The Avondhu - By The Fireside
ACTING BUG RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Rathcormac man and Fair City star Stephen O’Leary is a hard man to pin down. Since taking up the role of the luckless Zac Dillon in the widely watched soap, the 27-year-old has been busy treading the cobbles of Carrigstown. However, in breaks between filming periods, Stephen is busy in a very different way, driving a van in Cork for his father, Donal!
Owing to his current storyline, the young actor has a little more time on his hands in November when The Avondhu speaks to him, however, the respite was brief, as he returned to full-time filming in Dublin in early December.
“I’ve been very lucky to get the part in Fair City. It’s such an iconic show. When my grandmother was alive, she used to love it and I’d watch a few episodes with her. I hadn’t watched it in a few years before I got the part, and when you’re in it, it really comes home how many people actually watch it. It’s great to be involved in such a big storyline too.”
“It’s been a hectic few week’s filming. I was meant to be doing the Gaiety panto, which I’ve done for a number of years, but just this year, the schedule wouldn’t allow it to work.
“Right now, in November, because of the way my storyline is, I have a little more time off. It’s rare, in this industry, to be working all 12 months of the year so you will have periods where you’re quiet, and periods where it’s busy. Anyway, my father Donal owns a company, so even on my days off I won’t escape working!”
The young actor does deliveries for his father and admits to being surprised when he’s recognised.
“It’s funny. I’ll be doing deliveries in shops and people will kind of look at me and go, are you the fella from Fair City? I do get recognised on the street a bit; you never think about it when you’re working though. When you’re filming, you just go into work and do the best you can. You forget people actually watch it, and how popular it is.”
A former student of St Colman’s College in Fermoy, the actor left school not being ‘sure’ he wanted to go into acting, however he auditioned successfully for the Gaiety School of Acting, which he attended for two years before graduating in 2014.
“I knew I enjoyed acting, but I didn’t know if I could do it. But realistically I can’t think of anything else I wanted to do! Through the CAO, I think the course I actually got was Public Health. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it!”
It is not an entirely uncharacteristic career path for an O’Leary family member though. Stephen’s mother is actor, director and teacher Valerie O’Leary, active in the industry for 35 years. Older sister Sally is a multi-award winning writer, actor and comedian based in London, and another sister, Claire, is currently starring in Les Misérables at London’s Sondheim Theatre.
Older brother William takes part in drama of a different kind, as Fianna Fáil county councillor for the Fermoy Municipal District! Siblings Eva, Peter and Rose round off the family of seven.
So, does the TV star think it was nature or nurture that led him to the ‘Bright Lights’?
“Maybe a bit of both! I was doing drama classes with my mam from a young age and I definitely thought at time, ‘Oh God, more of this!’ But I was never pressured into it growing up, and in a way that helps, not getting pressured into it. Even when I was leaving Colman’s I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into this work. However, I did a few auditions, and ended up in the Gaiety School of Acting, and am working in the industry since.”
The actor admits you need to be confident to be in this line of work.
“There are going to be times that you won’t be working. You might do 20 auditions, and not get 19 of them. But that’s normal – you hear the biggest actors in the world say the same thing. Patience and self-belief are the two traits I think you need to have. If you don’t have that self-belief, then you aren’t right for this industry.”
When not helping out at home in Cork, Stephen lives in Dublin, where he met his partner, fellow actor Lauren Butler on the set of The Snow Queen in the Gaiety.
He confesses to being “lucky” with his career trajectory, having landed parts in plays, theatre productions, and now TV roles more or less continuously since graduating. He played Leamy Flanagan in a 2015 production of The Field, and more recently starred in Copper Face Jacks: The Musical, which is due for a nationwide tour next summer. On TV, Irish viewers might recognise him from RTÉ’s ‘Can’t Cope Won’t Cope’ and TV3’s ‘Smalltown’, while his big screen credits include ‘We Ourselves’, alongside Aidan Gillen.
If pushed to choose between theatre and screen, the actor diplomatically states that he enjoys the variety of the work he’s done. However, he betrays a definite enthusiasm for the “immediacy” of filming, and the exciting pace of a show as full-on as Fair City, which airs three times a week.
“I remember when I started there I got a bit of a shock. They film four episodes a week, so it’s full-on. They’ve a mountain of work to get through, so they really push on with the scene. You really have to be switched on and focused for the whole day. If you don’t have that energy, it’ll show on camera. It’s amazing experience, working at that kind of pace.”
Fair City doesn’t shoot in chronological sequence, so actors need to be on the ball to ensure continuity.
“You might do all the Community Centre scenes on a Tuesday, and then all the McCoy’s on a Wednesday. I could shoot the aftermath of an argument on Monday, and then film the argument itself on Thursday, so you have to remember what you’re at or what you’ve done! We only get the script a week in advance too, so you never know what’s coming up for you, so that keeps it interesting.”
His current role of Zac Dillon, puts him at the centre of a topical storyline for the show, as the young man is drawn into a dangerous game of drug-dealing and crime.
“It’s topical because it shows how easy lads like Zac get dragged into that story. It shows how easily young people can get dragged into it, and the effect it has on people, on their family and their friends. I like filming, I like finding the truth of a scene, which is very different to more farcical shows, like Copper Face Jacks.”
Rathcormac’s leading man will be on stage and on screen in 2022, so the future looks bright for this part-time delivery man!