An actor’s journey into character
Tomorrow, this year’s Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards will be presented. The nominees for best actor and best actress talk about the roles they play
Nominee: Simon Callow, nominated for The Man Jesus, written by Matthew Hurt and directed by Joseph Alford for the Lyric Theatre. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images
Nominee: Ryan McParland, right, in Summertime, written by David Ireland and directed by Michael Duke for Tinderbox Theatre Company
Nominee: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor in Howie the Rookie, written and directed by Mark O’Rowe for Landmark Productions. Photograph: Patrick Redmond
Nominee: Olwen Fouéré in Riverrun, written by James Joyce, adapted by Olwen Fouéré and directed by Olwen Fouéré and Kellie Hughes for the Emergency Room and Galway Arts Festival. Photograph: Colm Hogan
Nominee: Owen Roe in King Lear, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Selina Cartmell for the Abbey Theatre
Nominee: Orla Fitzgerald in Digging for Fire, written by Declan Hughes and directed by Matt Torney for Rough Magic Theatre Company. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh
Lia Willliams in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. Photograph: Peter Rowen
Nominee: Joanne Ryan in What Happened Bridgie Cleary, written by Tom MacIntyre and directed by John Murphy, staged by Bottom Dog Theatre Company
The actor’s journey to inhabiting another character with their body can take some weird and wonderful detours. Some say it’s when they first put on a character’s shoes; for others it’s getting the gait or the voice, or their centre of gravity.
Identification techniques can be as wide ranging as using the elements, or animals. From method immersion to a focus on the lines, ultimately each actor’s preparation is as unique as the character they’re portraying and as individual as they are.
We asked the nominees in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories of this year’s Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards how they accessed the characters, and how they prepared for the performances we were finally treated to.
Nominated for The Man Jesus, written by Matthew Hurt and directed by Joseph Alford for the Lyric Theatre
It’s almost impossible to approach the actual figure of Jesus.We wanted to come at it from the people who knew him. The job for me was to find exactly what was different between each of these characters. We were very aware of the division between Judea and Galilee. We decided the Judeans had Scottish accents and the Galileans had northern accents.
“I looked at their stories. I looked at the Gospel and studied some commentary and came to terms with what the writer had imagined them to be. The greatest of his imaginings is Mary. That’s quite something: for a 65-year-old actor to enter into the mind of a pregnant 16-year-old girl.
“ It’s an act of imaginative identification. I found a way for her to speak, stand and sit, and I let that guide and take me over. When I connected to the sensation of being Mary, the character played herself.
“Doing a one-man show is different from any other kind of acting. You have to be in a very alert state. There’s a celebration too, in that you’re talking to the audience. Sometimes I feel, in my dressing room, as if I were going on a date.”
For Clare in Digging for Fire, written by Declan Hughes and directed by Matt Torney for Rough Magic Theatre Company
“Clare is someone who is disillusioned with her life. She is going through what could be classed as a breakdown. I didn’t do major research; most of it was already in the script.
“There was an awful scene to do every night, a domestic argument, and even though I loved playing her – she’s a spirited character – it was a challenge. I put myself in Clare’s shoes; what would have happened had I not married the right person or chosen a career in which I was happy? She’s a smart, intelligent, witty woman who is deeply unsatisfied as a teacher. She wanted to be a writer, so her ambitions weren’t fulfilled.
“My warm-up is really brief. I like to go through one or two scenes beforehand, depending on the play. I try not to get into any major routines, because I’ve learned you can get a bit superstitious – if you had a good night and you [had eaten] a particular type of food before it, or something. I try to avoid that. I just think about Clare and where she’s at every night.”
For Riverrun, written by James Joyce, adapted by Olwen Fouéré and directed by Olwen Fouéré and Kellie Hughes for the Emergency Room and Galway Arts Festival
“It’s not a character. It’s a force of constant renewal, and it’s basically the energy of life. The Irish spelling of the River Liffey is Life. I imagine it’s a cell travelling with a whole cluster of other cells through a sleeping body. It’s an energy of arising and waking up, shedding the past and going forward into the future; it’s one of the most positive things I’ve ever done in terms of the energy it carried.