Stephen Rea seems to have a knack for choosing truly fascinating projects: from The Crying Game to Flesh and Blood, he never seems to pick a role that is boring. His resume speaks to this knack, spilling over with horror, fantasy and intrigue — not to mention some pretty incredible writers and directors.
Perhaps this propensity for the peculiar comes from Rea’s upbringing. Born in Belfast to a protestant father and an atheist mother, Rea aligned politically with the IRA: a progressive socialist, he believes in a United Ireland. Though the Northern Irieland Conflict didn’t start until Rea was already an adult, they still made a lasting impact on his life.
Naturally, we couldn’t help but learn more about him:
1. While you might best know Rea from his academy-award winning role as Fergus in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, he’s actually appeared in 11 (almost half!) of Jordan’s films: Angel, The Company of Wolves, The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, In Dreams, The End of The Affair, Breakfast on Pluto, Ondine, and Greta.
2. While the two sides of the Northern Ireland conflict are often thought of as Protestant and Catholic, it was actually not strictly split along religious lines — and, as a protestant socialist, Rea is the perfect example of this. In fact, his wife for close to twenty years was the IRA volunteer Dolours Prise, known for her participation in the car bombing of the Old Bailey courthouse and her subsequent hunger strike while in prison — though in later years, she became a critic of Sinn Féin.
3. Rea’s involvement with The Troubles doesn’t end with his personal life, however; many of the roles he’s taken on stage and screen involve the conflict. One of most unusual, however, was as the speaking voice of Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin. From 1988 to 1994, British television had restrictions imposed on them by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, preventing them from broadcasting the voices of members of Sinn Féin and other republican groups — and that’s where Rea stepped in.
4. Rea’s career isn't limited to the big and small screens. He's also well-known for his work on stage. In the late 1970s, he was part of Focus Theatre company, along with Gabriel Byrne and Colm Meaney. and in 1980, he founded the Field Day Theatre Company with playwright Brian Friel. He even worked with Samuel Beckett on a 1976 staging of Endgame, although Rea admits he was too intimidated to befriend the writer.
5. Irish and English Radio has also seen appearances from Rea. In 2012 he appeared on Raidió Teilifís Éireann to read The Dead from James Joyce’s Dubliners for their program Book on One. He also featured as the narrator in a production of Joyce’s Ulysses on BBC Radio 4 for 2012’s Bloomsday. Named for the protagonist of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, Bloomsday takes place on June 16th, the day on which the book also takes place.
If you want to watch Rea in action, you can check him out right here on GBH in Dickensianand Masterpiece’s Flesh and Blood, both streaming on Passport.