ROBERT SHEEHAN INTERVIEW - Sheehan no Portlaoise 'Misfit'
Maybe it was destiny that Robert Sheehan would become an actor, after all the family dog was named Rambo - although this was probably more to do with his diminutive terrier status than a household obsession with films.
The youngest son of Joe and Maria Sheehan, it does appear though that fate played its part in him becoming an actor. And his story is one of complete chance, rather than being schooled and groomed in drama classes.
It all began thanks to Robert's mother coming across an advert for an open casting for boys for the film Song for a Raggy Boy. "I was on a day off work and I spotted an advert for an open audition in Dublin. The lads (Robert and his older brother Brendan) were in the kitchen so I said it to them and we went up the next day," Maria said.
"When we got up there were about 200 people ahead of us and we had to wait and wait. Every so often I would have to go around the corner and get more food for them. The two lads were fed up but in the end we were called and Robert was chosen. He hadn't studied acting or anything like that, but I think he did a fabulous job," his mother beamed.
This proved to be a very enjoyable introduction to film-making for Robert, despite the depressing subject matter - sexual and physical abuse in an industrial school - of Song for a Raggy Boy. Shooting took place for around three months in Ballyvourney in West Cork. "There were 12 or 13 young lads aged from 9 to 16 - I was 14 - and it was a bit of an adventure for us. I keep in touch with a lot of the lads and most of them are still doing some acting," Robert told the Leinster Express.
A number of minor roles followed but Robert's path into acting was far from laid out in front of him. After completing his Leaving Certificate, he enrolled in Galway/Mayo IT on a film making course but after a year and less than convincing results, decided that a life behind the camera wasn't for him.
He picked up a number of acting roles but it was his casting in on Channel 4's Misfits series which has raised his stock and put him on the map.
One of those was the part in Love-Hate, the first episode of which aired on RT on Sunday night to much acclaim. Set in Dublin's gangland it is a gritty drama which is already pencilled in for a second series. It centres around a catastrophic event which ignites the tensions in a small-time drug gang, leading to family, friends and community living with the impact.
"It's about a guy who comes back from to see his younger brother, who is getting out of Mountjoy Prison. Then the situation gets all volatile," Robert said. The Portlaoise actor is delighted to be involved in a drama which is directed by David Caffrey, someone he greatly admired. "I got a call from my agent Rose (Parkinson), to tell me that I was wanted for a TV drama directed by Dave Caffrey. I just said I would do it, I didn't care what it was about. I was chuffed he had heard of me and had seen me in the Red Riding Trilogy," he said.
The eight week shoot around Dublin was something which Robert greatly enjoying, particularly as he is now based in Covent Garden in London and doesn't get home to Ireland as much as he would like. "We must have visited every carvery in Dublin during that time. We joked that we could write a Love-Hate carvery guide of the city," he said.
As he was tied up with filming on the second series of Misfits over the past few months, his last time home was around six months ago.
He made the most of his fleeting return to Portlaoise last week with a night out in Bergin's where he enjoyed a trad session involving old Comhaltas friends last Monday night. Robert plays banjo and bodhran and participated in Fleadh Ceoils while at school.
Robert also wrapped filming a leading role opposite Nicolas Cage and Ron Pearlman in The Season of the Witch directed by Dominic Sena in early 2009 which is due for release later this year. The finishing touches are currently being put to the film with another couple of weeks reshooting taking place in Louisiana. Robert was also involved in reshooting, but as his schedule didn't allow him the time to head to America's deep south, his scenes were shot in Pinewood Studios.
The experience of shooting a large scale blockbuster was something new to Robert. "It was great craic. It was a whole different level of film-making. They just had such time and money at their disposal. It was just on a huge scale," he said.
"In one scene, we were shooting on the edge of a cliff in the Alps with a big horse and cart, on the back of which was a big, medieval cage, and there was Nicolas Cage riding alongside it on a horse, with a big helicopter shooting behind us. All of that took a huge amount of time and effort. It was just surreal. It was great craic and was like a holiday as we were jetting around Austria and Hungary," he said.
The whole experience was an eye-opener for the young actor. "One thing you do learn is the stamina and patience required when you are waiting around for five or six hours at a time. Then you end up getting on set in a highly pressurised atmosphere. For Nicolas Cage and Ron Pearlman it was just like water off a duck's back. They just worked and didn't let anything affect them, and they do it well," he said.
Another new experience for Robert will be voicing a character for the UK version of Sammy's Adventures: The Secret Passage, which will also feature John Hurt.
He also has a part in Romeo and Gertrude, which is written and directed by David Baddiel. "It is a funny take on Romeo and Juliet, and I get to play Romeo. I think it will be done in spring or summer of next year," he said.
Although he doesn't have any major ambitions set for himself, Robert said what he most wants to do is work alongside talented actors - "like for example Cillian Murphy, Leonardo di Caprio, Shia LeBeouf".
He will realise one of these ambitions next year when he stars alongside Murphy in Wayfaring Strangers, a World War 11 epic set in France. Michael Gambon and Ian Fitzgibbon will also star in the feature film. "It's a great cast to be involved with. Hopefully I will raise my game," Robert said.
Acknowledging that it is a departure from his usual roles he said, "You have got to mix it up".
He also would like to do more theatre work, as he has done very little of it. "I think the last thing I did was when I was 16. I did the Cripple of Innishmaan. I played the crippled boy with Open Door productions in Shanahoe. It was great craic. It is more immediate and more intense than television. It is quite pressured. There is nothing like good theatre," Robert said.
His first introduction to treading the boards came while in primary school in St Paul's in Portlaoise. He played the eponymous Oliver in Oliver with a Twist.
With Misfits enjoying such popularity, it has also risen Robert's profile considerably, particularly amongst teen fans. "When you are around London, one or two people will spot you. It was the same in Dublin, one or two would know you. A few people will come up for a photo or an autograph, so you are not completely anonymous anymore...in fairness it's all been good...you might get the odd scream from a 16 year old," he said of the teenage followers of the show.
He also had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on the final series of the Jonathon Ross Show along with his cast members. He ended up in a good humoured slanging match with the renowned presenter. "We were throwing slags back and forth. It was wonderfully surreal. It was just one of those moments when you just have to stop and look around," he said.
With a busy 2010 beginning to wind down for the actor, a bright 2011 beckons for him. Robert acknowledges that he wouldn't be where he is now without his "wonderfully supportive" parents.
In particular he stressed his gratitude to his mother who was virtually his manager early on, driving him to and from auditions and then to various sets. He also thanked his agent, Rose, for her support.
His immediate ambition is to work with as many talented actors as he can, and not to rest on his laurels when it comes to roles he takes on. He stressed the importance of taking on a number of roles, while also ensuring quality output.
"I never really made any plans of any sort. As long as I can keep getting a few jobs, I will be grateful. It is great fun and wonderfully rewarding for a young fella. I will continue as long as I keep getting work," he said.
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