Cyril Cusack - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: Irish. Born: Cyril James Cusack in Durban, South Africa, 26 November 1910. Education: Attended Dominican College, Newburgh, Ireland; University College, Dublin. Family: Married 1) Mary Margaret Kiely, 1945 (died in the 1970s), sons: Paul and Padraig, daughters: the actresses Sinead, Sorcha, Niamh, and Catherine; 2) Mary. Career: 1916—stage debut as Little Willie Carlyle in East Lynne ; 1918—film debut as Young O'Brien in Knocknagow ; acted on stage during childhood in family touring company (with mother Alice Violet [Cole] and stepfather Brefni O'Rourke); 1928–32—member of Norwich Repertory Co., Norfolk, England; 1932–35—member, Abbey Theatre, Dublin (also acted in many Abbey Theatre productions during lifetime); 1935—began appearing in films regularly; 1935–36—producer of the Gaelic Players; 1936—London stage debut as Richard in Ah, Wilderness ; 1942—production of his play in Gaelic Tar eis an aifrinn ( After Mass ); 1944—manager of the Gaiety Theatre; 1944–61—managing director of Cyril Cusack Productions; 1948—began appearing in television plays regularly; 1957—Broadway debut as Phil Hogan in A Moon for the Misbegotten ; 1961—in TV mini-series The Power and the Glory ; 1966—associate and stockholder of the National Theatre, Dublin; 1972—in TV miniseries The Golden Bowl , as narrator, and in Jesus of Nazareth , 1977; 1990—appeared with his three daughters, Sinead, Sorcha, and Niamh in the London stage production of The Three Sisters . Awards: English Tatler Radio Critics Award, for The Dark Tower , 1954; Sylvania Television Citation, for The Moon and Sixpence , 1959; International Critics Award, for Arms and the Man and Krapp's Last Tape , 1961; Best Actor, Irish Television Critics' Award, 1963; Honorary LL.D, Honoris Causa, National University of Ireland, 1977; Honorary Degree, Litt., University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, 1982. Died: In London, 7 October 1993.

Films as Actor:


Knocknagow ( Homes of Tipperary ) (O'Donovan) (as Young O'Brien)


Guests of the Nation (Johnston); Late Extra (Albert Parker) (as Jules); The Man without a Face (G. King) (as Billy Desmond)


Servants All (Bryce) (as Billy)


The Shadow of the Glen (for TV)


Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It ( Mail Train ) (Forde); Once a Crook (Mason) (as Bill Hopkins)


Odd Man Out ( Gang War ) (Reed) (as Pat)


Esther Waters (Dalrymple) (as Fred Parsons); Escape (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Rogers); Once a Jolly Swagman ( Maniacs on Wheels ) (Jack Lee and McNaughton) (as Duggie Lewis); Highland Fling (for TV); Ship Day


The Small Back Room ( Hour of Glory ) (Powell and Pressburger) (as Cpl. Taylor); The Blue Lagoon (Launder) (as James Carter); All over the Town (Twist) (as Gerald Vane); Christopher Columbus (McDonald); The Sensible Man (for TV)

Cyril Cusack (right) with Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal
Cyril Cusack (right) with Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal


Gone to Earth (Powell) (as Edward Marston); The Wild Heart (Powell and Pressburger—revised version of Gone to Earth , shortened); The Elusive Pimpernel ( The Fighting Pimpernel ) (Powell and Pressburger) (as Chauvelin); W. B. Yeats—A Tribute (Fleischmann—doc) (as narrator, with others)


The Blue Veil (Bernhardt) (as Frank Hutchins); The Secret of Convict Lake (Michael Gordon) (as Limey); Soldiers Three (Garnett) (as Pvt. Dennis Malloy)


Oedipus Complex (for TV)


Destination Milan (Huntington) (as Paddy O'Clafferty); The Last Moment (Comfort) (as Daniel O'Driscoll); Saadia (Lewin) (as Khadir)


Passage Home (Roy Ward Baker) (as Bohannon); The Thoroughbred (Huth—for TV)


Jacqueline (Roy Ward Baker) (as Mr. Flannagan); The Man in the Road (Comfort) (as Dr. Kelly); The Man Who Never Was (Neame) (as taxi driver); The March Hare ( Gamblers Sometimes Win ) (O'Ferrall) (as Lazy Mangan); The Spanish Gardener (Leacock) (as Garcia); Deidre (for TV)


Ill Met by Moonlight ( Night Ambush ) (Powell and Pressburger) (as Sandy); Miracle in Soho (Aymes) (as Sam Bishop); "The Majesty of the Law" ep. of The Rising of the Moon (Ford) (as Inspector Michael Dillon); The Moon and Sixpence (Mulligan—for TV) (as Dr. Coutras)


Cradle of Genius (Rotha—doc) (as himself)


Floods of Fear (Charles Crichton) (as Peebles); Gideon's Day ( Gideon of Scotland Yard ) (Ford) (as Herbert "Birdy" Sparrow); Shake Hands with the Devil (Anderson) (as Chris Noonan); The Enchanted (for TV); What Every Woman Knows (Mulligan—for TV)


Johnny Nobody (Patrick—released in U.S. in 1965) (as Prosecuting Counsel); Once upon a Tram (Sarsfield and Maguire—doc) (as narrator); A Terrible Beauty ( The Night Fighters ) (Garnett) (as Jimmy Hannafin)


I Thank a Fool (Stevens) (as Capt. Ferris); Waltz of the Toreadors ( The Amorous General ) (Guillermin) (as Dr. Grogan); The Chairs (for TV); Don Juan in Hell (for TV); The Dummy (for TV); The Lotus Eater (for TV); The Wedding Dress (for TV)


80,000 Suspects (Guest) (as Father Maguire); Accidental Death (for TV); In the Train (for TV); Krapp's Last Tape (for TV) (as Krapp); Tryptych (for TV); The Workhouse Ward (for TV) (as Michael McInerney)


The Big Toe (for TV) (as Petley; Murder in the Cathedral (Foa—for TV) (as Thomas à Becket); Six Characters in Search of an Author (for TV) (as the father)


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Ritt) (as Control); Passage to India (Hussein—for TV); Where the Spies Are ( Passport to Oblivion ; One Spy Too Many ) (Guest) (as Peter Rosser); I Was Happy Here ( Time Lost and Time Remembered ; Passage of Love ) (Desmond Davis) (as Hogan)


Fahrenheit 451 (Truffaut) (as Captain)


Jonathan Swift (Hickey—doc) (as narrator, with others); The Taming of the Shrew ( La Bisbetica Domata ) (Zeffirelli) (as Grumio); Dial M for Murder (Moxey—for TV) (as Inspector Hubbard); Oedipus the King ( Oedipus Rex ) (Saville) (as Messenger)


Galileo (Cavani) (title role); Stage Irishman (Hickey—doc) (as himself)


Country Dance ( Brotherly Love ) (J. Lee Thompson) (as Dr. Maitland)


David Copperfield (Delbert Mann—for TV) (as Barkis)


Harold and Maude (Ashby) (as sculptor); King Lear (Peter Brook) (as Duke of Albany); Sacco e Vanzetti ( Sacco and Vanzetti ) (Montaldo) (as Frederick Katzmann); Tam Lin ( The Devil's Widow ) (McDowall) (as Vicar Julian Ainsley)


La polizia ringrazia ( From the Police, with Thanks ; The Law Enforcers ; Execution Squad ) (Steno) (as Stolfi); Piu forte ragazzi! ( All the Way, Boys ) (Colizzi) (as Matto); Clochmerle (Mills—for TV); The Hands of Cormac Joyce (Cook—for TV) (as Mr. Reese)


The Day of the Jackal (Zinnemann) (as Gozzi the gunsmith); The Homecoming (Hall) (as Sam); La "mala" ordina ( Manhunt ; Manhunt in Milan ; The Italian Connection ) (Di Leo) (as Corso); Tristan et Iseult ( Tristan and Isolde ) (Legrange); Catholics, a Fable for the Future (Gold—for TV) (as Father Manus); The Reunion (for TV)


The Abdication (Harvey) (as Chancellor Oxenstierna); Arrivano Joe e Margherito ( Joe y Margherito ; Run, Run, Joe ) (Colizzi); Juggernaut (Lester) (as Maj. O'Neill); Venditore di palloncini ( The Last Circus Show ; The Balloon Vendor ; Last Moments ) (Gariazzo) (as balloon vender); The Good and Faithful Servant (for TV)


Children of Rage (Arthur Alan Seidelman) (as David's father); Crystal and Fox (for TV)


Lo mano spietata della legge ( The Bloody Hands of the Law ; Execution Squad ) (Gariazzo); Paura in città ( Hot Stuff ; Fear in the City ; Street War ) (Rosati); Portrait of a Library (Hickey—doc) (as narrator)


Les Misérables (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Fauchelevent); Cry of the Innocent (O'Herlihy—for TV)


Poitin ( Poteen ) (Quinn) (as a poteen maker); Love Spell ( Tristan and Isolt ) (Donovan) (as Gorman of Ireland); The Hitchhiker (Reid—for TV)


Cry of the Innocent (O'Herlihy) (as Detective Inspector Tom Moloney); Strumpet City (for TV)


True Confessions (Grosbard) (as Cardinal Danaher); Andrina (Forsyth—for TV) (as retired sea captain); No Country for Old Men (Powell—for TV)


The Ballroom of Romance (O'Connor—for TV) (as Mr. Dwyer); The Ghost Downstairs ( The Neighbour Downstairs ) (Gosling—for TV); The Plough and the Stars (for TV); The Search for Shaw (Cash—doc for TV) (as the voice of Bernard Shaw)


Don Camillo (Hill); Comedy of Errors (James Cellan Jones—for TV) (as Aegeon); Death of an Expert Witness (Wise—for TV) (as Mr. Lorrimer); One of Ourselves (O'Connor—for TV) (as Quigley); Wagner (Tony Palmer—for TV) (as Sulzer); The Kingfisher (James Cellan Jones—for TV)


1984 (Radford) (as Charrington); At the Cinema Palace— Liam O'Leary (Taylor—doc) (as himself); 2 x Forsyth (No Comebacks): A Careful Man (O'Herlihy—for TV) (as Martin Pound); Dr. Fischer of Geneva (Lindsay-Hogg—for TV) (as Steiner); Introduction to English Poetry, 1384-Present (doc for TV) (poetry read by Cusack and others); Rainy Day Women (Bolt—for TV) (as Reed); Restoration and Augustan Poetry (Mervyn—doc for TV) (poetry read by Cusack and others)


The Theban Plays: Oedipus the King (Don Taylor—for TV) (as the priest)


Little Dorrit (Part I: Nobody's Fault and Part II: Little Dorrit's Story ) (Edzard) (as Frederick Dorrit); Cusack by Cusack (doc for TV)


Menace Unseen (for TV); The Tenth Man (Gold—for TV) (as the parish priest)


My Left Foot (Sheridan) (as Lord Castlewelland); Danny, the Champion of the World (Millar—for TV) (as Doc Spencer)


The Fool (Edzard) (as the Ballad Seller)


The Company: Inigo and His Jesuits (Fenton) (as host)


Far and Away (Ron Howard) (as Danty Duff); As You Like It (Edzard) (as Adam); Memento Mori (Clayton and Hubbard—for TV) (as the poet Percy Mannering)


Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Paris, May 1919 (Hare—for TV) (as Georges Clemenceau)


By CUSACK: books—

Timepieces (verse), Dublin, 1970.

Tar eis an aifrinn: drama aonghnimh , Baile Atha Cliath, 1989.

Between the Acts and Other Poems , Gerrards Cross, England, 1990.

By CUSACK: articles—

Focus (London), March 1953.

Interview with Elliot Norton, in Boston Record , 14 May 1957.

"A Player's Reflections on Playboy ," in Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Playboy of the Western World , A Collection of Critical Essays , edited by Thomas R. Whitaker, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1969.

"Cusack: Every Week a Different School," in Flight from the Celtic Twilight , by Des Hickey and Gus Smith, Indianapolis, 1973.

"That Angelic Devilment," interview with Clive Hodgson, in Radio Times (London), 19–25 November 1983.

"The Ideal Theater of Playwright and Player," in Irish Traditions , edited by Kathleen Jo Ryan and Bernard Share, New York, 1985.

"Interview with Cyril Cusack," in World Cinema 4: Ireland , by Brian McIlroy, Trowbridge, England, 1988.

"A Childhood: Cyril Cusack Talks to Paddy Burt: 'I'm a Listener, Not a Talker,"' in Times (London), 28 July 1990.

On CUSACK: articles—

Today's Cinema , 11 March 1953.

Thomson, David, "Featuring . . . Cyril Cusack," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1989.

Obituary in Irish Independent (Dublin), 8 October 1993.

Obituary in New York Times , 8 October 1993.

Obituary in Times (London), 8 October 1993.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 18 October 1993.

* * *

In a life of almost 83 years Cyril Cusack spent 77 of those years active in the theater, film, radio, television, recordings, and publishing, with well over 100 theatrical productions, 90 films, and 75 television productions to his credit.

After his birth in Durban, Natal, South Africa, his actress mother brought him to Ireland at any early age. He was a devoted Irishman—as actor and nationalist—and in many ways his theatrical and film work reflects this. In an incident recounted in Cinema and Ireland (1988), Cusack and a group of fellow actors and students, offended by what they considered to be a stereotypical depiction of the Irish shouted down a screening of the American film Smiling Irish Eyes (1929) in a Dublin theater. He was fluent in the Irish language, sent his children to Irish language schools, and wrote a play in Gaelic, Tar eis an aifrinn , which was staged in 1942. At the age of eight he was cast in the early silent Irish film Knocknagow which dealt with the Irish famine. In 1979 he starred as a poteen maker in Poitin ( Poteen ), which is considered the first Irish feature film in Gaelic. Many of the films in which he appeared are about the Irish fight for independence: Guests of the Nation , Odd Man Out , The Rising of the Moon , and Shake Hands with the Devil .

He often said that his movie career supported his primary interest of mounting theatrical productions. While long associated with the Abbey Theatre he also ran his own company, Cyril Cusack Productions. His theatrical contributions included the major Irish figures of the stage from Boucicault to Beckett. His favorite roles included The Covey in O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars and Christy Mahon in Synge's The Playboy of the Western World . The full extent of his abilities as a stage actor are not always captured on film. But his long association with Caedmon Records provides one with an opportunity to at least hear him in some of his important Shakespearean and Irish roles, and the plays of Genet and Ionesco. (He also recorded the poetry and writings of Hopkins, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett). One of Cusack's proudest moments was the production of The Three Sisters (Royal Court Theatre, London, 1990) in which he acted with his three actress daughters, who through their active stage and screen careers have extended the Cusack acting dynasty into its fourth generation.

While Cusack's film career has included some major roles: Chauvelin in The Elusive Pimpernel , the title role in Galileo , and as Frederick Katzmann in Sacco and Vanzetti , virtually his whole body of film work has been devoted to the portrayal of character roles. In a way this is a pity, because Cusack was a major actor, of great talent, who had honed his craft through long years of experience. (He had great confidence in his acting abilities and did not particularly appreciate directors who wanted to tell him how to act the parts.) On the other hand one has the opportunity of experiencing this great talent in relatively short, concentrated scenes. Some of these are gems of acting skill. The two short scenes as Control with Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold underline the subtlety of his acting. In the theme and plot of this wonderfully complex film, his role is extremely important to the action. There is subtlety of interpretation, an almost "minimalist" approach of expression, movement, speech, and body language that projects the depth of character. Here is Cusack as a prissy, meticulous, almost insufferable bore, irritated because the "office girl" did not warm the teapot. He was able to project an exterior of extreme propriety, a person meticulously dressed, while underneath it there is a ruthless schemer. Other movies in which this ability to flesh out the role of a minor character who often has an impact on the plot of the film are: Odd Man Out , The Passage Home , Fahrenheit 451 , Day of the Jackal , Juggernaut , True Confessions , "A Careful Man" sequence in 2 x Forsyth , and The Tenth Man .

—Allen Cohen

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