Domhnall Gleeson’s character in HBO’s Run is far more complex than you’d think at first glance. In retrospect, that sounds about right for an actor who has managed to glide through mainstream Hollywood franchises (Star Wars, Harry Potter), more cerebral, indie fare (Ex Machina), and sweeping epics (Anna Karenina, The Revenant) with the same level of aplomb, like it’s no difficult feat. In Run, he stars as Billy, one half of a pair of college exes, who previously made a pact that a text from one of them was an invitation to abandon their lives and run away for a cross-country trip together. That seems like the worst romantic idea in the universe, yes? Well, Gleeson and Merritt Wever (as Ruby) pull off this romantic-comedy-thriller series and do so with feeling.
Oh, so many feelings, both positive and negative and everything in between those two opposites. The series hails from creative-dynamic duo, Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as a followup upon their Fleabag and Killing Eve success. The show is full of complex characters who must navigate their own flaws while searching for fulfillment, and Domhnall’s Billy is no exception. Gleeson was gracious enough to sit down with us to discuss our own bizarre times and the strange journey of his Run character, along with scattered other moments of his acting career.
Domhnall, I hope you are well. Your name is so difficult for Americans to pronounce, but I worked on it.
It is a tricky one. I’m doing good though, how are you?
Pretty good, considering these surreal times.
I know, it’s so weird to start these conversations now, and it feels like the new version of “hello” is “Jesus Christ, I hope you’re okay, for Christ’s sake.”
Yes, and it’s great to talk about shows that have elements of comedy to get us through this time.
I know, that’s where I’m going to. It’s either, like, comedies, or else full-on documentaries about death. Anything in the middle feels like a waste of time. It’s either total escapism, or try to understand these bizarre times.
With Run, you’re returning to a romantic-type role. Your first such role was in Anna Karenina, and you hadn’t considered yourself for that kind of character when Joe Wright cast you, but have you eased into it more now?
Right. That was certainly true at the time. But I think in the way that you aren’t sure that you can do certain accents or not, the only way is to try at 100%, and I adored the work on Anna Karenina, working with Alicia [Vikander] and with Joe, that kind of love story. I had the same sort-of experience on About Time, a very beautiful experience of concentrating on love for a whole job. It’s such a pleasant place to put yourself. It’s a positive way of thinking. On Run, I guess it was slightly different because I think they love each other, those two people, but their circumstances are stretched in a very different way. And there’s much more deception going on in Run. So it’s a different experience between these love stories, I think, but I enjoyed it.
Well, Billy seems to be a simple character at first, but we find out, slowly, how complex his life is, along with that of Ruby. What appealed to you most about him?
Well, he seems to be in love. He seems to be a bit of a liar, and he seems to be a weird mix of controlling and very eager to please. And he was on a journey, like, I didn’t know what was going to happen to him next. I didn’t know how his story would end, and I thought that was a very good thing in terms of wondering where this guy could go, and what I could discover. Most of all, I thought that he was in love, and he was changing his life to try and chase this, or so we think. Or we hope. And I found that very appealing.
I was wondering how much you knew going in. I’ve seen through episode 5, so it had turned into a bit of a caper at that point. Do you think Billy will be judged for texting Ruby?
Oh, that’s hard to say without seeing all seven episodes. I think there’s more of that story to tell. I hope that [people] find him to be complicated, and I hope that he’s not just definitely the person that you want to run away with or definitely the person that you want to avoid in your life. Because I think different people view each other in different ways. That’s part of what the whole thing is about, and sometimes your flaws match up well with somebody else’s strengths. Sometimes they match up terribly with somebody else’s flaws, and I don’t know, I think that without giving anything away, I think on Billy’s side of things, there’s a lot about his relationship with Ruby that would work for both of them, you know? Circumstances are everything. That’s something you normally don’t see in a whole story. Normally, circumstances are there to cut paths, and certain circumstances are a little trickier than that. And real life throws things in the way that are sometimes unassailable, and I think they find themselves in moments like that. I haven’t been talking about the show for very long, so my thoughts are still being formed, and I know we haven’t got much time, so I’m sorry about that.
Oh you’re good, I know that the script was so layered, and Vicky Jones parceled out bits of information on a need-to-know basis, so viewers are going to also work hard to solidify it in their own minds over time.
Yeah, hopefully. And hopefully, it also builds to a sort-of ending that is satisfying. I mean, hopefully, by the time that people have seen episode seven, they feel like a real story has been told. You know, I would like that.
What do you think of this question: “Should you text your ex?”
I think that would be the perfect Twitter conversation to have, but every situation is so different. I think that Billy is well within his rights to text Ruby because they made a deal.
And that’s very much a thing in this show.
I think that with a deal, you’re within your rights to ask, and the other person is within their rights to say no.
I was not clear, but it seemed like one party had instigated that pact. We’re not supposed to know for a while?
Yeah, I think once you see the whole thing, it might be worth another conversation. Because I think it’s complicated, the story of who texted and why, is complicated enough without being overly complicated. I mean, it’s the right amount of stuff going on with that element of that story, and I think that there are layers to that, which I think are interesting and worth talking about. So yeah, that’s something you’ve definitely got to watch to the end to find out.
What was it like to shoot in those tight confines on the train? It looked potentially claustrophobic.
There were elements of it that were rough because it played with your sense of balance because they had these big screens that were connected remotely to the camera, and depending on where the camera moved, the moving images would change perspectives, to make sense for the camera’s eye. It was all quite new technology. The problem with that is that your eye is not connected to the camera’s eye, your eye is just seeing the screen change perspective while moving. And then the train itself is moving from side to side. It was shot inside the studio, and that really makes you want to puke. So, that was not great, but I actually love trains, and I love kind-of smaller spaces.
There are also wonderful little moments in this show, like when Billy pretends to read Ruby’s palm. Was that all-scripted or slightly improvised?
I don’t think so, I think they left in a word here and there, but there were no sweeping changes from the script. The script was already drawn. So, sometimes there would be things that I’m doing in my acting, but I can’t remember how much of any of that was left in, and probably I imagine that all of it was scripted or what was agreed upon on that day, and depending on whether what was scripted was coming across or not.
We’ve gotta talk about Ex Machina for a minute. I recently talked to Alex Garland about the movie, but with you, I’m wondering how people bring up that “Get Down Saturday Night” dance scene to you.
Not often, surprisingly! My character’s role in that was representing the audience, and they probably ask Oscar [Isaac] all the time.
I often find myself often saying, “After a long day of Turing tests, you gotta unwind.” And then your puzzled face pops into my head.
[Laughs] Well, I’m proud to be a part of whatever madness is going on in your noggin! Yeah, it’s funny though, I hear that Alex’s new show is amazing. I haven’t seen Devs yet. I’m looking forward to it very much.
Before we go, I wanted to mention that my daughter is a huge Star Wars fan.
But your resumé is so diverse that when I mentioned your name, she started shouting about Bill Weasley.
Well, tell her that Bill Weasley said hello from Ireland!
Stay safe over there. Everything is so wild right now with even Peter Rabbit 2 delayed.
Yes, but that’s okay, It’s delayed until January. It’s already done. We lucked out there, and we’ll wait until January.
We will through all of this, as humanity.
Yes, we’ll get back to cinemas. I can’t wait!
HBO’s ‘Run’ premieres on Sunday, April 12 at 10:30pm EST.