Colm, shaking hands, laughing loud, and opening the window to clear out this stuffy room. Heavy traffic and Dublin's new one-way systems apparently are the culprits for the tardiness.

We're here to talk about Parked, director Darragh Byrne's feature debut, and Meaney's 61st movie, a low-budget Irish outing that sees the 58-year old Barrytown Trilogy actor taking on the lead role of Fred Daly, a homecoming Dub falling on hard times and forced to live in his car. A few parking spaces away is young Cahill (Colin Morgan), who's one of those good drug dealers, who gets into serious debt with some bad drug dealers.



Subdued

Fred Daly is a quiet man, verging on mute for much of the film, as he systematically sets out to rebuild his life.

It's not your typical Colm Meaney role, in other words. We're far from the wise-cracking Miles O'Brien in so many Star Trek TV outings (Meaney's the only actor to appear in 14 different seasons of the sci-fi franchise), the brutish Don Revie in The Damned United, the bullish Joe Mullan in the Irish language feature Kings, or the partied-out Jonathan Snow in Get Him To The Greek.

"Apart from it being a good script and a good character," says Meaney, "the main attraction to Parked was, simply, I hadn't played something like this before. I tend to go for the big stuff, the big characters, and I knew this had to be a very subdued performance, a very internalised performance, and I said this to Darragh at the beginning, 'You've really got to sit on me here'. I know my own instincts, and I tend to go bigger, you know."

It's a film that's been seen by some here as a fable for our times, a jetsetting businessman reduced to living a seaside parking lot. Meaney doesn't quite see it that way though.

"I was talking to Darragh about this, and it's certainly not something that we had intended," he explains. "This allegory of what's been happening in Ireland over the last three or four years. Of course, there are echoes there, and we don't want to shy away from that, but it's very much a work of fiction. It's very much a relationship film, that's the way he approached it."

Dublin-born Meaney knew early on that he was always going to be a character actor. He was never going to play the quarterback who got the girl. And that suited him just fine. As Parked proves, here's an actor who looks entirely comfortable in a duffel coat.



Freedom

"I bring my own at this stage," he quips. "From the get-go, I was always a character actor, and that didn't bother me. As it went on, I was very glad about it. I remember working with Michael Gough, a great English actor, on Broadway, and he gave a wonderful interview, talking about how being a character actor was the best job in the world because he had all this freedom to play all these interesting characters but you never had that awful responsibility of having to carry a show. That suits me just fine."

There seems little chance of this almost-pensionable actor slowing down any time soon. Meaney has seven movies completed and heading our way, including the Terry George-directed, Belfast-set Whole Lotta Soul.

"I'm a firm believer now in enjoying the moment," Meaney finishes. "Of being in the moment. As I went into my fifties, a switch went, and it's not about being secure in your work, or whatever, but it's about the doing of it."

Parked is out now in Irish cinemas