John Kavanagh is one of Ireland’s underrated character actors. Little detail is given on him, yet he has appeared in many well-known films and television series alongside a variety of actors.
Kavanagh began his career with the Irish comedy, Paddy (1970), where he played the small role of “Willie Egan”. That same year, he played another small role in the World War II film, The McKenzie Break (1970), which is about a P.O.W. camp in Scotland, whose prisoners are preparing an escape.
The next twelve years brought Kavanagh no new films, though he continued to act on stage. Finally, he decided to return to screen acting with the theatrical film, The Ballroom of Romance (1986), which put him in a romance with accomplished actress Brenda Fricker. The film was followed up with the small film, Attracta (1983), and the made-for-television movie, The Country Girls (1983), starring Sam Neill.
Kavanagh’s next theatrical film was one of the most famous films of his career: the Irish film Cal (1984), starring Helen Mirren and John Lynch. The film was about a young member of the IRA (Lynch) who is seeking to get out of the organization. He meets the widow of one of the IRA’s victims (Mirren) and begins a love affair.
Moving on from this film, Kavanagh acted in a number of films and television series. He participated in the action film, The Joyriders (1999), the crime drama, Bellman and True (1987), the independent film, 4 Play: In the Border Country (1991), and the thriller, The Fantasist (1986), among others. Kavanagh’s career picked up considerably in the mid-nineties. He acted alongside such classic actors as Mia Farrow and Jim Broadbent in the John Irvin film, Widows’ Peak (1994). Kavanagh then guest-starred in the Sharpe series (starring Sean Bean and Hugh Fraser), where he played the holy man “Father Michael Curtis”. That same year, he acted in the most talked about epic of its time: Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995). Starring Gibson, Angus Macfadyen and Brendan Gleeson, Kavanagh acted as one of the nobles who routinely changed sides from Scotland to England in the Scottish wars of independence. The film won Best Picture and Best Director, and was a smash hit. After this fantastic success, Kavanagh acted in Some Mother’s Son (1996), a prison film which was written by Jim Sheridan, and reunited with Brenda Fricker in Pete’s Meteor (1998). He continued to act in other films throughout the nineties and, as the new millennium dawned, Kavanagh continued on to new projects. After a number of smaller films, Kavanagh acted in another historical epic, the mighty Oliver Stone film, Alexander (2004), starring Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer and Anthony Hopkins. Kavanagh played the role of “Parmenion”, the old general who questions Alexander’s actions. After a plot to kill the young leader is foiled, Parmenion is accused of being the mastermind behind it and is murdered. While the film was a triumph overseas, its domestic budget was a fraction of the budget, and it received negative reviews for a number of different reasons. After this, Kavanagh acted in Brian De Palma’s murder film, The Black Dahlia (2006), which failed at the box office.
Kavanagh has rebounded with the successful television series, The Tudors (2007). Starring fellow Alexander (2004) cast member Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the series plays out the story of England’s turmoil in the time of Henry the Eighth and his life as he breaks from the Catholic Church.
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