Robert Sheehan: Boy in the hoody

Character, actor: Robert Sheehan as Darren in Love/Hate

Character, actor: Robert Sheehan as Darren in Love/Hate

Sat, Feb 9, 2013, 00:00

He has retired the blue top he wore in ‘Love/Hate’. He’s coming home for the Iftas tonight. And he’s still in bed

About 10 minutes into this interview, Robert Sheehan reveals that he has just woken up and is lying in bed in his Camden flat. (It’s a phone interview. I like to think I would have noticed otherwise). “Sorry, mate,” says the star of Love/Hate with a yawn. “I’m in interview mode but I’m also in bed mode, and the two sides are battling each other.”

This doesn’t mean he’s not engaging. It’s early in the morning, but he is funny, thoughtful and charming. As we talk he yawns a little but laughs a lot. He’s passionate about his career while being fuzzy about how he got one. “I’ve been largely undecided about everything for most of my life,” he says. “I can barely commit to a phone bill . . . Somewhere along the line it has become my career due to continuing work.”

It all started when he responded to an open audition at the age of 12 and landed a part in Aisling Walsh’s Song for a Raggy Boy, a film set in a brutal reformatory school. “Me and about 10 other lads all went down to Cork for seven weeks and had a magical summer,” he says. “Our great time didn’t reflect the abysmal mood of the film.”

Afterwards, he wasn’t sure whether acting was a realistic ambition and went to Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology to study film and television. “While the acting stuff was incredibly fun and fulfilling, the two sides of my brain were battling, one going ‘You can’t make a living from acting’ and the other going ‘It’s great fun, carry on and see what happens.’ I was an absentee student. I spent months making a film called Summer of the Flying Saucer. Thankfully I was kicked off the course – I failed terrifically – and my parents didn’t say, ‘Don’t you think you should do a real job now and become a real person and start making money?’ They didn’t put that pressure on me. So I ended up sitting on my arse in Galway for a year.”

Sheehan spent that year playing World of Warcraft and incongruously booking gigs for stand-up comics around the country. “[At one gig] all the comedians showed up and I wasn’t there. I was doing a short film in Dublin. My brother went with a few mates, and all the comedians were going up to him saying, ‘We need to know who’s going on first. What’s the running order? What’s happening? Robert should really be here.’ . . . I did a year of nothing much and came to the end of it, felt wildly restless and wanted to do stuff. Lesson learned.”

He moved to Dublin and landed roles in quick succession in the feature film Cherry Bomb, the Channel 4 drama Red Riding and the Nicholas Cage vehicle Season of the Witch. This was followed by a two-year stint on the hilarious and hugely popular Channel 4 drama Misfits, in which he played Nathan, a smart-arsed, orange-jumpsuited young offender with superpowers.

“I connected quite quickly and intensely with that part,” he says. “I think as the series went on, the writers got our voices in their heads. They can write the cadence of your sentences a lot easier when they’ve got your whiny Irish voice in their ear. And there was that intense family feeling on set. We were shooting in Thamesmead, in southeast London, this very odd-looking estate. We’d get really dirty looks from the locals, because they saw us walking around in orange jumpsuits and thought we were shooting a documentary about young offenders and that we were sullying the area’s not-so-great name.”

About that time, he began filming the first series of the RTÉ gangland drama Love/Hate, in which he played the soulful, doomed assassin, Darren. Love/Hate was not an instant success, with some viewers questioning its credibility. “I could understand that,” he says with a laugh. “We were young, fresh-faced lads in what looked like trendy clothes. We did look a bit like a boy band. But I think the show really graduated into its full expression in the second series and probably also got given the free rein it deserved. There were 500 things happening [in every] episode, and it was incredibly gripping to watch.”

This reached a bit of a tipping point after Darren’s death, at the end of the third series. “In Portlaoise [his home town] over Christmas there was a lot of ‘I thought you were dead!’ People were very emotionally invested in that third series. They were coming up to me with that emotion, discussing storylines: ‘I can’t believe you got killed.’ But I think it was a reflection of how gripped people were by the show. Which is fantastic. It’s what everyone wants when you make something like that.”

Sheehan is getting used to unsolicited chats with strangers. “In London it’s more about Misfits,” he says. “If you see a gaggle of teenagers walking towards you, you tend not to make eye contact, because you know they’re going to recognise you. You learn to adapt: 99.999 per cent of people aren’t looking to be harmful or unpleasant; they just want something, a photograph or an autograph. They want evidence that they’ve been in proximity to that guy they like in that TV show they like.”

He retired Nathan’s orange jumpsuit after two series of Misfits and Darren’s blue hoody after three of Love/Hate. He’s restless, he says, and doesn’t want to be typecast. After Misfits he got a lot of scripts for quirky, Nathanesque characters. “There are actors who do various different shades of a similar character, which is fine. But I prefer the Cillian Murphy school of doing something that takes you so far outside yourself that it’s an incredible challenge and adventure.”

He recently finished filming The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, an adaption of the first of a series of bestselling fantasy novels by Cassandra Clare. “On the first day I was doing a scene with Lily Collins [Phil Collins’s daughter]. The whole street was cordoned off, and they had hundreds of extras and hundreds of crew. It was just a gigantic operation, moving incredibly fast. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was huge, logistically, and incredibly impressive. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.”

This year he’s due to star in a film about Tourette’s syndrome called The Road Within and in David Blair’s supernatural film The Messenger (he worked with Blair on an acclaimed episode of Accused). “It’s about a guy who can speak to the dead. It’s not horror, like The Sixth Sense. It’s more a guy that’s pissed off because he has these dead people badgering him.”

Tonight he will be in Dublin for the Iftas, at which he has been nominated in the best-actor category for Love/Hate. “It’s nice. It’s a reunion of the Love/Hate gang, which will be lovely. And it’s also acting as a family reunion, because I’ve got about 10 of my family into the aftershow bash. There’ll be serious Sheehans around the place. You won’t be able to move for Sheehans.” And the blue hoody? “The manky blue hoody I wore for the whole series? Funnily enough, my local theatre wants to get it and frame it and put it on the wall. I’ll get it for them.”

He laughs, then yawns, then laughs again.

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