Imagine: 20-foot high rows of outlandish clothing from your favourite movies. Jackets from The Matrix, vests from Braveheart and post-apocalyptic wears from Waterworld. This is what greets you when you arrive at Western Costume, set up in 1912, and the place I first met Irish actor Timothy Murphy.
I was being fitted for my part in Bad Suns, a 25-minute post-apocalyptic film set in a desolate LA in 2028, directed by Kevin Ryan. The film revolves around a nine-year-old girl trying to find her mother, and a bad-ass drifter who is taking the girl to a native American reservation under spurious motives. I play a tweaker desert rat, and Tim plays the lead baddie.
The day of the fitting, Kevin Ryan and I had been picking out costumes for an hour before Tim arrived, and had amassed some ridiculous-looking Mad Max-esque wears. For Tim, we chose a top hat to contrast with torn trousers and battered woven vest. He arrived in, a face full of charm and the cheeky smile that's been seen across an array of characters onscreen, including Galen in Sons of Anarchy, Ian Doyle in Criminal Minds, Osip in True Detective and Coughlin in Westworld.
His Kerry drawl was still intact after 20 years in LA. "How are ya boyyys!" he greeted me and Kevin Ryan. Tim got straight down to action, donning the costume we had chosen from the cinematic library of clothing. As the three of us Irish lads discussed the wears, it dawned on me that we were going to have a blast together in the blazing August heat.
One of my friends was a casting agent and she said they were looking for a James Dean-looking fella. I didn't look too far off James in those days and so she brought me in. I got the job.
Months later, post-production completed, I get to join Tim at one of his favourite pursuits: motorcycling. Heading down the Pacific Coastal Highway, I learn that Tim didn't have a casual gateway into being an actor. It was a hard-won journey. I ask him if he came from an artistic family or was he led to the arts in any way. Blunt as a bludgeon he responds, "Down in Tralee you had the Christian Brothers. You got beaten and that was that. There was no Arts. Sure Gaelic football was the only outlet really and I was mediocre at that. My mother, she was artistic in her own way and would have had an interest in drama and has always painted, so if there was any artistic element it would have come from her."
I ask if he was obsessed with movies or was there a natural inclination towards the screen? "There was very little movies for me when I was a kid and I had an awful stammer until I was 16," said Tim, who was born in 1960. "I could hardly talk. It meant I became a very good reader, though."
I think to myself that it's sometimes our greatest challenges that become our greatest strengths, in this case, Timothy's expression. "I ended up going to America after college" - where he studied law and accounting - "and after a short stint in New York, I found myself in construction in Florida," Tim explains.
"Doing roofing, so I was. One of my friends was a casting agent and she said they were looking for a James Dean-looking fella. I didn't look too far off James in those days and so she brought me in. I got the job."
That was a Molson beer commercial. "When I was on set in Miami," Tim continues, "it was so hot in the Art Deco place we were shooting in, that they kept taking me out to be powdered every 15 minutes. Three beautiful Hispanic girls were doing the powdering and I thought to myself, 'After the day before being on a roof in that same heat, if this is acting, I am getting into this!'"
I ask him if it all took off from there!? "Oh no! That was just the glimpse. I got bored with America a few months later after doing a small acting class in Florida. I went back to Dublin as I had heard that Deirdre O'Connell was someone to train with. She had helped Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson. So I went back and auditioned for her and she let me in. That was the beginning of my time with the Focus Theatre in Dublin."
I ask if Deirdre helped a lot. "She had come from the Acting Studio in New York, which I later joined," said Tim, "and it was not so much of a method that she taught us, but more of an experiential approach. She would help us get plays together and she would guide us through scenes and rehearsals."
I ask about his first play. "Oh it was terrible. I had two lines in A View from the Bridge and I was so nervous I went to the bathroom so much I thought I had dysentery. Why I ever decided to make it a career..." he chuckles.
"But then the Focus Theatre gained momentum and we did some great plays. Alive The Mind, a Sam Shepard play, was well received but we got into trouble with the Americans. We couldn't find an American flag, so the American embassy lent us theirs. In the play there is a scene where one of the guys steps on the flag and the Marines from the Embassy had decided to come for the opening. That was desecration to the Marines, but it was art to us. Looking at that, is what art is about? You can't be afraid to put that [the flag] up there. Being too PC, it's a problem these days."
I ask what his parents thought about his burgeoning acting career at this stage. He smiles at me, "Another play, The Balcony, very avant-garde... I came out dressed in leather and was whipping a girl. Deirdre O'Connell was dressed as a horse in the back, neighing. It was insane and got great reviews. My mother was at the opening night and it got a standing ovation and I came down afterwards and she says to me, 'When are you going to ever do anything nice?'"
I was at a store one day and Glenroe had been out at the weekend and I had forgotten about it. People were looking at me in the store and I was wondering if my fly was open or something.
I think it's funny his mother responded in this way, because Tim has a reputation now for playing bad guys. I ask him if it was always that way. "Sure on stage at one moment I was playing the lover," he says. "It is true, though, rarely have I ever played the good guy. It's good fun playing the bad guy."
I wonder how he transitioned into TV from the stage. "Well, my first real job was on Glenroe in 1995. Even though I am not sure I could act then, that was my breakout role, or at least a role that got me in the public eye. I played Conor Sheehy, who was a farmer and was brought in to cause havoc in everybody's relationships."
I ask him if that was the beginning of fame. "This was the early 1990s and there were only a couple of channels in Ireland so it was a breakout in terms of the public eye, but it wasn't critically acclaimed. I didn't know what being famous was. I was at a store one day and Glenroe had been out at the weekend and I had forgotten about it. People were looking at me in the store and I was wondering if my fly was open or something."
"But then you would not be paid well on the show and I would get on the bus and the bus driver would say, 'Ay jaysus, there's your man from Glenroe and you're taking the bus... sure aren't you loaded?' So you're famous but you don't have enough money to hide away."
I am aware that Tim was involved in the early days of the acclaimed play Stones in His Pockets and, having loved the show, I'm intrigued as to his involvement. "We would take trips down the country with Pam Brighton, the director and Marie Jones, the writer. One trip, we went to a lake in Fermanagh and rowed a boat around the lake, talking through scenes for the play. DubbelJoint, the production company, was formed, and we finally got it together and did a first run of it. It was a success around Ireland but I left for America at this time, and Sean Campion took over the role and revised it into what it's known as today; The great Broadway hit it is."
So what brought Tim back to America? "I was seeing this American actress and the project we were shooting finished and she asked if I'd come to LA with her. Winter was approaching and it looked like a hard thing to turn down. I went for a warm bed, basically. Of course it didn't last. After two weeks, I was in LA on my own. I'd been busy in Ireland, so it wasn't an easy decision."
Did it all just come together once he arrived in LA? "You come here with loads of confidence and think you are going to walk into everything and there will be open arms," says Tim. "Of course that didn't happen. I started doing plays to stay busy. I auditioned for acting studios. You had to get an agent and headshots and it was hard to get into a union. You start from scratch and everyone is looking for tape but you don't have any."
I ask if he thinks there is any easier route? "The easiest way is to come out of a big drama school in London. Or some independent movie. I came here with nothing of merit, which I would not recommend."
Are there any actors that inspired him? "I don't really look up to any actor. If I am put in a scene with any actor, I will do my scene as good as them I think. It's like Formula One drivers - all actors are good enough, some actors are luckier then others. Eighty per cent of it is to do with luck. I go to the Actors Studio and see some of the best actors in the world that may never get a break. At the same time, I loved working with Ed Harris, I am a big fan of his work and we got to do two movies together. There was a mutual respect which was great."
I think of how Hollywood is today, the Irish thriving and welcomed, even playing lead roles on US television shows in our native accent. Catastrophe on Amazon and Normal People on Hulu coming to mind. Was being Irish of benefit back in those days I wonder?
"There was an advantage of being Irish and there was a disadvantage," Tim says. "They were always watching your accent if you were Irish, suspicious as to whether you could pull off American. A lot of the best roles for Irish people then were all about Northern Irish accents, for IRA terrorists. Then, when 9/11 came along they forgot about us and the same roles went to Middle Eastern actors."
I ask about living in Hollywood nowadays as an actor. "You have to work hard and be tenacious and it's very uncertain. Most people can't live like that. Uncertainty all the time. It isn't easy. I suppose now with the coronavirus everyone is feeling what it's like to be an actor!"
Just before taking off on our motorcycle trip, I get to meet Tim's lovely family. I ask how he met his wife Caitlin. "In a bar. Very Irish. A bar down in Venice called The Other Room. I was out with the boys. Two of my friends, who I had not seen in a while, with no intention of picking up anyone. I began chatting with these two girls and we invited them to the next bar, we went and they showed up. We got drunk and sung Irish songs together and that was that. The beginning of many Irish marriages," he laughs.
I ask him how are things regards the Covid-19 virus, work and home. "I am luckier than most. I have Snowpiercer with Jennifer Connelly on Netflix, and I'm playing alongside Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union in LA's Finest starting in July. So at least I have something on the horizon while I am not working. I had three jobs postponed due to the virus, but it's been great spending time with the kids."
I think back now to Bad Suns - to driving a beat-up truck, bullet holes through the paintwork, a skull and bones on the front bumper; rallying through the 35-degree heat with Tim, both of us wearing modern-day pirate hats and then getting out for a pistols-at-sunset scene. I ask how he found the shoot
"Sure I loved the Mad Max theme and working with you and Kevin," Tim says. "I mean, it's great fun to have three Irish guys in the desert together. To tell you the truth, there is room for far more of a story arc in the two characters we played." I ask him if he thinks people will know it's an Irish production, "If you showed Bad Suns to Americans, I assure you no one will think it's a bunch of Irish people. That's great as well. Playing American as a bunch of Irish lads is great fun."
As he roars off on his Harley-Davidson, back up the meandering Pacific Coast Highway, scene of so many movies, I can't but feel that Timothy Murphy is like the Irish Clint Eastwood, the actor outlaw of Ireland. Playing the bad guy, but really in essence, a very sweet, kind gentleman from Kerry.
'Bad Suns' trailer and film will be released on Dust Channel. See: youtube.com/channel/UC7sDT8jZ76VLV1u__krUutA
'Snowpiercer' is on Netflix Ireland
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