First Encounters: Eoin Macken and Tim McDonnell
‘We suddenly realised we were best friends’
Tim McDonnell and Eoin Mackin. Photograph: Rachel Heald, Sightsavers.
Tim McDonnell is a photographer and actor. He had a photographic studio in Howth and was a member of the lifeboat crew there before moving to London last year to pursue an acting career. He still works as a freelance photographer and has travelled a number of times with Sightsavers, an international charity
Eoin and I both grew up in Howth, so we would have known of each other. I knew he was an actor and he knew of me because I used to have a studio in Howth that he would have passed by. Three or four years ago a friend of ours, Graham Cantwell, was making a film, The Callback Queen, in Wales and I was doing the still photography for him. Eoin and I got pally then.
Back in Dublin we’d go out to films or screenings, and we did a lot of partying. Eoin was in Merlin [Macken played Gwaine in the BBC series] at that stage, and was moving back and forth between London and Howth.
Film and photography was the key to our friendship. Then I got involved in acting. I was interested in directing films and did a course with Graham, at the end of which he asked, “How serious are you about acting?” I said not at all, I hadn’t considered it, but he said I should pursue it, that I’d be good at it.
I had the studio in Howth for seven or eight years and I’m still doing freelance photography, I’ll always be doing that. However, I needed to get out of my comfort zone so I upped sticks and moved to London last November, just as Eoin was making the move to LA. I’ve got an agent, have been in a couple of features, and I’m plugging away, getting auditions. I’m toying with the idea of going to LA.
I’ve been on four trips abroad with Sightsavers. I went to Bangladesh 22 months ago and just before that trip, when Eoin and I were hanging out in London, I told him about it and he said he’d like to go. It didn’t happen that time, but Sightsavers said it might be interesting for him to be a kind of ambassador and so we put a trip to Mozambique together.
It was interesting to see someone’s fresh reaction – Eoin hadn’t seen this kind of poverty. A journey like this is exhausting, inspiring and upsetting in equal measure.
Eoin and I have made a documentary for Sightsavers’ appeal and we’re planning on holding an exhibition of the photographs taken Mozambique to raise funds so for an ambulance to bring people diagnosed with eye conditions in from outlying areas to hospital.
I miss working on the Howth lifeboat, I worked on the medical side of things, so I’m joining up with the lifeboat service on the Thames.
Eoin’s a good bloke. We have great craic, acting the maggot, most of that we’d have to keep under wraps, it wouldn’t be fit for public consumption.
Eoin Macken is an actor, director and writer who plays the lead in ‘Night Shift’, an American medical drama. He is also filming ‘The Wedding Invitation’, a romcom. His film ‘Cold’, starring Jack Reynor, will be shown at the Kansas International Film Festival this month and his first novel, ‘Kingdom of Scars’ has just been published
Tim and I knew a lot of the same people from Howth, but I didn’t really know Tim until we worked together on a film in Wales. He’s just a lot of fun, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind getting lost in Africa with. He’s got that kind of calmness, he’s very chilled, always laughing, has a good sense of humour. You know when you meet somebody, you just connect.
I was living in London and we stayed in touch. He came and hung out with me there a couple of times and when I went back to Dublin I’d hang out with him. I don’t know how it happened but over the last three years we suddenly realised we were best friends. It feels like I’ve known him a lot longer.
Tim and I had a lot of chats about his plan to get into acting, I gave him whatever advice I could. When I started off I tried to make my own projects as much as possible to learn how to act. In film-making, I’d work on something I could be in to increase my visibility.
I stumbled into acting. My dad, James, was a barrister but he was always very creative and he loved theatre and the arts. When I left college at 22, I went to LA to study acting after being introduced to an acting coach called Vincent Chase. Later, I got an agent over there. I was acting, auditioning, meeting people and screen-testing, but when my dad got sick and I came home.
With acting, you have to put in the groundwork, then maybe you’ll get lucky. It’s a slog but it’s also fun. I made the audition tape for Night Shift in Howth – I couldn’t go to LA for the audition because I was directing a film, Cold, here. I also always wanted to write. My novel, Kingdom of Scars, is a coming-of-age story.
Tim was involved in Sightsavers for a while. He pitched the idea of us making a documentary on this trip to Mozambique and that’s what happened. The two of us shot the film together, made the documentary and shot the stills. It was very hard work doing everything together – you can only do that with someone you get on incredibly well with.
The plan is to put on and exhibition of photographs to raise money for a hospital there. I hadn’t been to Africa before. The poverty in Mozambique is dire, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of it. The purpose of the documentary is to shed some light on the situation there.
Tim is talking about going to LA. If he does, I think he’ll be okay– he’s a smart guy with a lot of charisma. He’s got something about him that people like. He’s very amenable, very genial, talented, and yes, he’s good looking. Tim is a real man’s man, a man to walk the mountains with. And he’s a little bit mad in the best possible way.
Kingdom of Scars has just been published by Poolbeg