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American Dreams

The Sheridans reveal their New York connection.

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Naomi Sheridan Jim Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan

Naomi Sheridan, Jim Sheridan and Kirsten Sheridan.

Photo By David Turner

NEW YORK — The past, one might say, is in the mind of the beholder. So when director Jim Sheridan and two of his daughters, Naomi, 30, and Kirsten, 27, began writing three separate scripts for a film based on their family’s emigration from Ireland to the U.S. in the early Eighties, nothing, not even the things they wanted to forget, was off limits.

“When they wrote their drafts, my character literally disappeared out of the story,” jokes Sheridan, who also directed “In the Name of the Father” and “My Left Foot.” “And they wrote all this stuff where I embarrassed them in school because I put plastic bags over my head in the rain.”

“He never had an umbrella,” Kirsten chimes in. “We’d always be coming out of school and we’d be like, ‘Where’s Dad? Oh, he’s the one with the bag over his head.’”

The incident never made its way into “In America,” which hit theaters last Wednesday, but the film does chronicle many of the Sheridans’ real life experiences, even if they are tweaked for dramatic effect. In the movie, a struggling actor, his wife and their two daughters move to Harlem after losing their son, Frankie. In 1981, the Sheridans moved to New York with Naomi, then 9, and Kirsten, then 5, so that Jim could try to make it in the entertainment business. After illegally crossing into the States via Canada, the family lived in a series of rundown apartment buildings and eventually moved back to Ireland in 1988.

The addition of the Frankie character in the script gave the grieving family an emotional hurdle to overcome and it was, for Jim, a hurdle that was rooted in reality. Jim’s brother, Frankie, died from a brain tumor as a child. He added the character not only to provide an arc for the story, but also to give himself a degree of distance. “It wasn’t until I did that that I got a perspective on my character and I could laugh at him,” he says.

The family’s apartment also got a cinematic makeover. The kitsch pad in the movie is in Harlem, but the Sheridans lived in a tiny railroad apartment in Hell’s Kitchen while Jim ran the Irish Arts Center. He also worked odd jobs answering phones and mopping floors and once dragged a stolen air conditioner from the theater through the streets of New York. “My mom and dad always made it feel like it was a big adventure,” says Naomi. “We moved into this apartment and they completely sold it to us on the fact that it had a window seat, which we thought was fabulous.”
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