Cameron Cuffe: ‘I’d pretend to be Superman’

The Dublin-trained ‘Krypton’ star on superhero sagas, Tramore and stretching himself

Cameron Cuffe: “They wanted me to have a normal life and grow up around kids.” Photograph: Dan Pick

Cameron Cuffe: “They wanted me to have a normal life and grow up around kids.” Photograph: Dan Pick

 

From the pile of notepads in his London home, Cameron Cuffe picks one and leafs through it. They’re acting journals, in which he fastidiously writes notes, observations, timelines and backstories about the characters he’s playing. The newest one is all about Seg-El, who’ll eventually become Superman’s grandfather (if their enemies don’t get him first), but one he picks up dates all the way back to 2011, when he joined the Lir, otherwise known as the National Academy of Dramatic Art.

“I was going through these the other day, to get ready for the next season of Krypton and see if there are any bits of wisdom I can take forward,” he explains. “There are so many. Every page I turn I found something useful. Here’s one of the most important notes: ‘Always remember to have fun. If you’re having fun you can’t worry about being good.’ That rings true – a lot of young actors are worried about giving a good performance but it’s called ‘playing’ a part for a reason.”

Those who caught Cuffe’s breakthrough performance in E4’s Krypton on Sunday would see how he employs this lesson. In the series, while growing up in the wayward class of the rankless, the lead character of Seg-El returns to a gilded hero on the side of justice – all of which is played with an effortless balance of everyman and superhero, modern and otherworldly. 

As far as first major roles go, it’s quite the coup. The series, a prequel in the ever-popular Superman franchise, was first aired on Syfy in the States and comes to these parts with a solid reputation. Rolling Stone suggests it’s “a clever shot at finding new stories inside one of the most beloved superhero sagas in any universe”, and it’s earned a formidable 80 per cent rating from the public on Rotten Tomatoes – and these Superman fans, they’re not easy to please.

Aged 25, Cuffe has taken bit-parts so far: a minor character in ITV’s The Halycon, a small role in Florence Foster Jenkins, so this jump in career surprised him more than most, especially as he’d already been turned down for the role.

Screen test

“After I auditioned, they said it was a no, but that wasn’t a surprise,” he says. “My agent explained they’d be casting internationally, and never mind, we’d get something soon. But it didn’t quite go away. They kept asking for more audition tapes, and checking with my agent what I was up to. It got to the point where they asked for another audition tape, but I had to stay focused on my role in [US TV series] Time After Time so I asked what exactly they were looking for, because they’d seen so many of my tapes by that point. My agent rung that evening and told me to bring my suitcase to the set tomorrow, because they were going to wrap early so I could get to LA and screen test for David Goyer, who created Krypton. I did the screen test and a few days later, I was in Serbia filming the pilot.”

Cameron Cuffe as Seg-El: “I did the screen test and a few days later, I was in Serbia filming the pilot.”
Cameron Cuffe as Seg-El: “I did the screen test and a few days later, I was in Serbia filming the pilot.”

The win is all the more important as he’s the first alumnus of the Lir, founded by the Ryan-of-Ryanair-fame family, to earn a lead role in an international TV series.

“I’m incredibly proud, but there’s been a huge amount of success coming out of the Lir: people are getting employed in the world of acting right away,” he says. “I talk about it to my classmates and the one thing that binds us is that we’re intent on flying the flag – whatever success we have, we owe to them because they gave us the ability to pursue it, they gave us that first platform.”

There’s been a huge amount of success coming out of the Lir: people are getting employed in the world of acting right away

Born in London and resident in Boston, where his family moved when he was 10, he was already drawn to Europe for drama school. And Ireland was on his radar thanks to his regular visits to Waterford and Tramore (“the most beautiful place in the world”), where his father’s family is from and where his cousins still live. 

“I looked at Rada and Lamda and places like that, but I fell in love with Dublin,” he explains. “I went to Trinity and checked out their drama and theatre studies course, but it seemed to be more academic than what I was looking for. Then I was told they were setting up an acting conservatory. Once I met the people involved, there was nowhere else I wanted to go. I knew it was the perfect place for me.”

Lir’s passion

As part of the first intake of students in the newly established school, was he concerned about losing out on the prestige that the well-known conservatories bring?

“Not at all,” he says. “Maybe it was naivety on my part, but it was evident how much passion was behind the Lir, and it had the backing of organisations like Trinity College and Rada, so I knew there was a vested interest in our work. Plus it celebrated he great legacy of Irish actors and literature. 

“One of the most exciting things about training in Ireland is the theatre community is so tightly knit, but they were so open to us. The Gate Theatre would have open dress rehearsals just for us, where we could watch, take notes and ask questions. We had theatre-makers like [Druid Theatre Company co-founder] Garry Hynes and [director] Annabelle Comyn work with us. One of the best visits we had was with Ciarán Hinds, who’s truly fantastic, and we had John Hurt too. I don’t think there’s any other training programme in the world that offers that kind of connection with the industry of the city it’s in.”

Of course, it’s not only training that maketh the actor. A dogged perseverance helps too, and Cameron’s shown that by the years he’s bided his time. Growing up in a relatively usual home – his father works in IT for the financial sector, and his mother works in advertising and fundraising – family time involved watching the classic movies together.

“The first time I went to the cinema was for the rerelease of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. I was four, so physically the screen was colossal in size, and seeing this epic story completely transported me to a different place,” he recalls. “That encouraged me to grow up with a vivid imagination. I’d watch TV shows and mimic the voices, or tie a red towel around my neck and pretend to be Superman.”

Five years later, a casting director’s visit to his school resulted in him earning a part in a short film called New Year’s Eve.

“Being on set was so exciting, there was a fascinating energy to it,” he recalls.

Comic books

“I got to stay up late, hang out with these interesting people doing interesting technical jobs, and I got to do my favourite thing in the whole world which was play pretend. And at the end of that, I got £100 which to a nine year old was a fortune – that buys you a lot of comic books. When I realised I could make a career from it, there was nothing else I wanted to do.”

So the career choice was money-motivated?

“Absolutely. The money and nothing else. I got into acting to get rich,” he grins.

Wallis Day as Nyssa-Vex and Cameron Cuffe as Seg-El: Rolling Stone suggests Krypton is “a clever shot at finding new stories inside one of the most beloved superhero sagas in any universe”.
Wallis Day as Nyssa-Vex and Cameron Cuffe as Seg-El: Rolling Stone suggests Krypton is “a clever shot at finding new stories inside one of the most beloved superhero sagas in any universe”.

Throughout school in London and Boston, he acted in plays and took on work in the school holidays, but staved off the larger steps.

“I ended up getting quite close to a few films that required me to leave school and shoot for months, like Oliver Stone’s film Alexander. I was up for the role of Young Alexander, and I was told that I would be in the last five. That was something that my parents were nervous about. They wanted me to have a normal life and grow up around kids. I was bummed out at the time, but of course that makes total sense. They said if I still loved it when I was 18, I could pursue it. And when I was 18, I still hadn’t grown out of it.”

His patience has certainly paid off – it means that he’s now armed with the right mix of training and talent to take this lead role, which is set to last for seven years. While six months of each will be spent filming in Belfast’s new Harbour Studios – Krypton is the first production to set up there – he can expect six months off to pursue other roles. 

“I’d definitely love to do more character roles in indie films,” he says of his ambitions for the future. “And get back to the theatre, I haven’t done it for three years.”

Are there any actors whose career progression he admires?

“Most of the actors that I really look up to are old school: Maggie Smith and Judy Dench, Peter O’Toole – if you look at their careers, they worked on huge .. . well, they just worked. Worked and worked and worked, from rep theatre to the biggest of films. That’s what I’d like to do, I’d like to be pushing and stretching in different directions, and playing the small parts and playing the huge parts. Whatever it is, I want to do it.”

Krypton continues on E4 on Sundays at 9pm

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