'art, me & school days'

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I guess I have always been a creative spirit. Ask my parents... All through my childhood I would paint and sketch pictures. I would make things like a replica of a football trophy, I would record myself doing impressions of famous people or I would spend countless hours designing what I felt should be the next Manchester United and Ireland football shirts. I have always had an obsession with football shirts and that continues today with a treasured collection that has accumulated over the years.

I had two teachers throughout my school years that always encouraged my artist side... Maggie Walshe in Claregalway Primary School and Judy Owens in Móinín na gCiseah Secondary School. Miss Walshe had always seen something in me before I even saw it myself. She actively encouraged me to paint & create and allow my paintbrush to express myself. I have always been a perfectionist (to a fault at times!). I would have an obsession with having things exact, lines perfectly straight, things 100% parallel with not a hint of abnormality but Miss Walshe instilled in me to not be afraid to make a mistake, for no two brushstrokes are the same. She had an incredible energy which transcended onto me and she spoke with such passion! I couldn't help but feel inspired and encouraged by her. I was only 8 when she taught me but those lessons will last a lifetime and it is my sincere hope she will read this and get some understanding of the huge impact she had on my life. She was also a beautiful soul. I could see how the other teachers all fed off of her upbeat spirit. She really was a breath of fresh air. A joy to be around and I will never forget her patience and kindness. I really hope we cross paths again one day.

I was enrolled at Móinín na gCiseach secondary school at the age of 12 and I was determined to keep art as a chosen subject. I was very fortunate to have Miss Owens for my full six years there. My brother and sister were also very good at art. All three of us had very different styles but my brother attended this school and always spoke highly of Miss Owens so I was thrilled to get into her class. Right from the off we got along brilliantly. I guess it really helps to have a student who loves the subject but like Miss Walshe, Miss Owens was an incredibly inspiring lady who spoke with such passion and energy. I loved it! She also had a toughness to her that I benefited greatly from. It's the easiest thing in the world as a teenager to feel too cool for school and sometimes I was guilty of slacking but Miss Owens always drove me on and kept me motivated. You could ask me about any teacher I ever had and I could instantly give you a quote that I associate with them. You see, I have always studied people closely and this has proved a very powerful tool for when I'm taking on a character in a movie. Miss Owens' quote for me, will always be, "Don't paint what you think you see. Don't paint what you want to see. Paint EXACTLY what you see in front of you!" 

I vividly remember one assignment she gave us where we were given the strict instruction of, "Go home this evening. Open your wardrobe. Sit down and sketch EXACTLY what you see in front of you. Don't tidy it first, don't sketch what you think or want to be there. Sketch EXACTLY what you see in front of you"... Well, the next day when she was checking our work and after seeing mine she almost laughed and said, "Oh come on! There is no way a teenage boy's wardrobe is this tidy! I just don't believe it for a second!" But the truth is, I have always had an obsessive collection of football shirts which I mind and store immaculately! Always have and still do to this day! It took some convincing but I think she realised how much of a perfectionist I can be that day.

There was another teacher in Móinín that I must give a mention to and that's a lady called Miss Lucy. I didn't have Miss Lucy as an art teacher but she did ask for me to design the front cover of the school magazine one time. One student popped, "You only want him to do it because you think he's gonna be an artist". To which Miss Lucy replied, "I don't think he's gonna be an artist. He IS an artist!" I was deeply saddened to learn that Miss Lucy has since passed away but I'll never forget her vote of confidence that day.

The way the art exams worked for my Leaving Cert was a huge percentage of my overall grade was based on art history. Now, I have nothing but respect for all the great artists throughout history but I just wanted to paint for that class, not read. I wanted to create my own style and not be influenced by anyone else. It bored me to tears to read about them and Miss Owens knew this so she called me to her desk one day for a chat. She explained her fear of my talent not being enough. She worried about me getting a low grade because I wasn't paying enough attention to the history side of things. I knew she was right but I found it so hard to study anything that didn't interest me. But when I went home that very day a commercial came on the T.V and I couldn't believe my luck... The History Channel was having a week long tribute to all the great artists. Monday to Friday, an hour long special on each of them. I recorded each programme and watched them back, taking notes along the way and the info just stuck and I nailed my exam as I knew I should!

At the end of my six years in that school, I made a point of speaking with the teachers who I truly owed a lot to and of course Miss Owens was very high on that list. I then revealed a secret that I had kept from her for the full six years. No, not my undying love but the fact that I was in actual fact colourblind! To this day, I'm pretty sure she still doesn't believe me. I'll never forget her literally taking a step back and bursting out with, "WHAT!? But you cannot be!? How could you be?! You're use of colour is fantastic!" After explaining how my good friend Deirdre Foley had been mixing my paints for the full six years, I then just smiled and added, "Don't forget, Miss, Beethoven was deaf".   

Of course, there have been many teachers who have had a lasting impression on me and if they ever find themselves reading this, I want them to know how much I appreciate them still to this day. Being a teacher is a very difficult job. They need to strike the right balance of knowledge, patience, understanding, toughness and the ability to transfer that knowledge in a passionate way that holds the interest of a bunch of kids or teenagers. No easy task!

Thinking back on every teacher I ever had and in order, here are ones that really stood out for me. In Claregalway Primary school, my Senior Infants teacher Patricia Walsh. I always remember enjoying my time in her class! She was a great teacher and very funny too, I recall. Again, she had a toughness to her at times and you just wanted to do well for her! I was only 6 when I was in her class but I remember we were doing a reading exercise where she was telling us the importance of 'taking a beat' in between each sentence. Recognise the full stop and take a brief pause before starting the next. To emphasise her point, she said, "count to three in your head before starting the next sentence. I am going to read the first few lines of the story as an example and then each of you in turn will read a sentence each". I was there thinking, "Nobody is counting to three! Huh, I'll show them and she'll praise me!" Along came my turn and there I was, calm and confident in my head, "ONE....TWO...." When the teacher interrupted my trail of thought, "Eugene! You have no idea where we are in the story, do you?! Pay attention!" Ah man!, I blew it! She never mentioned it should be a fast count to three! All these years later, I'm thrilled to say that we have reconnected and remain in touch.

I then moved on to the lovely Mrs. Murphy. Mrs Murphy was a very sweet, kind and nurturing lady who treated you like you were one of her own kids. You just knew she genuinely cared for you and we all loved her in return. She was the first person to ever sit me in front of a computer. I felt like I had just landed in space! Wow, she had a lot of faith in me at 7 years old! Good thing I did really like her and her family because there has been no escaping them! Her daughter was in my class, her husband ended up being my boss years later and I worked with her son! A beautiful family, really great people!

When I was 11 years old I entered my final year in Primary School and our year was split in to two classrooms. I was assigned to Mr. Kirk's class. Now, let me explain... Mr. Kirk came with a fierce reputation! We all heard the stories. We all knew of these phantom kids who didn't survive a year with him! He was as much feared as he was respected but Mr. Kirk turned out to be one of my favourites! He won me over immediately when he brought in his collection of Manchester United autographs! I'm talking about the iconic Busby Babes! George Best, Duncan Edwards, Nobby Styles, Bobby Charlton, the lot! I was in total awe running my finger over these legends handwriting embedded into the page. I pleaded with him to give me one or two or at very least the George Best one! I didn't care that they were all dedicated 'To Bernard'. Heck, I would've changed my name to get my hands on those! I eventually accepted and respected the fact he wouldn't part with them but then things got even worse when he told me he was a Sunderland supporter! To be fair, he did later give me a photocopy of all of the autographs! I vividly remember one day where I accidentally (I promise) broke a window while our teacher was out. Mr. Kirk wasn't my teacher at the time but so began my lonely walk from my classroom to the teachers lounge to admit to what I had done. The whole walk I was thinking, "Please let Miss Walshe or Miss Murphy be in there". Nope, it just had to be Mr. Kirk! I think I found out that day, exactly what it would be like to walk from the halfway line to take a sudden death penalty kick in a World Cup final against Peter Schmeichel!

We actually turned out to be Mr. Kirk's final class. He went on to become Director of the Galway Education Centre. I remember seeing a much softer side to him the day he left. It really strikes a chord with you when you see a notoriously tough individual reduced to tears as he says a final farewell. We did a collection, I think one pound each, and bought him a pair of cuff links because man, could that guy dress! He was deeply touched by the gesture.

I must also take the opportunity to mention our Principal Mr. Coen. I remember Mr. Coen's first day and it's hard to believe he is now retired! I took to him immediately. He had a very calming influence. I believe he had the right balance. He didn't strike fear into you but you knew not to cross him. At the same time, you knew his door was always open! I just really liked him! Occasionally, he would fill in for a teacher if they were absent and although my experiences of him as an actual teacher were few and far between, I always remember enjoying his lessons. On our very last day in Claregalway, our parents were invited. Mr. Coen shook my mothers hand and told her, "He'll make you millions one day". I think he was referring to my goalkeeping skills at the time but I'm still determined to prove him right!

Going from the oldest class in Primary to the youngest in a brand new school was always gonna be an eye opener and although I cannot say I ever loved school, I must say I do have good memories of it. How many times would you hear adults say, "I'm telling you, these are the best days of your life!" And as a teenager I just kept thinking, "It has to get better than this!" I was a middle of the class type student. I had my favourite subjects which I excelled in and the others, I just did enough. I didn't like my time or energy to be spent on things I didn't like. Art was my number one, along with English. I loved English! I loved creative writing, as you may have gathered if you're still reading this! I was good at Geography because my knowledge of football would make me aware of the most unusual places in the world. I would know their football team and the national flag. I had a huge fascination with flags and the meaning behind them! In Claregalway, we did most subjects in Irish so I was really strong at the Irish language going into secondary but it really took me by suprise how nobody else was. The Claregalway students were so far ahead that I know my own Irish language suffered a little as we appeared to stand still while the rest tried to catch up.

I did have some very memorable teachers in Móinín. I've already spoke about Miss Owens but another would be 'Big Joe'. Mr. McLoughlin, was the last of a dying bread of teacher. He ruled with an iron fist. He struck fear into everyone and reduced the biggest guys to tears. He's the reason I started to shave my head and I'll explain that in a moment.. but what a man and what a teacher!  I really loved this guy! Big Joe, as he was affectionately known, was a friend of my fathers so I thought, "Nice, he'll go easy on me". Boy was I wrong. If anything, he was tougher on me, more determined to see me succeed and it stood to me. If you didn't know a particular answer he used to grab you by your sideburns and begin to lift you by them but he'd tell you to stay sitting. Let me tell you, that hurt! So, I thought the best solution was to shave my head. Not to be outdone, the next time I failed to produce an answer I simply got a friendly kick in the shin instead! Believe it or not, it was all done in good fun and everybody knew that. Yes, I'd be subject to some very embarrassing stories about times he'd call to our house when I was a kid but I always felt driven to do my best for him. Touching on something I mentioned earlier about relating a quote to each teacher, Big Joe's was very simple and he'd say it at the start of each year. "Let this be our motto for the year. Anything we do, we do it well". 

He was a very proud native speaker and he had a wonderful way of teaching it. I still have my old copy book from his class because it is filled with beautiful Irish phrases and poems. He told us what the name of our school really meant. 'Móinín na gCiseash' -'A path through marshy ground'. I wonder how many students there today know that. He told us to always write the school name in Irish and to ignore the often used English version. He taught us to be patriotic and proud of our Irish heritage and I truly am.

I recall one day, Big Joe asked us to take on a rather unusual assignment. He wanted everyone in the class to write a story, no particular length, of what God & religion meant to them. There were no right or wrong answers and I'm not quiet sure why we were asked to do it. Perhaps he was just curious but I really enjoyed that story. I just spoke openly and honestly and from the heart. I do remember bits of what I wrote but not all of it. After he read them, he called me aside and asked if I would mind if he kept the paper and showed it to some teachers in the staff room during break. I was a little surprised but had no problem with it. Later he told me that he left the paper on a table for all the teachers to read. There was no name attached and he asked them all to guess what age student wrote that paper. He told me they all said, a very mature final year student with their head well screwed on. I was only in first year and just turned 13. He told me he was truly fascinated at my views. I never did get that paper back but I often thought how I'd love to read it even now, to see exactly how I did think back then and how it compares to now. 

Another couple of teachers that left a huge impression on me are Philip Cribbin Jr and Sean O'Loughlin. I purposely mention them both together because they felt like a package deal! These two guys, from what I understood, were best buds and they were the two youngest teachers who I felt could best relate to the students. Mr. Cribbin was the son of another former teacher of mine and later Principal, Philip Cribbin Snr and I knew the entire Cribbin family from my home village of Claregalway. Really good, well respected and decent people. Philip Cribbin Jr taught me english and although I always loved the subject, it was through him that I really developed a deeper level of thought in general. I really looked forward to his class everyday and I know I bombarded him with questions. We would read a book and go through it with a fine tooth comb. He would ask students, "So, tell me in your own words, what was that all about?" And although he would always encourage your own interpretation of it, he would then add, "Or... and maybe I'm wrong but could this possibly be a metaphor for something else?" Before you knew it, the entire story became something completely different. He would have made a fantastic lawyer! I'm not saying he brainwashed us into thinking something else, not at all! But he did make us dig deeper, look at a bigger picture and realise that things aren't always as they seem. It was an invaluable life lesson that extended a long way from the classroom and my school years. I sometimes think of these guys and the guidance they offered to me and wonder if they have any idea the impact they have had on people's lives, or do enough people even tell them!? I sure hope so!

Sean O'Loughlin was another really brilliant teacher. I had him for history class. Now, I always had a fascination and genuine interest in history but I did struggle a little. To quote an unnamed kid from my class at the time who had no interest whatsoever in school... When Mr. O'Loughlin once asked him, "Have you any interest at all in history? Do you even want to be here?" The kid replied, "I do Sir, don't me wrong! It's just, history goes so far back!" That made me laugh so much but he had a point! I think it was the political side of things that I struggled with because I simply had no interest whatsoever. Even now, I cannot stand politics but I'll get back to that in a moment. Mr. O'Loughlin was one of the teachers that accompanied our school trip to Bradford in 1999. On that trip, the first thing he and Mrs. Darcy said to us was, "For the next few days, we are 'Sean & Nora'. We're here to help but relax and enjoy yourselves. Both teachers really provided a great atmosphere on that trip and it was really lovely to get to know them on a more personal level. Sean was one of the lads and we would have lengthy conversations about football. He too was a big Manchester United fan.

In Irish history, you were either a Michael Collins fan or an Eamon De Velera fan. There was no middle ground. From 1st year to 3rd year we had Mr. Hannify. A teacher who simply idolised Collins. But for our Leaving Cert years we had Mr. O'Loughlin who was a De Velera supporter. I'm certainly not gonna preach that either teacher was right or wrong. In fact, they both fought a good debate with their views but we were being taught in a contradicting style and people didn't know who to listen to! I did heard some complain about it..."Who do we listen to? I don't wanna fail my exams because one one these guys are wrong and they can't both be right?!" I could understand their concern but I thought the different views were fascinating. It was interesting how both men had completely opposite beliefs but they were equally as confident and passionate in delivering their argument. I remember making the point to my classmates that it didn't matter who was right or wrong. It was about stating the facts, making up your own mind and fighting your own corner. Delivering your own argument. Nobody could fail you for speaking your own beliefs. It was another life lesson. Two sides to a story, two sides to an argument. Nothing is ever straight forward. Years later I bumped into Mr. O' Loughlin and we had a really good catch up. I told him how he and Mr.Cribbin could always relate to the students because they were the youngest teachers. He then laughed and said, "We're now probably the oldest!" I asked about all my former teachers but I was shocked at how many had passed away since! Had it really been that long? Life really does fly by. Take nothing for granted!

Mr. Hannify was another really likeable man. I found him very approachable and he kept you interested. He knew how to hold the attention of a bunch of wild teenagers! A big sports fan, he was hugely successful as a basketball coach, although I never played. He was guilty of some wicked bad jokes, however... like, "What is the difference between 'illegal' and 'against the law'?" Wow, that one had the whole class stumped for the full 40 minutes until he revealed the answer. "Ill-eagle is a sick bird". We had to restrain ourselves from throwing something at him! We all really liked him though, I must say. A gentleman. I think that sums him up best for me.

I realise this is an extremely long blog entry and if you stayed with me to the end, I applaud you! I'm also very grateful! This has been a nice trip down memory lane for me. As I said previously, being a teacher is not an easy job. And not all teachers during my school years were suited to the job either. I've always been a straight talker. I tell it as I see it and yes, that has landed me in hot water at times but I believe in speaking my truth, standing my ground and having manners and respect along the way. I have experienced some woefully bad teachers down the years too. So many have lacked the people skills, or certainly the skills to deal with kids. Others lacked patience. Or manners and respect (because that is a two way street). Others belonged nowhere near a five mile radius of underage teenagers and many simply did not know how to apply their knowledge in a way that interested a student or was even understood by one. I'm just briefly touching on this to emphasise the really good ones I highlighted all along. The teachers I have named are all held in high esteem by me. I have the utmost respect and admiration for them. I also owe them a great dept of gratitude. If any of them should find themselves reading this, just know I often think of you guys. Your lessons continue to teach me and inspire me.

Nowadays, I speak more Polish than I do Irish and I might find myself thinking, "Oh, if Big Joe only heard me now, forgetting the most basic Irish word now, he'd kill me!"

I must be honest, I'm writing this blog right now and I'm thinking, Mr. Cribbin could be cringing at a collection of spelling mistakes or bad grammar!

But I must say, earlier this year I was commissioned to do a portrait painting of the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was then invited to a private meeting at his hotel to have my painting signed by the great man. It was auctioned later that night and sold for a substantial amount. At that moment I thought of Miss Walshe and Miss Owens. My two most inspiring art teachers. That very moment is worth its weight in gold when it comes to summarising those two ladies and their belief in me. Thank you both and just know that you continue to inspire me every single time my brush hits the canvas...  

 

 

'CREATING PORTRAITS'

Throughout my life, I have tried all sorts of painting styles but creating portraits is by far my favourite. Capturing a moment, a facial expression, telling a story with someones eyes. It's all about the eyes. If I get that wrong, the painting just doesn't work. Because of my work as an actor I have this natural ability to read people on a deeper level to most. I study them. Their body language, their facial expressions. On screen, I capture a character and bring them to life. On canvas, I do the exact same. 

I have a particular passion for painting iconic sporting moments and I know this all comes from the kid in me who simply idolised my sporting heroes. I would study them to every last detail, their appearance, their body language, their apparel. I used to dream of becoming a professional footballer and walking out in front of 76,000 fans at Old Trafford. I used to dream of facing the Irish flag during our national anthem while representing our great little nation at the World Cup finals. Sadly, that never happened for me but I have no reason to complain. Through my work as an actor and as an artist, I have lived out many other dreams in a million different ways. I have met my heroes. I have had dinner in the presence of Muhammad Ali. I have met Mike Tyson so many times he knows me by name. I have been a personally invited guest to a World Premiere by Robert De Niro. I have worked on a Martin Scorsese produced movie and I have shared a stage with Al Pacino. I have created portraits for many of my favourite footballers and boxers. I am a genuine and passionate sports fan and I have been gifted so many wonderful signed items that I will treasure for ever.

When I am asked to create a portrait for a customer, it becomes quiet a personal experience for me. It's not just a job. I have to study that person in order to create them. I don't just research images. I watch interviews with them. I pick up on little character traits they may have. Every fine detail analysed. Sometimes you have a customer that simply sees you as someone doing a job for them. They shake your hand and say 'Thank you' and that's it. And that's absolutely fine. As long as they are happy, I am happy but in a lot of cases, and this is what I love, you see the most incredible reaction when they see their painting in person for the first time. That moment is worth its weight in gold for me! In that moment it makes the countless hours of work worth it. In that moment, it makes my incredibly strict eye for perfection worth it and I am already buzzing to start my next painting. 

I use mostly black and white with selected colour that really puts emphasis on something in particular that strongly relates to the subject. Key features that are made 'pop' when in colour.

In most cases, I select one strong image with real significance. A career defining moment or personal milestone. Or an iconic pose. For example, I recently asked legendary Irish footballer John O'Shea if he had any particular image in mind and he put a lot of trust in me when he simply said, "something memorable". With that trust also comes pressure. Pressure to choose the right moment. Pressure to truly capture it and bring it back to life. Pressure I absolutely thrive on! John has had an incredibly successful career for both club and country but having recently retired from international football, I felt it had to be an iconic moment from his days in a green shirt and for me, that iconic moment was his equalising goal in the 94th minute in a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier away World Champions Germany. It really doesn't get much bigger than that... oh, and did I mention it was his 100th cap for Ireland. Stuff of dreams! 

I receive so many heartfelt messages from customers that mean more to me than I could ever justify with words. Some paintings I have created are of stars that are sadly no longer with us and to have their family contact me weeks, months even a year later to once again thank me for something that really brightens up their day every time they walk passed it in their home- it's difficult to express how that really makes me feel. I have developed some fantastic and very surprising friendships through my art. That comes from a special connection on a personal level. Recreating that special moment or special someone. I feel truly honoured to be handed that task and to be entrusted with that responsibility.

Sometimes I'm under pressure with a backlog of orders but never have I thought, "Oh, I don't have time for this". Truth is, I absolutely love painting! I find it very relaxing and it's often a great escape from other pressures or stresses. I'm like a kid when I take out a new blank canvas, paint and brushes at the ready and with a vision in my mind, I challenge myself to portray that vision on the canvas in front of me. Sometimes my plan might change slightly as I'm painting but such is life. I just adapt and go with with it and I cannot wait to reveal each one to the world!

I don't aspire to be an all time great painter. Truth is, I consider myself an actor first and foremost. I also paint. I also record voice over. I'm also a credited executive movie producer and I'm even attempting to delve into the world of script writing. But what do all these things have in common? They are all 'Art'. They are all 'Me'. My greatest strength is my creativity and my creativity knows no boundaries. 

A quote by Maya Angelou is one I always loved and always live by;

"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have".

 

'BECOMING A CHARACTER'

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Any actor will tell you, getting an audition does not guarantee you the part! Getting the part does not guarantee you a scene that will make the final cut! And making the final cut does not guarantee you that your big moment will ever be seen!! 

I have had countless disappointments, set backs, let downs and bare faced false promises and yet I KEEP GOING! It's all one huge learning curve. Yes, at times I take some much needed time away because truth is, acting messes with your head, your heart and really drains you both physically and emotionally. But I stay creative in other ways. I paint portraits and I love it! I write, as you may have gathered from this blog. I'm also working on a couple of scripts of my own and I have a documentary I'm slowly putting together. And I record voice over which is so much fun! All of these things keep my mind sharp and hone my creativity.

I'm a positive person in general. I always try to take positives from every negative situation. Disappointments are part of life but we must move on from them. Making mistakes are part of life but we must learn from them.

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Portraying a 15th Century monk in a feature film was one of the most deep and spiritual experiences of my life and yet, here I am, four years on with no talk of a movie release, no footage to share, no reward to be seen. That was a hugely disappointing blow because of what everyone poured into the project. It's quiet ironic that a movie can be one of your biggest disappointments and yet, at the same time, be one of your finest moments, never to be seen.

For those of you wondering what is it like to 'become' someone else for a movie, here is a little insight to my process but first it is important to realise there is no such thing as a right or a wrong way. Each actor will find their own process but here's a little insight to my journey...

I do not believe in switching a character on and off like a light switch. I just cannot do it, nor do I want to. I want to live and breath like that character. Call it method acting if you wish but I do not go around talking like the character in my day to day life. However, inside, I'm certainly overcome by that character. I think like them, I react like them, I feel like them.  I threw myself in so deep to that role that my mind & soul genuinely went places I've never been. It's perfectly normal to experience butterflies or nerves on the first day of a shoot, no matter how experienced you may be but this role was very different. I've never arrived on set in such a calm & relaxed manner. I was truly blessed to work with a wonderful director who would testify that there was nothing unusual about finding me alone with my thoughts in the castle church for hours on end in between scenes and I loved it! Peace & tranquillity. I think 'zen' is the perfect word to sum up my state of mind during the entire shoot. Anyway, that's just a little insight to life on the other side of the lens and a little peek into my own preparation for a role that I thoroughly enjoyed and I was incredibly proud of. Whether or not the movie ever sees the light of day... we'll have to wait and see. 

I personally don't consider myself a method actor to the extremes of the legendary Daniel Day Lewis but i guess the point I am trying to make is just how deep i throw myself into a character and it does genuinely consume you. Playing the monk made me so relaxed and content it was surreal. The flip side of that character is when I played tough guy 'Ronan' in 'Plan Z' I was incredibly highly strung in the build up to that shoot! I could sense that and needed to give myself a little reality check to take it down a notch a times. Getting into character does mess with your head a little. You tap into every emotion in the book and i do believe it gives you a great sense of understanding of various people from all walks of life. I don't make a conscious decision to behave like my character in my normal day to day life but it absolutely creeps in and I allow it to happen. It's all part of my process and when i arrive on set I'm ready to roll! It's so much more than just learning lines. You need to 'feel' what you're saying. Having the perfect understanding of the scene, the setting and history of your character (which is entirely you're own imagination) makes learning your lines the most natural thing in the world. They simply just fall into place. That's also a sign of a great script writer. Before I arrive on set I have the entire history of my character developed. Where has he come from, what are his character traits, habits, body language. None of it is accidental. I create a life for that character & make him my own. There's a lot of stuff that go unnoticed to an audience but the tiniest details can make the difference between a good performance & a great performance and in the words of the great Robert De Niro- we must always be true to our character. 

'SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND'

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I still shake my head a little in disbelief...

I stood up in front of one thousand people including the legendary Al Pacino himself and performed an impression. 
It's funny, I had my own scripted piece prepared but I never anticipated Al playing along with it, interrupting it, changing the direction of it & engaging in what turned out to be a real crowd pleasing public conversation. My game plan went totally out the window and the improv' skills needed in the acting game certainly kicked in. 
It started with Al seated up on stage and me addressing him from a standing position at my front table, then as Al realized what I was doing he stood up and started walking towards the front of the stage looking right at me. Without even thinking, I continued while walking right up to the stage. Next thing I know Al is standing right above me and we begin this fantastic exchange of dialogue. 
Suddenly I feel like all Al is missing is the M16 assault rifle he used in Scarface as he's staring down at me!
Right at the end, Al smiled and invited me up on stage. I extended my hand in gratitude but instead he offers me a giant hug and says, "You got some balls kid, I like that!"....
The crowd were fantastic and what an incredible moment in my life & my career.
Later backstage, I got to meet with Al again where he complimented me further by saying, "It takes some balls to do an impression of me in front of me. You got balls kid. I really enjoyed that! You're good. Real good". 
A comment like that from a man like him?!.... That'll do me!

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'MEETING ALI'

'MEETING ALI'

I have been very fortunate to meet many of the greats but only one person ever left me in awe. That man was Muhammad Ali.

I grew up studying all of the old Muhammad Ali footage and I became totally captivated by his unique character. Muhammad is iconic, he stands for so much more than just sport & he has inspired millions of lives in a million different ways! I’ll never forget the day I stood in the presence of his greatness.

It was August 2009. I was invited to a black tie dinner in Muhammad’s honour. The event was held in Old Trafford, home of my beloved Manchester United. I was one of the lucky few who were ushered into a special VIP reception where we would have a one to one personal meeting with the champ. I vividly recall one gentleman who met with Ali just before I did. He must of been in his early 60’s.

He was visibly nervous and he could barely look Ali in the eye but I will never forget what happened next. He handed Muhammad a sealed envelope. He explained how he wrote a letter to his hero when he was just 10 years old. For some reason he never sent the letter but he never dreamt he would personally hand deliver it over 50 years later. Ali took the letter and offered a warm smile. The man collapsed and simply broke down in tears of happiness. He was literally carried out of the room by his friend as he became totally overpowered by the experience.

Security was extremely tight and we were constantly reminded reminded of Ali’s frail state & instructed not to put our arm around him for the photo etc. Of course you have to respect the rules but I’m proud to say the Irish charm worked it’s magic as I was one of very few to shake the great man’s hand. When I was introduced to Muhammad by his lovely wife Lonnie, I told him what an incredible honour it was to meet him & I simply thanked him for inspiring my life. I finished by telling Muhammad that I wanted to be able to say ‘I shook the hand that shook the world’ and with that, Ali looked me deep in the eye, smiled and extended his hand.

Security just smiled as they knew I was clever about it. How could I now ‘not’ shake Ali’s outstretched hand. They say you can tell a lot about a man, based on his handshake and Ali’s told me “I’m still the greatest!” And the eyes, in his eyes he was still dancin’!

In Ali’s condition, even back in 2009 he was a man of very few words but there’s no doubt his mind was still as sharp and witty as ever. When Lonnie asked me where I was from & I told her Ireland, Muhammad quipped, “Could you not wait a week?”

He was of course referring to his planned trip to Ireland a few days later. Lonnie and me shared a great laugh about that.

After the photographs we all sat down to a lovely meal and I was sitting no more than 10 feet away from Ali. I couldn’t get my head around this, for the incredible life he has lived and here I am sitting across from Muhammad Ali having dinner! It was surreal. Ali caught me staring at him at one point and simply winked at me as he pointed at his food with his fork and gave me a thumbs up.

As the night progressed, many TV personalities took turn to pay tribute to the great man, even boxer Ricky Hatton did a wonderful stand up comedy routine. Ricky is a natural at stand up but he later told me how he was more nervous speaking in front of Ali than he ever was in the ring! Football legend Bryan Robson then presented Muhammad with a Manchester United jersey with ‘ALI 1’ printed on the back & it was signed by the entire squad.

At one point, after a video tribute played on the big screens, it was followed by rapturous applause. The audience then came to a complete silence as we noticed Ali being helped to his feet.

He leaned in towards the microphone and said, “You make me wanna make a comeback!”

It was a wonderful moment.

Through my work as an actor, I have been blessed with many opportunities to meet many greats but meeting Ali was special. When that man walked into a room, the room lit up. There was an incredible aura surrounding him & that handshake left me with goosebumps.

Later in the evening, the entertainment was in full swing & Ali put on a pair of sunglasses due to his sensitivity to the  flashing lights. I noticed Ali was attempting to make a discreet exit. I knew this moment would probably never happen again so I walked out to the lobby for a final and private farewell. His wife Lonnie was trying to find the elevator, and with me knowing Old Trafford like the back of my hand, I happily directed them. I thanked Ali one final time as he entered the elevator. He turned around, raised his right hand and with one last fist pump, he smiled before the elevator doors closed.

What a moment…What a man!