Jamie Dornan on the 'Belfast' Scene That Led to 'Floods of Tears' During Filming: 'I'll Never Forget'

The actor opens up about a memorable final day of filming on the acclaimed and semi-autobiographical film directed by Kenneth Branagh

For Jamie Dornan, the experience of making Belfast will be a career highlight for many years to come.

"I'm from Belfast, some other cast are from Belfast. Most of us, outside of Judi Dench, are from Ireland," Dornan, 39, tells PEOPLE in the latest issue. "We all have a very strong connection to it. I actually think there were days, particularly towards the end when we all so much felt like a family, we truly did. And for Kenneth Branagh, our writer, director, lots of people know now it's kind of semi-autobiographical of his life. So a very cathartic experience for him obviously to tell this story finally, 50 years after the events."

In the film, Dornan plays a father trying to protect his family (played by actors Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Lewis McAskie and newcomer Jude Hill) as violence erupts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in the 1960s.

"The final day we did a scene where we're all walking down the street and they're playing Van Morrison's 'And the Healing Has Begun,' and we were all in floods of tears," he recalls. "That song means so much to me anyway, most Van Morrison music means a lot to me, if you're from that part of the world, it just does. And even Ken was walking with us, because there's a point when Ken was in the movie too.

"I'll never forget that moment," Dornan continues. "The privilege I felt to be in that movie with those people and have had that experience in the final day was incredible."

The actor appreciates the positive buzz surrounding the film and getting the opportunity to talk about his home. And despite the fact that the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland lasted into the 1990s, Dornan remembers a "truly brilliant childhood."

Jamie Dornan
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"It wasn't all doom and gloom," he says. "As much as there was a civil war raging for that amount of time, there was also lots of light as well," which for Dornan were memorable days at the beach with his two older sisters, Jessica and Leisa.

"People don't realize Belfast has a beautiful coastline," he says. "Is it Malibu? No. But half an hour outside the city, there are genuinely beautiful, very fluffy, white sand coves. Anytime I go home now, I go straight down there."

For more on Jamie Dornan and Belfast, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

For Dornan, the most bittersweet aspect of all the Belfast love is that his father Jim died of COVID-19 before he could see his son in it.

"It gives me some comfort that he knew I was doing that job," says Dornan. "I've worked with some pretty cool people in my career and often, they're really exciting sort of current talents that people are talking about. But often my dad has never heard of those people. So it was nice with Belfast to go, 'You know, Judi Dench is playing my mother and Ciarán Hinds is playing my dad.' That's a home run you know?"

Jamie Dornan
Dave Benett/WireImage

He continues: "So even for him to have known that and with Kenneth Branagh, obviously at the helm was such a massive thing really. But then, it makes it harder almost that he knew that and then didn't get a chance to see it. Not only to see it, but to see the response it's gotten, to share all the love that has been heaped on that film."

As for the film's awards buzz and current nominations (the cast is nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and Dornan received individual Golden Globe and Critics Choice nods), Dornan says he's grateful for all the positive support and reactions.

"It is not and nor should it ever be what you do it for," he says. "But I'm not going to sit here and say it's not cool to be in those conversations. I feel very lucky and will never tire of talking about this movie or the people from the place that made me."

The actor's next project is the drama series The Tourist, which will be streaming on HBO Max in March.

"It comes out in the States soon, but it just came out in the U.K. and had this insane response," says Dornan. "It came out on New Year's Day. So to have the first day of the year be something really positive has been a nice beginning to a year."

Belfast is now playing in select theaters and available to stream; information here. The Tourist is coming to HBO Max in March.

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