By Owen Quinn Showreel By Alan Dunne
Can you tell us about yourself?
When did your passion for acting begin and was it a career you’d always considered?
I had never dreamed of being an actor, I actually wanted to be a fire-man growing up. My passion for acting was born when I was a naive 11 years old kid, being so mesmerized by Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Christy Brown that I thought the guy actually had Cerebral Palsy. The moment I realized that he was an actor playing the part was when I realized, I wanted to do that.
What actors and movies inspired you growing up?
Daniel Day-Lewis was a big inspiration, particularly for his role in Christy Brown. Anthony Hopkins too in Hannibal. Al Pacino in Godfather. Robert DeNiro. Passionate actors really inspire me and still do.
I got the chance to work on a pilot TV Show for TV3 called The Guards. I worked as a stand by prop in The Arts Department on the production. There I met and was friended by Emmett Scanlan who was playing the central character in the pilot. He was running an acting course at the time which I signed up for. After that I signed up to The Irish Film Academy and networked my way around.
What was your very first role role?
My first role was Anto, in a production for The Galway Theatre Festival called ‘Anto And Me’ .
What do you look for in a script before accepting a role?
I look for good writing first and foremost. It’s all about the writing. I look to see how challenging the role is. What can push the boundaries etc. And what preparation is involved.
What avenues are there for an actor to promote themselves?
A good agent is always a good start and most important. Surrounding yourself with like-minded others too. Social media can help but I’ve learned over the years not to over do it with that. Less is more!
What defines acting for you?
Being able to act truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
What was your first time on a set like, was it everything you expected or nothing like it?
It was fantastic and yes it was everything I expected and some. I was lucky enough to work on a professional set first time round so it kind of set the bar for me.
Can you tell us about some of your roles?
Yeah sure. I like to give it my all when playing a character. Research as much as possible. Plenty of communication and sometimes, collaboration with the director/writer and go as method as possible with it without going too extreme. When I played Wes in the short film ‘Untitled’, the character was dying of cancer, so immediately I thought, right, the hair needs to go, and it did. It was a necessary choice as I wanted to feel like I had cancer as well as visibly look that way. It was one of my early films and I learned a lot about myself as an actor and about pushing boundaries regarding preparation. The role I get asked about most is the role of Pencil in a short film I did called ‘Diane’. I played a heroin addict. I put a lot of preparation into the role. I pushed myself as far as I possibly could. The week before we were to begin shooting, I’d seen an interview with Hugh Jackman. He talked about his preparation for the opening scene in Les Miserable. The producer asked him to go on a 36 hour no liquid diet prior to the opening scene. Although I knew I wouldn’t have the people around me that Hugh did to do 36 hours, I wanted to attempt 24 hours at least. Anyone who has seen Les Miserable will know how dreadful he looked in that opening scene. I was playing a heroin addict so I wanted to feel like a heroin addict without actually taking heroin. I’d lived with a heroin addict in my past so that was my research. I set out a plan. I had lost 21 pounds in the weeks before, the shoot was on a Saturday morning and I was due onset at12 noon. I stayed up late on the Thursday evening so that I would wake around 12 noon on the Friday and my no-liquid diet began. It was a tough 24 hours. I also slept on my couch 5 days before shooting. I think sleeping on your couch can etch a certain pain in your face that you just can’t mimic. I didn’t shower for 5 days before we began or for the 5 days we were shooting. Nobody complained of the smell My favourite role to date would have to be Jack Spider. I had so much fun playing him. It was, in a way, therapeutic almost. I was last to be cast in the feature film, ‘Spiders Trap’ and came on-board the production at the last minute in fact. I only had a few days to prepare myself for the role. I based Jack on the Bully beater we all have within us. When I was a kid in school etc, I used to get pushed around a lot. When I would come home I would stand in front of the mirror alone and verbally beat the guys up who pushed me around. I would get really nasty and venomous. Nobody would have messed with this guy but of course, It wasn’t really me or who I was. That’s who I based Jack on. The guy in the mirror.
How did you become involved in Spider’s Trap and what’s your character?
I became involved in Spider’s Trap by chance. The guy they had cast for the role initially had to pull out and I had worked with some of the production crew in the past on various projects. My name was put forward and I was given a screen test and bagged the gig. In it I play the lead antagonist, Jack Spider.
Why do you think thriller movies are so popular?
I suppose because of the pace in which they flow. It makes them compelling to viewer.
Does each role define the amount of preparation an actor must do?
I think all roles need preparation. If they don’t, then they’re not challenging and if they’re not challenging, then what’s the point. Obviously each role will have different types of preparation for each individual actor.
What keeps you going in such an uncertain career?
Well not the money anyway. It’s the passion for it. I was never in it for the money. It would be nice to be able to make a proper living from it but I do it because I’m head over heels in love with it. I couldn’t do anything else. I don’t want to do anything else. I won’t do anything else. I’ll be an actor for as long as I live. It’s who I am.
How important is it for an actor to have many strings to his or her bow in this industry?
I do believe that if acting is what you want to do, then do just that. Give it all your energy instead of doing it part time or as a hobby. Do it and nothing else. It’s hard to believe in yourself if you are juggling many things at the one time. Having said that, a part time job to get you by and pay the rent while you’re at it is good too.
Does the Irish movie industry get the recognition it deserves globally in your eyes given the amount of talent out there?
No, not really. It’s had a little success over the years but nothing like the U.S or the U.K. It’s a different ball game there compared to our little old Ireland
What support is there for independent movie making in Ireland?
Very little to be honest. The majority of Independent movies made in Ireland are self funded. Made on a shoe string budget for little or nothing. And that separates the calibre on the world stage between them and big budget movies.
Any particular genre you’re attracted to as an actor?
I actually like all genres. But I suppose, Film Noir, Crime and Action. In that order.
What advice would you give to any budding actor?
Get used to the word NO. Whilst on an intense set, don’t get caught up in the crew fun, stay focused, be alone if necessary, no matter what you think people may say about you. It’s your career, not theirs. Don’t expect to be a success overnight. Unlike any other 40 hour a week job. You may only spend 40 hours a year onset. So use the time in between gigs to train your ass off. Choose acting courses and trainers carefully. The industry is full of scam artists who are out to take money from the naive.
What has been your greatest lesson from all the work you have done?
Never be arrogant towards learning and always treat your peers with the same respect that you would like to be treated with. Attitude is also so important.
What defines a good movie for you?
A good narrative. Good pace. Plenty of major turning points.
What have you coming up for the future?
I have a feature film coming up at the end of this year. We’re keeping positive that a recent pilot Tv show will materialize onto Tv. And a true story feature length film with great prospects also.
Where can people find out about your work?
I’m not sure how to answer that one. I would like to say, with great intention, your cinema, your Tv, your local rag etc. but I just don’t know. Hopefully all of the above.
TW talk to actor Alan Sherlock