How to play a blinder at the hunger games
‘The only thing you need to play a vampire is to be hungry,” says Damien Molony, who plays a 500-year-old recovering blood addict on BBC3’s Being Human. Well, that’s what Jason Watkins, another vampiric alumnus of the show told him.
“And it’s true,” says Molony. “It gives an electricity to a scene if in the back of your head you’re thinking ‘I could totally sink my teeth into your neck right now’. Although I’m not method enough to actually go hungry.”
By the time Molony, a talented young actor from Kildare, had heard Watkins’s advice, he’d already done quite a bit of vampire research. “I spent two or three weeks watching movies, getting myself ready for the first day on set,” he says. “As soon as I got the job they told me to watch Near Dark, the Kathryn Bigelow film, and I watched Nosferatu and Shadow of the Vampire and a lot of the films mentioned in Mark Gatiss’s BBC 4 documentaries about horror [Gatiss made a memorable appearance in the last series of Being Human].”
Molony also read up on addiction and alcoholism, “to give it a grounding in truth. Anyone can put on a black cape and gel their hair back, but to actually bring it to life requires a lot of work.”
He was taking nothing for granted. Being Human was popular when he landed the role and Molony’s acting ambitions had been thwarted by bad luck in the past. “In 2001 I applied for the drama course in Trinity College,” he says. “In the application, they asked ‘What was the most inspiring cultural moment of 2001 for you?’ And all I could think of was this sweeping shot at the start of the Fellowship of the Ring . . . It was obvious to me that that was the cultural moment of the year – not Druid at the Abbey or something at the Wexford Opera House. That was where my mindset was when I was 18 years old. I should probably have said something about my first copy of Shakespeare’s complete works, but I’d rarely gone to the theatre – I just loved films. I never heard back from them.”
So, not knowing what else to do, he embarked on a degree in business, economics and social studies at Trinity. “The drama people at college seemed like such a tight-knit group, so I put acting on the back burner until a friend of mine signed up to do a small part in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Two weeks before, he said: ‘Look I’m really nervous. I heard you want to do acting – could you do my part? I’m too scared to go up on stage.’ Obviously I was terrified and had no idea what I was doing, but it kind of ignited something in me. I just went for it. It was exhilarating.”
Rada? Who, me?
He was still clueless about the path to a professional career. When friends began applying to drama schools in London, the thought had never even occurred to him. “I thought Rada was the only place you could go, and that you could only do that if you were related to Oscar Wilde or were a certified genius. I didn’t realise it was a real option for Irish people.”
After a year slogging it out in amateur productions he was accepted into London’s Drama Centre. At the end of his course there, he landed a part in John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore in Leeds, and, soon after, was cast to replace fellow Irishman Aidan Turner as Being Human’s resident vampire (Turner, incidentally, went on to star in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit).
“It was nerve-wracking,” says Molony. “I’d seen these episodes of Home and Away where blink-and-you-miss it, they’ve replaced Pippa with a different actress . . .
“But they told me at the audition that my character is coming from a completely different place. Hal is English not Irish, a 519-year-old vampire who’s been hidden for 55 years. He’s not cool like Mitchell [Turner’s character]; he’s old [fashioned] and wears tweed suits . . . and the fans have been brilliant. I was doing a play at the National and all these people would come to the stage door with little presents they thought Hal would like.”
Part of Hal’s popularity is easily explained. As well as delivering a fine, nervy performance, Molony spends a fair bit of time with his shirt off. “I remember getting an episode in the post and it said ‘Hal is doing chin-ups’, and in the script he’s counting: ‘27, 28, 29’. I’d never done a chin-up in my life. I was like ‘Oh God. I’d better get into shape’.”
Created by Toby Whitehouse, Being Human began with a sitcom premise – a vampire, werewolf and ghost share a house – but quickly revealed itself to be a funny, dark, character-led drama. In the final series (it was announced yesterday that this series will be the last) our trio of heroes try to save the world from a new baddie, a diabolical old man in a wheelchair played by veteran actor Phil Davis.
“Working with him was really exciting,” says Molony. “Phil goes to make-up and comes out this shrivelled, vile, disgusting, decrepit old man. And he sits into this little wheelchair and he doesn’t have to do anything but pierce you with his eyes.”
Molony thinks it’s a great time to be an actor, with the boundaries between theatre, film and television more porous. He’s currently rehearsing Anders Lustgarten’s dystopic political drama If You Don’t Let us Dream we Won’t Let You Sleep at London’s Royal Court. He lists creative compatriots including actors Domhnall Gleeson and Andrew Scott, director Lenny Abrahamson and the Druid theatre company. “It’s a really great time to be Irish and in the arts,” he says. And then he goes off to have his lunch. He’s not playing a vampire today.
* Being Human is on Sundays, 10pm, on BBC 3