Nights In

The young contender: an interview with dominic mchale

Photo courtesy of Michael Mac Sweeney/ Provision, via
With breakout successes in surprise hit film ‘The Young Offenders’ as an obsessed Garda and theatrical plaudits for playing Michael Collins in ‘A Great Arrangement’, 2016 has been a great year for Dominic MacHale. Dominic graciously took some time out to chat with me about his most prolific year to date.
Q: With the last year, it has been a very busy period personally with ‘A Great Arrangement’ and ‘The Young Offenders’. Do you feel a sense of momentum going forward, especially after both productions were met with critical and commercial acclaim?
This past year has been, without doubt, my most successful so far as an actor. Playing Michael Collins in Pat Talbot’s ‘A Great Arrangement’ was an incredible experience. While it was an extremely challenging role both mentally and physically, it was extremely rewarding. ‘The Young Offenders’ was a fantastic learning experience for me as it was my first feature film and I was fortunate enough to work with a really great group of people. The fact that both have been such a success is really an added bonus. What I value most is now knowing what is required to play prominent roles in a feature film and a high-profile theatre show. With regard to momentum, I really don’t think too much about it. I have made peace with the fact that it could all come to a grinding halt in the blink of an eye.
Q: Essentially ‘The Young Offenders’ is a love letter to Cork. As a Cork man, how did you feel about how your county was represented? Do you think the unique mannerisms/humour has been a factor in its success?
‘The Young Offenders’ is a wonderful advertisement for Cork. Some of the most iconic locations in the city and county are highlighted beautifully in the film. The English Market, the view from Patrick’s Hill, and some stunning aerial scenery of West Cork really show Cork’s scenic beauty. The wealth of acting talent in Cork can also be seen in the film. The natural melody of the Cork accent and the out-going style of humour really add to the appeal of the film. I think audiences also enjoy seeing something on the big screen not set in Dublin for a change.
Q: The character you play is the definition of a man obsessed. Did you draw on anyone or anything to shape your portrayal?
When I met the director of ‘The Young Offenders’, Peter Foott, to discuss the part I would be playing, the name of Roy Keane came up in relation to the character. While they are extremely different in many ways, one similarity is a relentless pursuit of something. Keane as a player was all about victory. The aesthetics were of little importance. Detective Healy has a similar mentality. He’s not worried about fitting in or being liked. Keane didn’t always play by the rules as his disciplinary record will attest and as can be seen in the film, neither does Healy.
Q: Without spoiling the movie, by the end, Healy’s perspective changes and he sees Jock in a new light. Do you think the movie tries to make the audience question pre-conceived notions?
Absolutely. I think the film shows, in quite a moving way, that people are ultimately the product of their environment. Jock finds himself in a very difficult familial situation at a very early stage of his life and his choices are heavily influenced by that situation. I think it’s very easy to label someone a bad egg without looking at their circumstances.
Q: It’s a sad truth that Irish people in general don’t pay to see Irish movies in the cinema. But with ‘The Young Offenders’ they went in record numbers. Why do you feel this is? Is this a change in behaviour?
Truthfully, I don’t understand why this is the case. Some of the best films I have seen in the cinema have been Irish-made. Perhaps there is the feeling that as it is Irish and not American or British, it will be a smaller budget film, have lower production values and lack big-name actors. These factors might act as a deterrent to some. Hopefully ‘The Young Offenders’ will help change these preconceptions. In fact, a friend told me that someone had recommended that she go and see the film by saying ‘It’s not just a good Irish film, it’s a good film!’, which I think is quite indicative of people’s mind-frame.
Q. As a former UCC man, and former member of Dramat, how do you feel they shaped your career path?
I have no hesitation in saying that joining Dramat was a life-changing experience for me. It is where I developed an interest in theatre as I had never acted before entering university. I was an extremely valuable learning experience in terms of learning about everything required to get a show on stage. Casting, rehearsing, technical set-up and performance. It was extremely important for self-confidence, which I would regard as the most important skill someone can develop. I was able to apply this to my scientific studies – I loved giving presentations while most other people in my class dreaded them! Some of my closest friends to this day are men and women I met through Dramat. I enjoyed the social side of immensely. Possibly too much at times!
Q: Any advice for aspiring UCC actors?
Being successful is not a mysterious process. I would attribute any ‘success’ that I have enjoyed to the same factors: being punctual, learning lines very carefully, listening to directors intently, looking after myself physically and mentally, and most of all, pay attention. All the time. To everything. Be observant to the world around you and that will provide you with everything you need to succeed.
Q: After acting in both film and theatre this year, do you have a preference? I’m aware you’ve done other work in comedy shorts such as Ronanism for RTE, is there a universality to acting?
Up until last year, my acting experience had been exclusively theatre-based. Acting in front of an audience became normal to me and was no longer something I worried about. It certainly is an adjustment to go from performing in front of hundreds of people to the intimacy of performing in front of a camera. But it is all about comfort. The more you do it,
the more you learn to forget about the presence of the camera and just relax. It is only when you are relaxed can you then begin to perform to the best of your abilities. I don’t subscribe to the idea of keeping actors ‘on-edge’ to get the best out of them. With regard to a preference, I would like to do more screen acting in order to develop the same level of comfort that I know feel on stage.
Q: On portraying Michael Collins on this year of all years, is there a special resonance? Does is mean something to you personally or does the job of acting trump sentimentality?
The significance of playing Michael Collins was certainly not lost on me. We performed in the Everyman on the 94th anniversary of his death. I visited Béal na Bláth an delivered one of his speeches where he lost his life. I have had the privilege of meeting members of the Collins family and saying his words in front of them. I have learned so much about the man that has shaped our destiny as a nation. Regardless of what happens in the rest of my career, this role will always mean a lot to me personally.
Q: Finally, both the major productions you’ve been involved with have dealt with Ireland is greatly different terms. One looks to the present and where we are now, and the other looks back to how we came to be. What does it mean to you be Irish in 2016.
In the final speech of ‘A Great Arrangement’, Michael Collins speaks of his vision for Ireland. He spoke of building a new civilisation on the foundations of the old one, of maintaining a link to our Gaelic past, and how our strength as a nation will depend upon our economic freedom and our moral and intellectual force. I am extremely proud to be Irish. Of our difficult past and our rich cultural and tradition. But I also feel we are holding on to certain backwards ways of seeing the world around us. I hope we can continue to advance as a nation without losing our link to the past.