Jamie Dornan, in Denver for “Belfast,” on the film’s nuanced take on 1960s Northern Ireland

Jamie Dornan’s perfectly angled cheekbones and chin line, tasteful stubble, and eyes like soft blue lasers preceded him as he entered a Four Seasons Hotel conference room on Wednesday, less than an hour before he walked the red carpet at Denver Film Festival’s premiere of his new movie, “Belfast.”

“I really wanted to spend the night in Denver, but we just couldn’t make it happen,” said Dornan, 39, who had just touched down from Los Angeles. “I always remember that movie ‘Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead’ when I think of Denver, which had the amazing Andy Garcia in it. What’s funny is that I just saw him at the ‘Belfast’ premiere in L.A. on Monday.”

Dornan’s whirlwind press tour for “Belfast” is humming along as the film hits theaters on Friday, Nov. 12. Having world-premiered at Telluride Film Festival in September, the black-and-white stunner is already collecting Oscar buzz for its nuanced portrait of director-screenwriter Kenneth Branagh’s hometown, and how he brilliantly captures one working-class block of the city in 1969.

Having Belfast natives Dornan, Ciarán Hinds (as family patriarch Pop) and the radiant, 11-year-old Jude Hill (as the main character/young Branagh stand-in Buddy) helped bring a Northern Irish authenticity to the film, Dornan said, and even allowed him to inject some of his personal history to his role as Pa.

“I come from a long lineage of Belfast men, who are often married to country women, like my mom,” Dornan said. “She was from out in the sticks. My family history is pretty bland, because there’s literally no outside influence from anywhere but Ireland, so I feel 100% Irish. A lot of that work you’re usually putting into a role to discover or get comfortable with who you’re portraying wasn’t necessary.”

Despite breaking out as the statuesque, darkly alluring Christian Grey in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” film trilogy, Dornan had already proved his dramatic fundamentals in stage and screen projects, particularly Netflix’s “The Fall” (in which he played a serial killer for three seasons) and in his first splashy role for U.S. audiences, as Sheriff Graham in ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”

But the comedy-drama of “Belfast” and its very real subject matter — the violent “troubles” between Protestants and Catholics in working-class Belfast neighborhoods — had to be nailed down early by Branagh. How to tell the story of a family — including Oscar-winner Judie Dench as Granny, and Irish actor Caitríona Balfe as Ma — in the midst of their daily joy, sorrow and tension? How to find a tone that felt realistic, but that doesn’t drown viewers in a relentlessly overcast period piece?

The film’s universality lies in its family focus and the main character’s “Peanuts”-like, knee-level perspective. Pacifists caught in the middle of tribal conflicts and civil wars, putting themselves at risk as a result, still must go about their workaday lives. Growing up watching Westerns at movie houses, and seeing your parents as similarly iconic, untouchable matinee idols, is as true for Buddy as it was for Branagh and countless others. So was realizing that life can be brutal, and that families can find hard-won hope and resilience through it all.

“We’ve had so many people coming up to myself, Ken and everyone in the cast saying how it reminded them of their childhood, and most of them are from nowhere near Belfast,” Dornan said. “At the core, it’s about that family trying to deal with unprecedented situations and divisions and their future, which has resonated in a lovely way.”

Given the film’s timing, real-world issues couldn’t help but lurk on the film’s corners — most of them complicated, or outright devastating. As the first U.K. production to begin during COVID, according to Dornan, Northern Ireland location shooting was out of the question. With lockdowns in effect, residents could not be moved from their homes, and any location shots turned into remote, small-crew trips to Belfast. Dozens of COVID tests, when finally available, were administered each day to cast and crew on an elaborate set built in England.

Van Morrison, the veteran Belfast-born singer whose music makes up most of the movie’s soundtrack, was last week sued by Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, for dismissing COVID as media hype and railing against it in his music, according to The New York Times. (An unwelcome, jarring distraction ahead of the film’s premiere week.)

On March 15, Dornan’s physician father died due to complications from COVID, adding another tragic note to his family history (his mother died from pancreatic cancer when he was 16; Dornan is now married with three daughters). And before and during all of this, he was required to find a make-or-break rapport with his “Belfast” screen family.

“Ken did a really lovely thing in the rehearsals where he sat us all down for the first time, then asked us loads of questions about our childhood. Some of those were very exposing,” Dornan said. “That vulnerability was a great way of breaking barriers and putting us all at ease with each other. People were crying and being like, ‘I haven’t talked about this since therapy!’ ”

With plenty of improvisation and a supportive director, Dornan said he felt more at ease on-set than in any film project he’s worked on, even with acting legends such as Dench and Hinds on hand.

“You’re always (soiling) yourself going into any scene as an actor, and if you’re not you shouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “But I felt really free on this based on the atmosphere that Ken created. Everything’s kind of heightened, and just enough to get across Buddy’s view of life.”

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