Vince Vaughn is a funny guy. And a lot more besides, as TARA BRADYfound when she sat down to talk to the star about his new movie – a documentary about the history and art of Northern Ireland’s political murals
ITS A BREAKFAST-grilling 34 degrees in Georgia as Vince Vaughn leaves rehearsals for The Internship, a new comedy featuring Vaughn and fellow-Wedding Crasher Owen Wilson. They don’t call it Hot-lanta for nothing, says the 6ft 5in star. In common with most of his utterances, it has the pleasing ring of an understated, effortless quip.
Atlanta is a good deal warmer, one must admit, than Belfast, a city Vaughn and his sister Valeri have been frequenting for years.
It’s a long story.
The wise-cracking star of Swingers and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story can claim a diverse lineage with ancestral links to England, Germany, Lebanon, Italy and Ireland. But in recent years, it’s his Irish roots that have taken him on a fascinating journey, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.
“I went to Ireland with a friend of mine a few years back and just drove around, says Vaughn, who has an Irish grandfather on one side of the family and an Irish grandmother on the other. I had so much fun but I got to tell you I was so scared driving those little country roads. They’re so deadly. And then they have those black spot signs that tell you things like ‘15 people have been killed on this road this year’. Well, thank you, for putting that in my mind, when I’m already terrified.”
On one such bumpy excursion, he wound up touring Northern Ireland, and Belfast where he was “blown away” by the city’s many political murals.
“I was really moved by them,” he tells me. “Before that I wasn’t even aware that the murals existed. I know they came out of extreme conflict and represent extreme points of view. But I think they’re amazing to look at. Ever since – for years in fact – I’ve been talking about those murals to everyone. In my mind, they’re like blues music: they’re an amazing art form that comes from pain and conflict.”
Did he know much about Northern Ireland and Belfast before? “No. I was only vaguely aware of conflict in Ireland. It was something I heard about and thought ‘oh, that’s a shame’. I wasn’t particularly informed. But because I was intrigued by the art, I started to investigate the murals. And once you ask the question why did they draw this and what does it represent, you learn about something that happened on the Shankill Road 20 years ago or you learn about plastic bullets. I’m still no expert on it by any means, but I know a lot more than I used to.”
Eventually, he talked Valeri Vaughn, his big sister, into a pilgrimage to Belfast:
I brought her over and she was really fascinated by the murals too. She went to film school in London years ago and made a short that got a lot of attention at festivals. But she became a schoolteacher in South Central LA and was very passionate about it. I knew this was something that would inspire her.
And it did. So we decided we’d make a documentary about the murals and some of the muralists.
Art of Conflict, a chronicle of Belfasts murals, their meanings and their postsectarian evolution, features an impressive roll-call of artists and politicians from both sides of the Ulster conflict. The documentary – directed by Valeri and produced and narrated by Vince – has been a labour of love for the Vaughn siblings for many years. Interviewees include Gerry Adams and the late David Ervine, speaking to the film- makers shortly before his death in 2007.
“It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time,” says Vaughn. “We had so much footage and so many stories. There were so many people to track down. And you also have to structure the film in a way that explains what is happening for someone who knows nothing about this stuff.”