Jim Sheridan is an intense man. His thoughts shift easily from the death of William Shakespeare’s son and the meaning of “Hamlet” to James Joyce’s obsession with death to the merits of schlepping a third-hand air conditioner through the streets of Manhattan on a very hot day, as seen in his Oscar-nominated film “In America.”
Sitting in a garden restaurant on a mild and sunny Los Angeles afternoon, Sheridan joins U2’s Bono, songwriter and performer Gavin Friday, composer Maurice Seezer and singer Andrea Corr to toast the success of “In America.” The original song “Time Enough for Tears” was written for the film by Bono, Sheridan, Friday and Seezer and performed by Corr. And even though the song failed to take home a Golden Globe and was shut out of the Oscar nominations, the group is thrilled by the film’s three Oscar mentions — for leading actress Samantha Morton, supporting actor Djimon Hounsou and original screenplay by Sheridan and his daughters Naomi and Kirsten.
Bono says it’s important that smaller films and nonradio-friendly songs like the delicate “Time Enough for Tears” receive attention. “These are gems that people need to know about, otherwise they’ll fall into the dirt,” Bono says.
Sheridan, Friday and Bono have a long history of supporting each other creatively. The trio’s friendship dates to the late 1970s, when Sheridan ran Dublin’s alternative theater, the Project Art Center, where Bono (with U2) and Friday (with the Virgin Prunes) performed their first gigs. Friday says that Sheridan, in an effort to improve his and Bono’s stage personas, instructed the two frontmen in the art of mime. The trio and Seezer first worked together on the score and an original song for Sheridan’s award-winning 1993 film “In the Name of the Father.”
“In America,” which follows an Irish family who emigrates to the United States in search of the American dream, comes at a strange political time, given the anti-American sentiment raging through Europe because of the Iraq war. Bono noted that being shut out of the Golden Globes, which is voted on by the international press corps, was not surprising, and he hopes that the film will fare better in American awards.
“The film takes an unpopular position because it’s pro-American and pro-working people,” Bono says.
Echoes of Sheridan's lifeFor Sheridan, the semiautobiographical film also is about dealing with loss. In the picture, the family comes to terms with the premature death of son and brother Frankie. In real life, Sheridan was 18 when he lost his brother Frankie, who was 11, to a brain tumor. Sheridan says he and his family were haunted by Frankie’s death; writing the film with his daughters (who moved with him and his wife to New York City in the early 1980s) was cathartic.
“The Irish have too much of a preoccupation with death,” Sheridan says. “This film is about (all of us) moving away from this fascination.”
Bono smiles and nods in a agreement, “It’s the (Irish) rain that makes us melancholic.”
However, while the Irish enjoy their suffering, they balance it with a good party, Seezer says.
The score to the film reflects this spirit. In fact, Sheridan’s direction to Friday and Seezer was to “make fun of the film” and incorporate the true sounds of Irish immigrant music. The result is purely Irish, with the music adding bittersweet levity to devastating emotion.
In many ways, “In America” is a love letter to New York and its boundless possibilities. Sheridan smiles: “Sorry, I love America.”