By Robert McMillen
It is two years since Tom Berenger did publicity for a film, so Belfast is doubly lucky
in being able to welcome the Hollywood star. He talks exclusively to Robert McMillen about his
You dont have to be Nostradamus to predict that there wont be a dry eye in the Cineplex in
the Kennedy Centre next Monday as the new Tom Berenger movie One Mans Hero
gets its world premiere as part of the West Belfast Feile.
The film tells the poignant story of Los San Patricios (the St. Patricks Battalion) a group of Irish
soldiers who deserted the US army and fought for Mexico against their adopted country in the
war of 1846/8.
Berenger, star of The Field, Platoon, and The Big Chill among others, plays John Riley,
a Galwayman and drillmaster at the famous US Army training college at West Point for 20
years. Riley and the Irish soldiers under his command suffered intolerable bigotry and inhuman
abuse from other officers because of their religion and nationality.
They joined the Mexicans and Riley was wounded by anti-government guerrillas inside Mexico.
He was nurtured back to health by the beautiful guerrilla fighter Marta, played by singer and
actress Daniela Romo.
Riley, his men and the guerrillas end up joining the Mexican forces and fight for a common
The San Patricios are valiant combatants, fighting under the green flag of Ireland, but are
eventually defeated by the Americans. In the final heart-wrenching scenes Riley is branded and
forced to watch his men hang.
It is true to say that movie people are not exactly beating a path to Belfast for world premieres
of their films, which makes the visit of Tom Berenger and the director of One Mans
Hero Lance Hool even more exciting for a city starved of big profile visitors.
We just got invited, says Tom, speaking from his Maryland home. We are coming over to do
the show first of all in Belfast and then we travel to Dublin for a show on August 4.
The story of Los San Patricios has been a labour of love for the Chicago-born actor but it has
had the gestation period of an elephant. Berenger first heard about the story about
1986 when he was working in New York City.
Another actor I was working with showed me the story and I was intrigued because I hadnt
heard the story of the San Praticios before, recalls Berenger .
I am a bit of a history buff myself, and since then Ive become a little bit obsessed by the story.
The script has been around for well-nigh 20 years. The original screenplay was found by John
Houston who re-wrote the love story and then Sam Peckinpah rewrote some of the battle
scenes and for years after, Houston was trying to do it and Peckinpah was trying to do it -
Houston even asked Charlton Heston and Paul Newman, but I really dont know why it has
taken so long to get it on screen.
It is a little bit anti-American and so if your are doing it as an American studio picture they tend
to get a little nervous.
Getting funding for the film was a nightmare for film company Silver Lion.
Houston couldnt do it, Peckinpah couldnt do it - but Ill tell you something, for three years it
was the hardest thing that I ever did. It took years of my life.
Berenger says that the film does not take many liberties with history to make One
Those, including John Riley, who deserted before the declaration of war and swam across the
Rio Grande were treated as merely deserters, so those 10 or 11 were whipped and branded
with a D, the customary punishment for deserting the regular army back then.
All the others who were left maybe 80 or 90 out of the original 320 in the Batallion 70 odd
were hung as traitors.
What could be licence is the love story it may or may not have happened but I certainly thought
this was the kind of historical movie that you could have a love story in.
Berenger was born in Chicago in 1950 as Thomas Michael Moore, the son of a
printer with the Chicago Sun Times who later became a salesman.
Needless to say there is an Irish connection.
My great grandfather came over to Chicago and became what else? a cop, a precinct captain
in Chicago. My grandmother during the depression, when it was very hard for people to get
work, got a job in the Chicago police department because her best friend at school was Mayor
Dalys wife, and as you know Mayor Daly was the dictator of Chicago for a long, long time.
Tom Moore became Tom Berenger simply because there was another actor and
producer called Tom Moore who was a member of Equity, and Tom chose the name Berenger after a school friend.
While at college Tom excelled at sports and originally wanted to be a sports journalist.
However, fate in the form of a bet with a school pal, stepped in and completely changed his life.
I just had a bet with a room-mate at college where I had to apply for a part in a play and I got
It was only a four-character play Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf but it lasted for four hours
and that kind of did it. I said to myself I want to be an actor, Im not playing football any more
but it just started as a bet.
It wasnt undoubtedly the reaction of the audience that caused Berengers change of heart.
We had a number of standing ovations and on one occasion the audience were so stunned,
there was no applause at all. Every night was standing-room only and we got no applause. The
director said that is the biggest compliment you will ever get.
(It happened one other time in a play Tom did with Kevin Spacey.)
Since his first appearance as Tim Siegel in the TV series One Life to Live, aired in 1975/6
Berenger has made 47 films for the cinema and for television, but how does he look back
on his body of work?
When he is in Ireland he plans to visit as many places as he can he wants to visit the Glens of
Antrim and would easily live there if he could.
With such a high profile actor finally arriving on our doorstep no doubt hell be getting a warm