First Encounters: Michael Colgan and Doug Hughes

‘He’s got an ego but it’s an adjustable ego’

 Michael Colgan and Doug Hughes: “He’s sort of like a brother.”

Michael Colgan and Doug Hughes: “He’s sort of like a brother.”

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Michael Colgan is artistic director of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, and a film and TV producer. He has brought Gate Theatre productions to the the US and the UK and recently staged two Beckett plays in Germany. He has lived in Dublin all his life and has three children and three grandchildren

I don’t quite remember when we met, I just know that Doug suddenly surfaced as a terrific friend. I knew Doug’s father, actor Barnard Hughes and met Doug in the early 1990s. I got on with him immediately. Doug is that wonderful mixture, an American with a European sensibility. He has an attachment to Ireland, carries an Irish passport, and an attachment to things European that makes him a very formidable mix.

Then there was a hiatus. We bumped into each other at stuff in America, began to connect more, to have a lot of lunches. The extraordinary thing about Doug and I is that, unlike, say, plumbers and lawyers, there are a lot of those around, there are very few artistic directors directing. We’re on the same wavelength, I can discuss things with him. It’s a friendship that has survived an ocean: I go to New York quite a lot, I’ve been up to his place on the Hudson a couple of times and he stays with me here. He says “You’re family”.

The wonderful thing about Doug is that we’re completely in sync, one plus one becomes five. There might be only two or three people at most in this world who I’d listen to, take advice from. Advice is easy to take when it’s in accord with what you were going to do anyway. To take advice against what your instinct is, that’s really rare. Doug would give it and I would take it. He’d be very honest and very incisive. He’s sort of like a brother. We’re very close.

Doug is going to be upset with me saying this, but there are things about him that are sort of English. He queues up, which I won’t, he’s always on time, usually 20 minutes ahead just in case he could have been late. He’s very honourable, very fair, has this sort of English gentleman thing. Even though he’s reserved and I’m ebullient, he doesn’t object to me.

Directors do come under pressure, you need to be a saint not to lose your temper. Doug is always calm, always gets what he wants. He has the rare ability to be calm, quiet, reserved – and not a pushover.

I admire how emotional he is about his work. For example, at one of the previews a phone went off: Doug sits up -- I can only describe it as like a meerkat. He turns in his seat and stares back to find the culprit. The phone stops. You’d think he is done . . . but no, he wants to find out who it was. He can be the most benign, mannerly, gentlemanly, honourable man I think I have ever met. But if you talk during his show or your phone goes off, my advice is, leave the country.

I’ve known Doug for 20 years, we’ve been quite close for the past 10. We are in some ways unbelievably similar. Yet at the same time, he can be more sensitive, more loving of his work, a greater artist.

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