The ac­tor within

Shak­ing off ‘Mis­fits’, the role that madehim, was still nec­es­sary, Robert Shee­han tells Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

Will Hol­ly­wood change Robert Shee­han? Not likely. The tou­sle­haired thes­pian has been living in Tinseltown at “as fixed an abode as an ac­tor can man­age” but still sounds un­af­fected enough to have just stepped off the last bus from his na­tive Port­laoise.

That’s prob­a­bly just as well. “I travel pretty light,” he says. “Un­en­cum­bered, you know? But that’s be­cause poor old mum and dad have an at­tic full of my stuff back at home.”

At 27, Robert Michael Shee­han has enough stage and screen cred­its to be con­sid­ered a vet­eran. His ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer stretches back to 2003 when he took a bow in Ais­ling Walsh’s Song for a Raggy Boy.

When he sees his younger self on screen, can he re­mem­ber what he was do­ing? “No, I look back on stuff all the time and think ‘I couldn’t do that now’ or I don’t recog­nise it.”

He broke into movies with­out any for­mal train­ing, but he did try life on the other side of the cam­era at the Gal­way-Mayo In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. He left af­ter a year hav­ing landed roles in the Ir­ish movies Sum­mer of the Fly­ing Saucer and Cher­ry­bomb. A stint in Chan­nel 4’s noir tril­ogy, Red Rid­ing, sealed his fate.

“It was a very weighty project,” re­calls Shee­han. “It felt like a step up, es­pe­cially com­ing af­ter those other roles in quick suc­ces­sion.”

He sub­se­quently made a splash at the Old Vic in John Crow­ley’spro­duc­tion of ThePlay­boy of the West­ern World and as a regular in three sea­sons of RTÉ’s Love/Hate. But his Bafta-win­ning turn as Nathan Young in E4’s Mis­fits re­mains the role that changed ev­ery­thing. It is some­thing he dis­cussed with Dev Pa­tel, his co-star in the new movie The Road Within.

“Dev had the same thing with Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire that I had with Mis­fits,” says Robert. “They are great roles but they’re so defin­ing in your ca­reer. It’s the job that’s re­ally ben­e­fi­cial, it’s the one that every­body loves – and sud­den­lyyou’re left with the chal­lenge of putting it be­hind you.”

That’s a sen­sa­tion that Robert Pa­trick, an­other Road Within player, knows all too well: “He went through a dif­fi­cult sort of phase af­ter Ter­mi­na­tor 2 when he couldn’t get seen for roles. Even now, when I was say­ing to my mates at home, Robert Pa­trick is play­ing my dad in this movie, they didn’t know who I was talk­ing about un­til I said T-1000. And then they were im­pressed.”

TheRoad­Within­findsa germa­phobe (Dev Pa­tel), an anorexic (Zoe Kravitz) and a guy with Tourette’s syn­drome (Shee­han) on a jour­ney to­ward the ocean. The lat­ter has just lost his mother and is a source of em­bar­rass­ment for his politi­cian fa­ther (Robert Pa­trick). It takesquite a few emo­tional stand-offs and scrapes be­fore fa­ther-son bond­ing can en­sue.

The film has seen its writer-direc­tor Gren Wells named as one of Va­ri­ety’s 10 di­rec­tors to watch.

“It was very nicely writ­ten,” says Robert.“That was all there in the script when we first all read it. It treaded that line very skil­fully be­tween be­ing re­spect­ful about men­tal ill­ness and very funny and tragic at the same time.”

Still, mas­ter­ing Tourette’s must have re­quired a lot of re- search, right?

“Oh yeah. There was a lot of homework todo – largely mo­ti­vated by ter­ror, the fear of get­ting it com­pletely wrong. I had five or six months be­fore we started shoot­ing, so I had a long pe­riod where I could do re­search.”

His per­for­mance looks emo­tion­ally ex­haust­ing.

“Yeah. You’re in con­stant sup­pres­sion­mode. That was the chal­lenge of it. Any ex­ter­nal force, any­thing that causes anx­i­ety and fear, will cause spasms to rip­ple up to the sur­face. So you’re con­stantly sit­ting on those spasms.”

It might have re­quired greater act­ing chops but The Road Within, one senses, was an eas­ier gig than The Mor­tal In­stru­ments: City of Bones. The 2013 fan­tasy film, adapted from first book of The Mor­tal In­stru­ments se­quence by Cas­san­dra Clare and star­ring Shee­han, was sup­posed to be the new Hunger Games. In­stead, the $60-mil­lion film limped away with $90,565,421.

“With those kind of movies, only 50 per cent is mak­ing and the other 50 per cent is sell­ing,” re­calls Shee­han, “and I wasn’t com­fort­able with that.

“Of course you have to pro­mote the work you’re in. Of course that’s part of the job, but this was an avalanche of press. And as we were near­ing the re­lease of the film in North Amer­ica, we were made aware of num­bers and quo­tas. You have to make this amount of money in the first week­end. It just felt weird.”

No mat­ter – for now the world is Shee­han’s oys­ter. He has just lately stopped off in France to shoot Moonwalk­ers with his Sea­son of the Witch co-star Ron Perl­man and his old Cher­ry­bomb mucker Ru­pert Grint. And he has re­cently wrapped on the Ital­ian holo­caust drama, Anita B.

“I am very much the Euro­pean jet­set­ter,” says Robert. “I went to Italy with this ro­man­tic idea that I would soak up Ital­ian. The crew all spoke Ital­ian even though the film is in English, but in the end I only man­aged to learn ‘I need to go to the toi­let’. Ah well.”

The Road Within is at JDIFF on Sun­day, March 22nd, at 8.45pm in Cineworld. Shee­han takes part in an in­dus­try event “Ex­press­ing Emo­tion: Ac­tors In Con­ver­sa­tion” on Tues­day March 24th at the Teach­ers Club at 3pm. RobertShee­han Hasjust­branched­in­to­pro­duc­tion with­JetTrash, co-star­ringhis girl­friendSofi­aBoutella. Will ap­pear alongsideGer­ardBut­lerin­next year’shot­lytipped­sci-fi, Geostorm Iwan­Rheon Is­busy­beingabas­tar­di­nallsenses ofthe­wor­dasRam­saySnow/ Ram­sayBolton­inGame­ofThrones. NathanSte­wart-Jar­rett PlayedIT con­sul­tan­tIaninthe re­cent­ly­can­celledand­much lament­edChan­nel4­drama Utopia. JoeGil­gun Ap­peared­inPride­lastyearand­will fea­tureinthe up­com­ingThisIs Eng­land’90.

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