“I‘ve been quite monastic. Eat, sleep, rehearse,” Robert Sheehan explains, referring to his preparation for The Wars of the Roses, an epic distillation of four of Shakespeare’s history plays, directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, which he is now starring in alongside Joely Richardson and Rufus Hound at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.
Originally adapted in 1963, this is the second ever staging of the mammoth project. “It’s been an exhilarating, terrifying process,” Sheehan continues, on a rare break from the show. “It’s terrifying thinking ‘Are we ever going to get there?’ and pull off three plays but it’s been just an extraordinarily fulfilling thing. When we did our first trilogy and had press in and friends and family, we ended the three plays with the most amazing rapturous standing ovation I have ever witnessed in a theatre… Reviews are out, I’ve read one or two but apparently they’re good, 4 and 5 stars.”
Making his big break on British science fiction comedy-drama Misfits back in 2009, Rob Sheehan is a young talent Hunger has championed since the start of his career, appearing on the cover of Issue 2. The effervescent Irish actor starred alongside Zoe Kravitz and Dev Patel in The Road Within earlier this year, as well as taking the lead opposite Joely Richardson and Lily Cole in The Messenger, playing Jack a troubled soul, at odds with the world, unable to conform.
On a day off from his captivating stage performance, Robert popped into Hunger HQ to discuss the play, his upcoming film Jet Trash which he also executively produced and avoiding the celebrity circus.
Having done TV and film, is theatre the most rewarding and exhilarating?
I suppose it depends when you ask me. Theatre is much more of an immediate gratification. Especially because I’m playing Richard III and a lot of what he does is speaking to the audience. The adrenalin rush and what you get back is glorious. You don’t get that same feeling with film because it’s a fractured process but at the same time there is a great reward… For example with Jet Trash because I was producer as well as actor I was there from the ground up, from raising the money and casting to location scouting so that seems to be where the true reward and gratification comes from, seeing something go from the page to actually taking shape. There’s much more of a multi-faceted, long-term reward there. I’ve yet to see the finished, polished product so I can’t wait.
How was it both acting in and producing Jet Trash? Can you tell us a bit more about the film?
It’s about two guys in the paradise of India who are running from something. They’re hiding and they’re trying to drink and drug their minds so they don’t have to think about the situation. Then the story jumps back to London where the two boys get themselves into the trouble that they’re running from. As producer it was one of the most challenging parts of anything I’ve done because it required constant script development, constant sitting in a room and trying to agree with the powers that be on the film, which isn’t always easy. At times it felt, both in the script developmental stage and the editing stage that we would take one step forward and two steps back. The progress was slow but maybe that’s because I’m a perfectionist and if something doesn’t feel right, then try and make it better rather than skating over it and trying to honour a deadline.
Myself and the director Charlie Belleville worked on the script together and we brought in various other people but it was us that brought the script to where it is. The casting experience was incredibly rewarding and difficult at the same time because if you’re on one side of the table and you have eight actresses come in to read for the role of your best friend and five of them are brilliant, it’s an embarrassment of riches and it’s actually tragic to make a decision. That element was brand new for me. India was sublime. We lived very much on the hoof and managed to cover quite a number of locations even though we had a modest budget of less than £400,000.
With that role, your parts in The Road Within and The Messenger it seems you gravitate towards the more challenging, gritty characters rather than the more obvious teen heartthrob roles that your peers might pick. Is that a considered decision?
I think finding characters who are flawed and who are messes are the most fun to play. I mean the character in Jet Trash is very much a completely self-centred, somewhat magnetic character who at first you want to be his mate but you see the consequences of his actions and eventually he realises that. The ones that are flawed… not that heartthrob characters can’t be flawed, but they are an archetype of something that we’ve seen before and always derivative, it’s harder in a way to make that leading man original.
After your experience producing is that definitely something you’d delve into again?
Absolutely. Writing is really fun too. I wrote a couple of things recently and sent them to friends of mine who are scriptwriters and they were like “It’s good man” which is great! Once you’ve made something it’s impossible to have any sort of objectivity. I’ll definitely continue to make stuff from the ground up, to be ‘auteur’ as well as actor.
We don’t really see you stumbling out of clubs in the press or actively working the party circuit. Is the celebrity circus something you avoid?
To be honest, the celebrity circuit tends to be parties with an agenda “Come to this party, it’s for a brand of headphones!”. That’s not a party. Personally I don’t really see the value in that. I understand the value of promotion but I find it a little bit tiresome. What I understand about myself at this point in my life is that work is a huge part of my happiness. If I don’t have something to really, really engage with or if I’m idle for any period of time, I’m far less happy as a person.
Who have been the biggest influences on your work and creativity?
A lot of directors who I’ve worked with, watching them sculpt you as an actor and everything else in a show is incredibly inspiring. That and getting advice from people like Sir Trevor Nunn who I’m working with at the moment who is truly one of the most enriched human beings on the planet. He has an encyclopaedic mind for Shakespeare and literature. It’s an intellect that you just so easily hand yourself over to. What he’s pulled off with the War of the Roses trilogy is just extraordinary. 75 scenes, over 9 weeks of rehearsal, with 25 actors. He is an incredible source of inspiration and also someone who continually pushed me to invent, invent, invent for Richard III and be as brave and provocative as possible with the part.
David Blair another director who I worked with on The Messenger and The Accused is again one of these really impressive intellects and a purist drama maker. Actor wise, the list is endless but talking about Irish actors, Michael Fassbender and Cillian Murphy are both just absolutely top of their game. Actors who chose projects that are challenging first and foremost. I cannot wait to see Macbeth!
You were recently cast opposite Hailee Steinfeld in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. When do you start filming?
That will be next year but Dustin Lance Black who wrote that script and is going to direct it was one of the guys I badgered by sending stuff saying ‘What do you think of this?’ It’s a fantastic script. It’s essentially driven by one conversation for the first two thirds by these people who kind of dissect the nature of love and attachment. They both come from broken families and half the story takes place as these two people fly from New York to London.
Next year is a busy year for you then with Geostorm‘s release as well…
Yep, that’s coming out! There’s a project that the director of Geostorm, Dean Devlin wants me to do. Hopefully going to shoot that in the first quarter of next year and it’s a thriller set in a neighbourhood in Portland. Hopefully that will happen but it’s based on schedules. That’s the thing about being an actor, you’re constantly floating around in a chaos soup waiting for other people’s schedules to align with your own. That’s my foggy future for the time being!
An entertaining little interview with Rob – there are some good quotes in there! Have a read below.
I proved myself to be a show-off little twit by the age of about nine and half. I played the main part in a play in primary school called Oliver with a Twist and that was my first foray onto the stage and my foray into acting.
When I was fourteen there was an open casting call on television for an Irish film called Song for a Raggy Boy. I said to my mum “I’d love to audition for that” and she patiently took me along. I eventually got a small part in the film and then [after that] got an agent so that was the beginning really.
I did a movie in Belfast called Cherrybomb with some actors that I knew: Rupert Grint and James Nesbitt. I got a central part and I thought “wow this is good”. When [Season of the Witch] with Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman and Christopher Lee came along straight after that I realised, oh actually, I’m working at a good level here and if I don’t maim myself in a tractor accident I think I will be able to maintain this. And so far I’ve managed to avoid all agricultural machinery.
It doesn’t annoy me when people associate me with Misfits. Not at all. Thankfully any sort of approach that I get is unanimously lovely. And then I make it weird.
The Wars of the Roses was adapted from Henry VI Parts I, II and III and Richard III by old Bill Shakespeare. Back in the early sixties, John Barton and Peter Hall quite valiantly and somewhat insanely took those four plays and adapted them down into a trilogy which you could come and see in a day. You’d see the ebb and flow of the tide of power. There’s a poetic sentence that just came out of my mouth.
The process became very focused, very fast paced. Which is great because sometimes, even if there’s a troop of very good actors, if there’s a pensive Shakespeare piece it can be difficult for the audience to maintain focus. The pace was all Trevor Nunn because the script looked like an encyclopaedia when it arrived. We [all 23 actors] have to completely trust Trevor implicitly on this because otherwise there would be too many cooks spoiling the Shakespearian broth. It’s been really lovely to be working with a genuine class act.
The great thing about the project is that you meet Richard in the second play, Edward III. It’s the first time we see a young, gleeful, mischievous Richard, so to go from that to a completely fascist dictator, I mean, it’s a lot to take on. But that’s what Trevor’s been compelling me to portray, that young sort of teenage Richard who starts off as an innocent.
I’m going to do a film with Hailee Steinfeld next. Screenwriter and filmmaker Dustin Lance Black has adapted a book called The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. It’s a two hander about love. It’s a really, really interesting script so, if all goes to plan, that’ll happen after we finish this.
The Wars of The Roses runs at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until 31 October 2015.
By Alys Davies | wonderlandmagazine.com
BAFTA-nominated Robert Sheehan takes a break from Shakespearean frills and velvety pants to share with Wonderland all about his new film The Messenger.
We all fell for Robert Sheehan and his Irish charm when he graced our screens as Nathan Young in Misfits – he’s had a busy few years since and the rising actor continues to make an impression with his latest role in The Messenger. The film is directed by David Blair (Best Laid Plans) and sees Sheehan playing protagonist Jack, alongside Joely Richardson, Lily Cole, Jack Fox, David O’Hara and Tamzin Merchant. His character is reluctantly tormented by the dead and has been in and out of psychiatric units all of his life – he is considered an outsider by others and branded delusional. The Messenger follows him on a haunting journey of coming to terms with his turbulent past and playing the intermediary between the dead and their beloved.
Below Sheehan talks with us about working with ‘Darth Blaider’, starring in a Shakespearean epic and very exciting upcoming projects involving Dustin Lance Black and our covergirl Hailee Steinfeld. Also, if like us you want to see him in action you can catch him at the Rose Theatre Kingston in The War of the Roses until October 31.
So I watched The Messenger this morning…
This morning? You might be the first person ever to watch it in the morning!
I know it made me think a lot for the morning.
It was like a strong cup of coffee was it?
Yeah exactly! What attracted you to this film?
Well I guess the same as what you’ve concluded there to some extent, I found it a quite thought-provoking script. I found that Jack the character was written very cleverly – it’s interesting actually because the writer Andrew Kirk – I eventually got around to asking where the idea came from and he said his mother, or possibly his partner’s mother, I can’t remember, had dementia and she started talking to relatives that had passed away as though they were in the room. Everybody was completely mystified at first but it happened consistently and weirdly enough out of that somewhat tragic setting this idea sprang forth about a young man who this is happening to. I just loved that, the fact that this idea sprang from so deep a root you know what I mean?
I think that definitely comes across that it came from somewhere like that. He’s a really complex character…
It’s funny isn’t it when you’re in a strange state of mind and you’re being challenged by adversity or tragedy or somethings going on in your life you can sort of go for a walk and all of a sudden become the most creative you can be… it’s an odd characteristic of us humans. Cyborgs. So that was interesting and yeah you’re right that kind of sang off the page and Jack was a very very strong character.
Robert Sheehan broke hearts when he departed E4’s cult series Misfits after two series five years ago, but it’s a decision he doesn’t regret today.
Since then, he has starred in the Irish drama Love/Hate and several movies including The Mortal Instruments and Killing Bono, and will next be seen taking on Shakespeare in Trevor Nunn’s production of Wars of the Roses.
Speaking to Digital Spy, he said that he was a rather precocious young actor and was desperate to try other things after Misfits.
“A lot of bollocks was chatted,” he said. “A lot of manure was coming out of my mouth during that time. It was very encouraged of us, the five main actors, to be irreverent and silly and f**k around and have a laugh. They never chastised us more than they absolutely had to. We were always encouraged to be disobeying little twits and I think that really helped the spirit of the show, we felt completely unshackled. It was a glorious time.
“I can’t say about where the show ended up, to be honest, because I haven’t seen it. I was absolutely quite happy about when I went off, it seemed like a no-brainer at the time, because I was just a restless fella who was trying to go off and do as much different stuff as possible; I’d done two good summers with that show, so was wildly impatient to do other stuff.”
Sheehan will be portraying Richard III in the West End production of Wars of the Roses, which includes adaptations of Henry VI Parts I, II & III and Richard III by John Barton in collaboration with Peter Hall, while the cast also includes Joely Richardson and Kåre Conradi.
Speaking about taking on the role, he said: “It has been challenging. There was genuine panic, first and foremost, around whether or not I could see myself retaining all the lines. That was genuinely the first concern.”So I tried my best to quash that concern as much as possible by spending a week in Stratford-upon-Avon before we started rehearsing. I saw Shakespeare’s grave, his birth site, saw Trevor’s previous play with the RSC and in that time tried to spend every hour of the day learning a piece of the script. So by week two or three I was fairly off book.
“But then the challenge was trying to make it sound as current and as understandable as possible. I realised: the more you chant Shakespeare like you’re in f**king church the less people are willing to listen or engage. You have to make absolute sense of what you’re saying and then you have to make it as natural as possible.”
On whether he had studied past actors who have played Richard III, he said: “I’d seen Kevin Spacey’s Richard, which I thoroughly enjoyed, because he was able to make the language completely communicable and engaging and he was very funny – I loved his performance, I saw him twice actually. That was the only Richard I’d seen on stage.”Out of curiosity I watched the Ian McKellen movie, which was fantastic – I loved it – they’d captured the spirit of it so fantastically. They were the only two interpretations, previous, that I’d seen.
“The thing about our Richard is there’s a broader arc, in the sense that when you first meet him he’s a little youngster who’s quite in awe of his dad – he’s just one of the middle brothers – you get clues as to where he’s going but not that many.”
The Wars of the Roses will be staged at the Rose Theatre Kingston in London until October 31. Robert Sheehan can also be seen in the movie The Messenger, which is in cinemas now.