Mr. Byrne isn’t worried about his convincingness as a shrink. He says his favorite pastime is listening. The eldest of six kids born to a Guinness brewery factory worker and a nurse in working-class Dublin, he comes from a country with a culture based on people having their own little therapy sessions over beer at dingy pubs and watering holes.
Mr. Byrne studied at a seminary for a short time to become a priest. (The Catholic Church’s confession is one of the early models of a therapy session. “Only they offered penance, of course,” Mr. Byrne explained.) But he soon skedaddled to university, to study archaeology and linguistics. (Again with the listening!) He was a bullfighter and a Spanish teacher before becoming an actor at age 29. He didn’t come to the States until he was 37 years old.
Mr. Byrne recently relocated from his Brooklyn Heights home for a temporary move to Tribeca, which seems to drown out all of the pleasant city dialogue he loves so much. “God, the noise of it,” he winces. “At all hours and the soullessness of it. It feels like a very dislocated place to me, of guys in striped shirts living in lofts, walking on treadmills at 10 o’clock at nighttime and garbage trucks making this horrendous, grating noise at 1, 2 o’clock in the morning. Brooklyn is like the countryside in comparison.”
Mr. Byrne feels most at home in Brooklyn’s cafes, especially a spot between State and Atlantic, where he pretends to read the newspaper while actually listening in on conversations, lovers’ spats and old men prattling on about whatever is in the news. “So much of my life isn’t really about acting at all,” he said. “The time I spend acting is very small in comparison to the time I spend loping about aimlessly, sitting in cafes.
“Isn’t it one of the great, of the last, free pastimes to sit and watch other people be just people and what they do?” he said with a wry smile. “I love earwigging, just listening in on conversations. I’ve perfected the art.”
In Treatment premieres
Monday, Jan. 28, at 9:30 p.m. on HBO.