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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 14:34 GMT
Nesbitt speaks of Bloody Sunday impact
Scene from the film Bloody Sunday
The film depicts the 1972 shootings
BBC Northern Ireland's Keiron Tourish talked to actor James Nesbitt about his role as a civil rights leader in the new Bloody Sunday film.

The first feature film about Bloody Sunday has been screened in Londonderry.

It stars Northern Ireland-born actor James Nesbitt who said he would die happy if it could in any way bring "some sort of closure to a very painful chapter in our collective history".

Thirteen people died after being shot by the Army on 30 January 1972 during a civil rights march. Another man later died from his injuries. The day became known as Bloody Sunday.

Relatives of those who died attended what they described as a "painful and distressing" private viewing in Derry's new Millennium Forum Theatre on Sunday.

Nesbitt said the script had an extraordinary effect on him when he first read it. He was six years old on Bloody Sunday, but was largely unaware of what had happened.

James Nesbitt with John Kelly who lost a brother on Bloody Sunday
James Nesbitt with John Kelly who lost a brother on Bloody Sunday

"The school I went to taught a very different history from the Catholic grammar schools, for example. So my memories of it were non-existent in a sense.

"The problem with the Protestants and the British is that no one ever wanted to own Bloody Sunday, and it's as much a British tragedy as an Irish tragedy. We're trying to make sense of it.

"I think people in Northern Ireland have had 30 years of trying to make some sense of terrorism in general."

He said there was a "tacit agreement" in the Protestant community that a "great wrong" was done that day, adding: "I don't think they've ever been able to cope with that - so you walk away from it in a sense.

'Powerful'

"I think in the peace process going on at the minute, a big section of the unionist community realise we can't walk away and we've got to sit down and acknowledge things and share things.

"So I hope Bloody Sunday helps make people aware of this big wrong."

Nesbitt, who is also star of ITV's hit series Cold Feet, said he was inspired by the man he plays in the movie - civil rights leader Ivan Cooper.

Cooper was a Protestant who was supported overwhelmingly by Catholics.


It's as much a British tragedy as an Irish tragedy. We're trying to make sense of it.

James Nesbitt

"The thing which was most powerful and most potent was that Ivan in the late 1960s was at the forefront of the civil rights movement and his support was completely Catholic," he added.

He said this gave him the confidence to make the film, and that he received "extraordinary support" from the Catholic community.

Nesbitt added that he was "very nervous of what I was getting into, and trying to do justice to it".

"I was playing a real person and I was at the centre of a film about a place that is still bearing witness to the awful scars," he said.

'Closure'

But he did not think he made a "courageous decision" to be in the film.

"I think the people who were courageous about it were the people of Derry who've given me such support because they've lived with it for such a long time and are all desperate for it all to be right," he said.

But Nesbitt said he was well aware of the possible reaction in Northern Ireland's unionist community.

He said the filmmakers had tried to "help bring some sort of closure, some sort of reason or explanation to a terribly deep and open wound that has affected not just the people of Derry, but the British Isles, for 30 years".

And the actor added that he hoped people would "reappraise Ivan Cooper" after seeing the film.

'Tears'

But his final comments were reserved for the impact the film had had on him as an actor.

"My journey through Bloody Sunday has been extraordinary," he said.

"It has redefined a lot for me, it's been a watershed for me in terms of acting, in terms of what you can find out about yourself. It's certainly changed my life in a way.

"It was a defining moment, in that for years acting was something I enjoyed but it didn't feed my soul.

"And then, doing Bloody Sunday - it brings me out in tears quite often. It was a difficult process, but it was also an extraordinary process."

See also:

07 Jan 02 | Film
Praise for Bloody Sunday film
15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Lottery cash for Bloody Sunday film
15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Bloody Sunday film to be 'non-partisan'
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