Gabriel Byrne has received critical acclaim and numerous awards for his recent role as Dr. Paul Weston in HBO's, In Treatment, a drama series about a psychotherapist and his weekly sessions with patients, but the Irish actor has been playing some of the most compelling characters to have ever graced the screen for over thirty years. Although the actor has mentioned in interviews that he hates being described as brooding, American audiences have come to know him as such. This is particularly amusing since Byrne gained popularity in Ireland as a soap actor, something we equate more with fluff than talent in the US. Of course, it's no surprise that on paper, Irish soap operas seem to be far more tragic and symbolic than their American counterparts.
The prevailing theme in Byrne's career seems to be playing the man who acts on instinct (and often impulse) -- the most colorful example of this being his portrayal of the decadent Lord Byron in Ken Russell's Gothic, where his demonic character perhaps set the standard for future roles where he battled the devil as a priest (Stigmata) or actually was the devil (End of Days). These roles, however, are cartoonish (literally so in Cool World) compared to Byrne's performances in lesser known films like Into the West where he played a fallen man (Papa Reilly) who was once King of the Irish Travelers, but left the road when his wife died and took off with his two sons to live in a dreary housing project. With the help of his sons and an unlikely guardian, a white horse, he is able to regain his dignity once more and reconnect with his children.