Thursday 8 December 2016

Rory Nolan, living it large for the love of stage

Published 06/03/2016 | 02:30

Growing old together: Rory Nolan (right) as Ross O’Carroll-Kelly
Growing old together: Rory Nolan (right) as Ross O’Carroll-Kelly

To watch Rory Nolan come onstage as Ross O'Carroll-Kelly is to watch the king of jocks stand before his subjects. It is a special moment. A fake-tanned Rory, in designer aertex, chinos and deck shoes, his fringe stuck up in the preposterous manner of D4 schoolboys, gazes around, oozing self-love, and the crowd erupts.

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His audience adores him and he adores them. He will not admit they like him that much, but does say: "You have to remember that everyone sitting in the audience has paid very good money to be entertained by you and you're the conduit for telling these wonderful stories, so you better do your damnedest to give them a good experience."

He adores the vain South Dublin rugger bugger it has been his mixed fate to play these past nine years - two thirds of his career.

One might even forget that Rory is much more than Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, but an actor of Druid pedigree and a pillar of Abbey and Gate period dramas. He holds up major productions, a comic and endlessly reliable second-in-command, often to Marty Rea (and often overshadowed in theatre reporting by Rea's more intricate interpretations).

But being the "guy who plays Ross O'Carroll-Kelly" is the "one thing you get known for", he tells Review.

The Ross trilogy, written for the stage by journalist Paul Howard, began with The Last Days of the Celtic Tiger, then came Between Foxrock and a Hard Place and Breaking Dad.

Breaking Dad returns for what Anne Clarke of Landmark Productions says will be its last revival. A night of laughing at rich people, it plays on safely Dart-line territory at The Gaiety, then seeks a new audience at the Limerick University Concert Hall.

This one is set in 2022 and Bertie Ahern is in power. Ross is 42 and has a teenage daughter from hell and a power-mongering lawyer wife.

Newbies Aoibhín Garrihy Garrihy, Roisin O'Neill and Emmet Byrne have the unenviable job of taking parts from Lisa Lambe, Caoimhe O'Malley and Gavin Drea. And there is Rory, aging with his role (he is 35).

Now, in case there is any question that Rory, who grew up in south Dublin, played wing-forward on his Senior Cup rugby team and studied at UCD, resembles Ross O'Carroll-Kelly in any way, he denies it. "Hahaha! No. I was never a Lothario with women. He likes Heineken, I drink Guinness."

And yet: "When Paul brought out Ross [in the Sunday Tribune] it was 1998 and I was the same age [as Ross]. We were neck-and-neck all the way up."

The oldest of five with an architect father, Rory didn't go to Blackrock College as fictional Ross did, but to the more sane Monkstown CBC, and grew up in Killiney. "Up by the village", he adds hastily. "So it's not, eh, Bonoland."

Research for the role was done "unknowingly" in his youth. While studying Arts at UCD he would notice a lot of young men in their school rugby jerseys drinking beer and playing pool. They didn't actually go to UCD, just liked to represent their schools. Rory's Ross is an "amalgamation" of these many jocks. "I was on this weird observation deck."

A teen lead who played cowboy Will Parker in Oklahoma at school, he studied at the Gaiety School of Acting where he met singer-songwriter Tara Blaise with whom he has two sons (two and five). Before they graduated, in 2003 he was plucked out to play in the première of Tom Murphy's The Drunkard.

He finds talking about himself "boring" and puts his extravagant success down to "luck" and a string of important women. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jane Brennan, Lynne Parker, Anne Clarke, Garry Hynes."

A master of diplomacy, with a bad word to say about nothing and no one, he does have a look of someone you would want to have more than one pint with.

When he rolled on stage last summer in Druid/Shakespeare as the disgraceful Falstaff, he was enormously fat with a beard (his own) dyed grey to age him 30 years. He wore a fat suit, but he had also put on two and a half stone for a part he had hoped to play ever since he became an actor. "I had the best time in my life. I just ate what I wanted and drank everything."

His death scene in Druid/Shakespeare was appalling and violent. He gives no impression of ever having struggled with anything. "I love the theatre, I love what I do for a living, I love the work that I personally have been afforded to do."

After Breaking Dad comes Northern Star for Rough Magic, then Waiting For Godot for Druid and a load more he can't discuss.

Does it ever break dad, so much performing? Rory says something about a "vocation" and sacrifices he knew he'd have to make. "I miss putting my children to bed. I miss lighting the fire and watching a movie with Tara. She's amazing. She's the rock really. Because it's not an easy gig, living with an actor."

Breaking Dad plays March 14-26 at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, and March 29 - April 2 at the University Concert Hall, Limerick.

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