Refreshing accent by hitting the bars

Actor Brian Mahoney keeps returning to Framingham. Actor Brian Mahoney keeps returning to Framingham.
By Matt Rocheleau
Globe Correspondent / November 19, 2009

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It’s not uncommon for Brian Mahoney to return to Framingham, drive through his hometown, stop by a local bar to grab a drink, and watch whichever Boston sports team is playing on TV that night.

But one of his most recent visits was more than just a casual stay. Mahoney was preparing for the biggest role so far in his Hollywood acting career - as a co-star in the sequel to “The Boondock Saints,’’ a crime thriller set in Boston that was released in 1999 and after a slow start has gained a cult following.

Returning to Framingham prior to the filming of “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day,’’ which hit theaters last month, Mahoney wanted to recapture the natural local accent he had grown up with in his youth, but had lost touch with after years of living in other parts of the country.

The accent is a critical component of Mahoney’s part as Detective Duffy, a member of the Boston Police Department. The role in the second “Boondock Saints’’ film is much bigger than it was in the first.

And even after having not called New England home for nearly 40 years, Mahoney found he could still talk the talk.

“If you grow up there and you got it, you know it forever,’’ he said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, where he lives now. “It comes back to you. It’s like riding a bike.’’

Mahoney said he wanted to avoid botching the accent the way some actors did in the 2006 Oscar-winning Martin Scorsese film “The Departed,’’ which is also set in Boston.

“Everyone thinks you just have to drop your ‘Rs’ at the end of words, and talk like ‘pahk the kah in Hahvahd Yahd,’ ’’ he said. “But people don’t realize the ‘O’ is so important.’’

He said that in “The Departed,’’ for instance, Martin Sheen’s character, Captain Queenan of the Massachusetts State Police, says “cop’’ three different ways in one scene.

Mahoney noted how he thinks Sheen is a great actor and the film was outstanding, but Sheen’s character says “cauwp,’’ “cahp’’ and “cop’’ at various points. Though the differences may be subtle, he said, most Beantown natives can quickly tell whether an accent is authentic.

So to perfect his accent, Mahoney visited friends and relatives living in the area, including his aunt and uncle in Holliston, Sylvia and Bill Stickney, and would sit at bars in Framingham, Boston, and the surrounding area to hear just how people from his former stomping grounds talk.

“It was absolutely wonderful. That research, that prep work in Framingham was just so rewarding for me,’’ he said.

Mahoney was born in Framingham, with both of his parents growing up in town, and lived on St. Lo Street until around age 10, when the family moved to the Midwest.

He stayed there until he joined the US Army out of high school and began a 10-year stint as a military pilot, flying Cobra attack helicopters, before moving to Hollywood in 1989 to pursue an acting career.

Now 49, he lives in Hollywood with his wife, Anne Martel Mahoney, a native of Gardner, and 9-year-old daughter, Veronica, but tries to return to the area as frequently as he can.

“Where you start is where you’re drawn back to,’’ he said. “I don’t find myself going back to Michigan. I find myself going back to Massachusetts.’’

The first “Boondock Saints’’ film, written and directed by New England native Troy Duffy, premiered in just five theaters in 2000 and brought in just over $30,000. However, DVD sales slowly picked up and eventually raked in millions of dollars, as more people ignored reviews from critics who were less than impressed with the movie.

And in its brief history so far, the sequel seems to have taken a path similar to its predecessor. The film debuted late last month in a limited number of theaters, and has not received strong backing from movie critics, but fans have yet again responded favorably.

Mahoney said “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day’’ was going nationwide this month based on its strong showing, and he said he thinks the movie is “bigger, better, and badder’’ than the first.

“The expert critics aren’t going to make or break this film. It’s the average guy. The fans are discovering this one again,’’ he said of the $8 million production, most of which was filmed in Toronto, like the original. “We pounded it out, worked our [tails] off, and it shows.’’

When asked whether the film’s solid box office performance could lead to a “Boondock Saints’’ trilogy, he said, “It’s up to the fans.’’

And if a third movie were ever made, will Detective Duffy be back? “I don’t know. You’ll have to see this one and go from there,’’ he said.

Mahoney said he recently traveled to New York to shoot a small one-on-one scene with Cambridge native Matt Damon for “The Adjustment Bureau,’’ a film set to be released by late next year.

On meeting Damon for the first time, Mahoney said, “He was every bit the gentleman I’d heard he was.’’

Mahoney, along with the rest of the movie’s cast, is working to promote the sequel.

He is also working on his autobiography, “A Cobra Pilot in Hollywood,’’ which he hopes will be released by next summer.

The book is about Mahoney’s difficult transition from the military to life in Los Angeles, trying to start an acting career - or as he puts it, “from the cockpit to the silver screen.’’

“When you put on that Cobra pilot’s jacket,’’ he said, “it pretty much comes with half a dozen women attached to it. It’s not rock-star status, but it’s a pretty good lifestyle, and it was hard to let go of.’’

Besides giving up his job flying helicopters equipped with machine guns and rockets, Mahoney also had to adapt to a new career path that was the opposite of the military “think don’t feel’’ mentality.

But despite the challenges, Mahoney has stuck with the red carpet dream he has had since his youth, when his family moved to Illinois and he got his first on-stage experience singing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Though not having enough money after high school for theater classes led him down a longer-than-anticipated road to the entertainment world, Mahoney said, “I knew at age 10 I was going to be an actor.’’