“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!