by Oisin Vince Coulter and Sorcha Gannon | tn2magazine.ie
TN2: How do you like London?
ROB: I love London. I’ve lived there for the best part of five years. Well, I mean before I started the Shakespeare thing I was in Los Angeles for a year, standing around, doing a little bit of work. I did a couple of films out there, but then came back to do this Shakespeare thing and in all truth, kinda came back and just sort of breathed, sort of exhaled: ‘I feel closer to home again’.
In all seriousness, it’s funny; LA can seem so utterly foreign, you know. I’ve been out there and back so many times and then went and actually lived there but it seems more foreign now than it does when I first went there. I suppose it’s just lost a bit of its pizazz, but London just continues to gain pizazz – and, to do Shakespeare in London is incredibly meaningful, under the lovely Trevor Nunn.
Is this your first Shakespeare performance? And you’re the villain?
It is, and I am the villain. We’re sort of thrown in at the deep end in many ways, because we had nine weeks to rehearse all three plays, a Shakespeare adaptation of Henry VI parts one, two and three, and Richard III, all of which are mammoth plays in themselves.
So Peter Hall and John Barton back in the 60s took it upon themselves to adapt those four plays into this daylong trilogy that you could start at 11AM and power through right to 11 o’clock at night.
How did you maintain your stamina for that? …a lot of caffeine?
You know what, during rehearsals I didn’t have any caffeine, because when you’re relying on something like that – false energy – can let you down at the best of times, or sort of bring you on this roller coaster of energy which isn’t good either. I try and eat as much as I possibly can, and that requires getting home wrecked after a day and making a packed lunch, and making a sort of a supper, and food for the next day.
Especially on trilogy days – which happened on a Thursday and a Saturday – we’d all come in with big boxes of pasta. I’m a skinny guy anyway, but I’ve lost weight doing this thing because the Richard in our sort-of-adaptation is incredibly agile. There’s loads and loads of sword fights, snarling and biting and crying and sweating, and by the end of it I’m just a shadow of my former self.
You’ve been called a sex symbol. What was it like playing a physically impaired person?
Trevor – Sir Trev – very much wanted to encourage and accentuate the kind of youthful sort of exuberant Richard. Very much charismatic, very much a child when you first meet him in the second play of Henry IV and then you watch him experience the death of his father and go through all these really harrowing things. You know, at the beginning of Richard III he’s sort of going “What the fuck am I going to do now?” So he decides to just kind of turn everything upside down again.
So there was this sort of cheeky, young, brash thing that Trevor was constantly bringing out. So as an example, there was points when even when I’ve won my first sword fight I kind of do this great big like jump in the air, like a kid. It’s just really un-Shakespearean, un-Richard-like and really irreverent, that was very accentuated. As far as the deformity, I’m sort of hunched, my bodies kind of twisted into this chaotic thing, my arm is withered across my body. I’ve got a built up shoe on one leg for a limp, and a brace all up this leg. It’s very tough on the lower back.
You really became a big name as a result of your TV work: Misfits in the UK, Love/Hate in Ireland. Would you consider going back to TV?
I have no qualms! There’s no exclusivity when it comes to platform, if there’s a good televisual project or a film project, you just sort of have to take it as it comes and usually the stuff that is worth being in requires a lot of fighting for, and the stuff that kinda comes your way is usually the stuff that could be seen as unambitious. It’s only once in a blue moon that the stuff that’s really great is also the stuff they really want you for; it’s so very rare.
You kinda have to keep singing for your supper. And that can come in all forms! The next few things: I’m doing this movie that I’ve talked about a few times, called the Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, which is kinda an exploration of the science of love and attachment, basically. It’s about this young girl, she’s like 19, and she’s flying back to London to her dad’s second wedding, and her family was torn apart by the fact that her dad left her mum, and she has a lot of resentment.
And then she meets this young man in the airport who is a psych-major at Yale, this English guy, who very much believes the same thing and they sort of talk about how love is insanity, and the wreckage it leaves in it’s wake. But also while they are talking about this they’re starting to feel attachment throughout the whole thing. So it’s a very science-proofed love story. That was directed by a guy called Dustin Lance Black who directed a few films but he’s more known for writing – he wrote Milk, J Edgar – he’s quite politicised – so this is something completely unpolitical for him as well.
What Irish actors and directors are you interested or inspired by at the moment?
At the moment, Irish actors, Michael Fassbender, Cillian Murphy are definitely my two guys at the moment. Although, you know, I saw Colin Farrell in the Lobster last night and he was fantastic and he’s so very un-Colin Farrell, he was great in that, definitely.
by Larry Heath | theaureview.com
AU: You’re currently preparing for performances in London as Richard III in The Wars of the Roses – how is everything going in the leadup to that? It’s only one of Shakespeare’s longest plays… must be a walk in the park! *laughs*
ROB: *Laughs* Yes! It’s going to reasonably well so far. We kicked it off with a couple of previews of the first play (Henry VI) and then we stopped to do rehearsals for the second play, Edward IV. So we just finished the technical rehearsals for that. And that one is the one with the most wars. So it was a gigantic collaborative effort that was akin to pulling teeth in its logistical challenges. So Monday evening is our dress rehearsal with an audience, so I think our director, our captain, is going to get up on stage before the show and say, “Terribly sorry, but could you bare with us please? This is the first dress rehearsal and we’ve gone completely down to the wire on it!”
So Richard III (the third play of the trilogy) has gone completely out of my brain already. So I’m sure we’ll get to him sometime at the end of next week.
How long have you been preparing for this production?
We started rehearsals about 10 weeks ago, so we’ve had roughly about 3 weeks per play. You’d think that would be enough time to get our shit in order, but the fact of the matter is, logistically the thing is such a monster, that once you get into the theatre itself there are a whole set of different challenges to overcome. All the dramatic stuff and all the feelings you’ve been carrying for nine weeks kind of go out the window *laughs* in exchange for the panic of standing side of stage and “am I going on next?”. But it’s been one of the most incredibly physical jobs of my entire life, it really has.
As you said, there’s a lot of wars.
Loads of wars, loads of battles, loads of trying not to poke someone’s eyes out with a swords, while looking like you are trying to poke their eyes out at the same time. Which can be very tricky.
It could be described as “Shakepeare’s Game of Thrones… well at least that’s how this production is being promoted… so if you were to join the cast of Game of Thrones, how would you want your character to die?
Didn’t they introduce a supernatural dragon element to the show?
The certainly did! Though it took about ten seasons before you actually got to see them.
I think I’d like to be eaten by a dragon. In a glorious St. George versus the dragon kind of way.
Would there be a shot of them ripping your body in two? Get really graphic?
Yeah exactly. A noble fight. Me with a shield and sword. You know if there’s dragon’s knocking around, you don’t want to be killed by a man. *laughs*. You want to be taking out in the middle of the night by some angry Queen. I’m not entirely familiar with Game of Thrones, but we do have dragons in The Wars of the Roses *laughs*. So if anyone is interested in flying over from Australia, then please do come, because there are dragons.
There’s no dragons. I’m lying.
“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.