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Gabriel Byrne Gives The Listening 'Treatment'

Gabriel Byrne won a Golden Globe for his role in the first season of <em>In Treatment.</em>
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Gabriel Byrne won a Golden Globe for his role in the first season of In Treatment.

Actor Gabriel Byrne may play a therapist on TV, but he's never actually been to therapy himself. Instead, he prepared for his role on HBO's In Treatment by drawing on his experience as an observer.

"Being a Catholic brought up in Ireland I had seen how [priests] sometimes perfunctorily listened. ... There's many ways of pretending to listen," the Dublin-born actor tells Terry Gross.

In his effort to perfect the art of listening, Byrne studied old Dick Cavett tapes and noted how the former talk show host's body language changed when he didn't have the right questions.

His studies seem to have paid off; the actor is so convincing on In Treatment that, on more than one occasion, fans have stopped him on the street to discuss their private lives. When this happens, says Byrne, "I hasten to reassure these people that I'm actually not real. I don't have a practice in Brooklyn and that they should actually seek professional help."

Byrne, who became known in the U.S. for his roles in movies like Miller's Crossing, Little Women and The Usual Suspects, grew up in Dublin, where he was educated by a Christian teaching order known for its strictness. At age 11, he was sent to England to become a priest, but four and a half years later he was asked to leave after being caught smoking cigarettes.

Though Byrne no longer considers himself religious, he does acknowledge being spiritual, and adds that growing up in the Catholic Church gave him "a tremendous sense of appreciation of the theater, because they truly understand theater."

This interview was originally broadcast on April 30, 2009.

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