Interview: Shadow Dancer’s Martin McCann talks to Film Ireland

Shadow Dancer is released in cinemas today Friday, 24th August 2012, here in full is Gemma Creagh’s interview with Martin McCann from the current autumn 2012 issue of Film Ireland magazine.

Yes we McCann

Gemma Creagh chats with Belfast actor Martin McCann about being Bono, his buddies and his role in James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer, which closes this year’s Fleadh.


So how did you get into acting?

When I was ten or eleven, I auditioned for a role in the Arts Theatre inBelfastfor the Artful Dodger. I’d never really done much acting before – other than entertaining the family and imitating my favourite characters from television. I got the part and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was well and truly bitten by the bug of acting!


Tell me about your work with the Youth Action theatre in Belfast.

The Rainbow Factory was a cross-community project bringing Catholic and Protestant kids together through drama inNorthern Ireland. I joined when I was twelve years of age. I was just another one of the kids from West Belfast. I’m still with them today but obviously I got a bit older and my career took more of a serious turn and they asked me to be a patron. It certainly opened me up as a young man. It was one of the best things I’ve done. It kept me on track and kept my interest in drama alive.


You worked on the sketch show, Dry Your Eyes. Would you have done much improv on that?

No, to be honest. [Laughs] It was all scripted, but it felt like it was improv. I knew all the guys; we got together and did it as a bunch of friends. The Hole in the Wall Gang were very popular from Give My Head Peace. That was one of the most, if not the most successful show in Northern Ireland at that time. I had never really seen myself as a comedy sketch show actor but I just loved it. It was one of the most fun projects I was ever involved in. It was basically just dressing up in silly clothes and being as funny as you can.


Do you have anything you would like to bury under the carpet?

Thankfully no! I’ve never done any ads where I had to dress in a chicken suit to sell chicken burgers or anything. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid that.


Film or theatre?

Film work is better paid, that’s always a benefit. I mean it is a job. But nothing quite compares to the feeling that you have on stage; it’s live, it’s organic. To be a theatre actor, it’s a definite way of life.


What do you do to prepare yourself for a part?

You have to be in the right mind frame and you have to really believe in what you’re doing. Trust the director and enjoy the story. Sit down with the script and work out what you have to do at each point. It sounds simple, but it’s actually just doing your homework.


Which was your most challenging role to play?

I think The Pacific because I was playing a six-foot-three, stoic Texan, whereas I’m a five-foot-seven, energetic Irish lad. So that was a bit of stretch for me. I was quite young. I would have loved to have gotten that role a couple of years later – but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.


What’s it like going from homegrown productions such as Swansong, Killing Bono and Titanic: Blood and Steel to the likes of HBO’s The Pacific?

The Pacific was a really unique experience in the sense that it was so big. There were so many people involved and it was over such a long period in time – almost a year in Australia – but when all that is scaled down it’s just the same as any other job. You’re an actor with a bunch of actors and you’re working with a director. All the rest of it is just secondary, certainly from my point of view.


How did you get that role?

A lot of people thought Richard Attenborough called Steven Spielberg and got him to give me the role. What actually happened was that I auditioned in London five or six times and then auditioned twice in LA. I put my thinking cap on and phoned up Richard Attenborough’s assistant. I got the assistant to ask Richard to send Seven Spielberg some stuff that I had done to better my chances in getting the role.


Did you enjoy winning the IFTA?

I genuinely forget until I’m asked about winning the IFTA. I sometimes think: ‘Really? Did they really give that to me?’ It was lovely, brilliant and an honour to be recognised by the Irish film industry as a young actor. It’ll definitely be a night I’ll never forget and I’m glad that it happened. I really am.


Do you ever get recognised?

Ah, occasionally. It feels weird. ‘I know you from somewhere!’ is usually the statement. You don’t want to say: ‘Oh, TV’ because you sound like an idiot. You just kinda shake their hand and move on. It’s nice – not too bad at all.


With your varying roles you’ve certainly not been typecast.

My wish is to become a really good character actor. I love changing my voice or my physicality a little bit. I find a lot a fun in that.


Your Bono in Killing Bono was uncanny!

I had a great time during that, I really did. With Ben and Robbie and the director Nick, it was just four lads having a laugh, making a film at the same time. It was really good.


The subject matter of Shadow Dancer is quite close to home. What did you make of the film?

Usually you watch films about the Troubles and you go: ‘That wouldn’t have happened. That definitely wouldn’t have happened.’ But watching this film back there’s not one moment that seemed fake. Every piece of it, every part of this film could conceivably happen and probably has happened.


It’s a character-driven, real old-fashioned-style thriller with the pace of a modern film. I haven’t a terribly big part in it but it’s nice to be a part of something that’s really good.


What was it like working with James?

Honestly? The sweetest man on the planet. There was a scene where my character is dead and he’s in a coffin. And I think James thought that I was maybe a little bit uncomfortable, so James got in first just to break the ice. It’s not often a director does that, or needs to do that, but James was that kind of guy.


What is next on the cards?

I’ve got two films lined up fortunately enough. They’ll be starting in August/September and that’ll take me through to 2013. In Apples and Oranges I play a young artist who travels fromIreland toAmerica and gets into trouble by forging really expensive artwork – it’s a comedy.


And Tainted Love is the story of a very troubled young woman that makes my character fall in love with her, to his detriment. She pulls the wool over his eyes. It has a big twisty-turny vibe with troubled young characters – again. [Laughs].


Definitely one to watch, Martin McCann is also currently featuring alongside Charlene McKenna in Jump and in Terry George’s Whole Lotta Sole.


Shadow Dancer is released in cinemas Friday, 24th August 2012.

Read Julie Nicholl-Stimpson’s review of Shadow Dancer here



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