By Tom Deignan
Irish actor James Nesbitt stars in a new Northern Ireland crime thriller called Bloodlands, which begins streaming this week on AcornTV.
Nesbitt – whose credits also include Bloody Sunday, The Hobbit trilogy, Danny Boyle’s Millions, and Waking Ned Devine – spoke to Irish America on Zoom this week, about the new show, his accomplished career, and the love he has for his native Northern Ireland.
“I didn’t investigate the history of where I came from (at first),” Nesbitt said of growing up in early 1970s Antrim, the son of a school headmaster.
“I was so fed up with the world thinking I came from a place of conflict.”
That began to change, Nesbitt said, “when I went to drama school in London, and I was treated like every other Irishman – as just a Paddy.”
He added: “Bloody Sunday is what taught me about why I love acting – and why I love where I come from. And as (director) Paul Greengras said at the time, if it can be a pebble in the wall of peace, then we will have achieved something.”
Next January actually marks the 20th anniversary of the world premiere of that landmark film at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
For Nesbitt, Bloody Sunday was the culmination of months of research and preparation, which included talking to victims’ families, survivors, and ultimately becoming part of Irish history.
“It really, for the first time, made me examine where I come from.”
About his new show Bloodlands, which brings Nesbitt back to the North, the Ballymena native said: “There were so many reasons why I wanted to do (this show).”
First and foremost, it gave Nesbitt an opportunity “to show Northern Ireland in this new context … of protecting the peace that is there, but also (seeking) justice for past crimes.”
Bloodlands is also “an opportunity for the world to see some of the beauty of Northern Ireland,” adds Nesbitt, whose advocacy for Northern Ireland also led him to spend the past several years serving as Chancellor of Ulster University.
During our wide-ranging chat, Nesbitt also told Irish America how he stayed sane during the pandemic, what he hopes to do next time he gets to America, and whether or not his work on behalf of Irish arts and culture might lead to a run for public office in the future.
In the meantime, Nesbitt is staying busy shooting a new British-set crime drama for Netflix, which also stars Cush Jumbo (The Good Wife), Richard Armitage and Eddie Izzard.
Entitled Stay Close, the series is based on Harlan Coban’s novel of the same name and should be released later this year or early next.