From bombs to smash hits, yer man off the telly is pure mule
FOR a while after the mini series Pure Mule was aired on RTE, Garrett Lombard would be greeted by cheers when he walked past a building site. Such was the extent that his character, Scobie, struck a chord with the public, and in particular the real-life people on whom Scobie was roughly based.
"He was a bit of a hero. A typical Irish male, who liked his drinking and carousing and having a good time," Garrett says.
His portrayal was complex, and compellingly precise, and the show's loyal audience recognised instantly its authenticity, as did the critics. Lombard was nominated for the best supporting Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTA) for the role. And the show itself was the subject of gushing praise.
Garrett enjoys the reaction, and admits that the 'there's yer man off the telly' recognition factor is a fun perk to the job. In person, nothing about his manner and bearing is recognisable from the character for which he is best known, proving his chameleon-like skill as an actor. But, on or off screen, he retains a certain presence, the ability to hold a room with poise, which is the abiding characteristic that defines a star.
His first brush with real stardom so far was brief, but memorable. He had barely launched his acting career when he was chosen to play a small role in the epic film Alexander, an experience that brought him up close to living legends like Oliver Stone, Angelina Jolie, and of course, Colin Farrell. How did he feel then, when it bombed in the face of bad press and worse ratings?
"I was surprised initially by how bad the reaction was - even though personally I thought that the film had flaws," he says, leaning back in his seat. It's the end of a long day of rehearsal for his latest project - The Walworth Farce, the new play by Enda Walsh commissioned by Druid Theatre Company.
An ante room filled with stacked chairs, of which two have been set out facing each other, serves as an interview space. The room has a stagey feel, as if its part of a set, which makes it seem that even conducting the interview is a performance.
"I had such a small part in Alexander that it didn't really affect me directly," he goes on, "Whereas if it's somethingyou had more involvement in, it's more of a personal attack."
'In my experience, it's the big egos who tend not to go very far'
Having been involved in a huge international project that bombed, and a smaller, more local one that was a smash hit within a fairly short space of time, which does he consider more important, acclaim and popularity or the experience of being within reach of Hollywood? "The plaudits are important, because what you are doing as an actor is trying to reach the audience, and that's really the reason you're there. But there's a huge value to the experience of working on a film the size of Alexander."
He says. "I never lost sight of the fact that I'd still be coming back to Dublin, and still be looking for work."
He landed his first professional role in the hugely popular play Alone it Stands when he was just out of college. The show, a comic, physical theatre piece about the famous rugby game in which Munster beat the All-Blacks, toured all over Ireland and went to the West End.
It was an auspicious start to his career. And from then, the roles continued to come in. A good range of theatre work, and then, more latterly, he won a role in TV show Love is the Drug alongside Ruth Negga and Alan Leech, before his most recent incarnation as Scobie in Pure Mule.
The show was a raw and honest portrayal of youth culture outside the precious and solvent Dublin set, and it didn't shy away from representation of drug-taking, sexuality and violence.
"I think it was a more realistic mirror to society than we've seen before," says Garrett. "It was a great piece of writing, and I thought it was a very brave thing for RTE to do - tackling the kind of subject matter that it did."
It's to this that he attributes his success, as well as the fact that "the range of characters in it catered for a broad spectrum of people. It hit on themes that are relevant to a lot of people".
In The Walworth Farce, Garrett takes on a character who has spent his life imprisoned in a council flat in London. It's a new challenge - a much coveted and demanding role, but he's a consummate professional, and has no time for luvvy-ism.
"In my experience, it's the big egos who tend not to go very far," he says.
'The Walworth Farce', a new play by Enda Walsh, opens in Galway's Town Hall Theatre on March 20, Cork's Everyman Theatre March 28 and the Helix in Dublin on April 4. For more information visit www.druidtheatre.com