It may be hard to believe, but 2014 marks 19 years since the iconic comedy Father Ted first aired. In the near two decades since, its endearing star Ardal O’Hanlon has come a long way since first donning his vestments.
A cult following for the show, subsequent leading television comedy roles and a career as one of the UK’s most popular stand-ups resulted, so a leading role in a Conor McPherson’s affecting drama The Weir as the lonely Jim may seem an unlikely move. Following its acclaimed run at the Donmar Warehouse, however, there is many a theatre critic who would beg to differ.
So successful was the production, in fact, the whole cast, including film star Brian Cox and TV favourite Dervla Kirwan, have transferred with the production into the West End.
Here O’Hanlon reveals how the transfer will take the chilling story to a new funnier place, explains why theatre has an arousing effect on him and tells us how sacrifices are inevitable for a career in the spotlight.
Describe The Weir in six words.
It is a very good play.
How did you feel when you found out the show would be transferring into the West End?
Thrilled, primarily because the cast was able to reunite. That was a minor miracle. Also because it was such a special experience, it would have been a shame not to bring it to a wider audience.
Has your performance changed now it is being staged in a larger venue after the intimate setting of the Donmar Warehouse?
Not hugely, I think. I hope I’ve managed to retain the essential elements of my character Jim, but I suspect this version of the show is slightly bolder and brasher, and possibly funnier and more edgy.
What first sparked your interest in performing?
During my final year at school – to relieve the tedium as much as anything else – I entered a big debating competition, which was totally out of character for me. I wrote a silly speech, undermining the whole enterprise and everybody laughed. I was bitten.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
Waiting For Godot directed perhaps by Werner Herzog with Christopher Walken as Pozzo and Paul Giammatti as Lucky. I guess I’d be Estragon and Joaquin Phoenix, Vladimir. I’d get my son to play the boy.
Stage or screen?
At the moment, stage. I’m a relative newcomer to theatre and frankly I find it arousing. I love the incredibly thorough rehearsal process during which you discover so much about the work, about yourself, and about human nature. I love the intense (albeit short-lived) relationships that are forged and the sociable nature of the medium.
Drama or stand-up comedy?
Impossible to choose. Stand-up is not really a job, it’s a vocation, a way of engaging with the world but theatre (or indeed film or TV) for me is pure escapism, pure joy, a welcome break from my own head.
Who or what has inspired you?
In terms of giving me the confidence to act, I’d say [David] Mamet’s book, True And False, the director Robin Lefevre and the legendary TV producer Geoffrey Perkins.
Do you have any regrets?
Loads, but I don’t dwell on them. There are so many options in life and I’m such a ditherer, I assume most of my choices are wrong. I’ve always been a fatalist.
What do you consider your big break?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say Father Ted.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
Yes, I greatly regret missing so many weddings and funerals, and of course the time spent away from my family. But by the same token I’ve sacrificed a lot of career opportunities for the sake of a quiet life.
What would you choose as a last meal?
Wild mushrooms followed by a shellfish platter, then some sort of a bird and maybe a Wagyu Porterhouse steak accompanied by something earthy and austere, possibly a Pauillac, preferably a Latour and, of course, chips.
If you could only recommend one book, one film and one album, what would they be and why?
Unfair question, it changes from minute to minute. The last really great books I read were the Melrose novels by Edward St Aubin, funny, angry, pithy. I’ve been ploughing my way through the Woody Allen box set – my current favourite is Stardust Memories – and on my recent stand-up tour LCD Soundsystem featured disproportionately on my pre-show playlist – adventurous, quirky, uplifting music for our time.
Do you have any advice for young actors?
My advice would be to ignore anything I say and work it out for yourself by watching and listening.
What could you not be without?
Trousers, I suppose. They’re under-rated. They protect you when you’re climbing over barbed wire fences and they usually have pockets.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions?
No, but I find a routine helps in the hour before the show.
Where do you head after a performance?
J Sheekey’s is dangerously near the Wyndham’s.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
A writer. I can’t imagine a life that doesn’t involve musing and pain and the balm of story.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like a city named in my honour. St Ardalsburg or something.
"Theatre for me is pure escapism, pure joy, a welcome break from my own head"