Saturday 23 June 2018

'I'd rather cut my leg off than have a nice pensionable job!' - Patrick Connolly ditched IT career to pursue acting at 40

Patrick Connolly in Blood & Glory
Patrick Connolly in Blood & Glory
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

There's something about seminal birthdays, and turning 40 in particular, that prompts a person to question whether or not they are genuinely happy. With the hard graft of the career climbing behind you, you're wondering, is this it?

Patrick Connolly, now in his mid-fifties, asked himself that same question and decided to jack in his nice, stable, lucrative career in IT to pursue a career in challenging world of acting.

"I didn't think it was brave at the time," the Dublin-born and London based actor tells Independent.ie. 

"I'd had enough of the safety blanket and I've always looked at things slightly obliquely. I've never been one for taking the comfortable road, or saying 'this is it now, let's get a nice pensionable job'. I'd rather cut my leg off!"

He says he was looking for something else in life that was "a bit more meaningful", adding, "I had been in IT and had made a bit of money but there was always another side of me that just wanted another expression.

"Funnily enough, acting is one of the easiest things to get into which is probably why everybody and their mother is an actor!  Although actually the aim is the make a living at it and then being successful and well known is another step."

Thankfully he has not had to resort to severing a limb although he admits it has been tough financially, and he still does some "occasional web work" and adverts to supplement his income.

"I am not, and never have been, able to make a full living at acting so I’ve always had to do some side work," he says.  "I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the stage where I could make a full living but things happen so randomly in acting, you don’t know.  It's not great when you realise, 'aw man, I'm not earning any money!' - it does become a labour of love."

After a decade-long run of small roles in TV series, movies, and shorts, his latest role is his biggest as he plays the Irish side-kick to the Boer protagonist in Blood & Glory, a South African feature about the Anglo-Boer war.

Written and directed by Sean Else, it's a fictional story inspired by true events, about a Boer man whose wife and son are murdered during the conflict.  Captured as a POW and detained in the notorious St Helena concentration camp.

There he bargains for the life of a young man by challenging a ruthless Colonel and his men to a game of rugby, despite he and his fellow inmates never having played the game.

Connolly plays Finn Kelly, a prisoner and Catholic Irishman schooled in rugby who trains the inmates ahead of the face-offf with the guards.

The cast of Blood & Glory
The cast of Blood & Glory

"As an Irish actor you have to be careful about being the plastic paddy in it - 'oh begorrah and bejaysus', and to be fair to Sean he didn't want that either," says Patrick.  "There is humour naturally written there and I tried to just play that rather than overpay it.  Otherwise it becomes a caricature."

What many people do not realise is that there was an Irish Transvaal Brigade who fought against the British in the Boer war, headed up by John MacBride, who was later executed after his involvement the 1916 Rising.

Patrick, who attended De La Salle College in Churchtown, researched which Irish school his character would have attended in order to have learned how to play rugby as a Catholic at that time - and discovered Rockwell College in Tipperary fit the bill, having been founded in 1864.

"Sean needed a character who wasn't British to teach the Boers how to play rugby and an Irish character worked.  It's true that the origin of rugby in South Africa was from the Boers learning it in the camps," explains Patrick.

The film was shot in Cape Town and in nearby Worcester, in the South African winter of 2015.  It was freezing and the shoot was tough.

"We had one horrific day in Cape Town when we were all in wet suits under our clothes," says Patrick.  "Cape Town is a beautiful place but it's on the south Atlantic and it's absolutely freezing in that water.  You think Ireland is cold but I suspect the water in Cape Town is a few degrees colder!

"We did a lot of night shoots in Worcester and it was tough, a really tough shoot.  It might not be up there with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant but we were outside with fake sweat on us in the middle of the night while it's bloody -1 or -2.  Even shooting the game during the day, the wind was rough too."

However, their discomfort, he says, fed into their performances, "Sean didn't mind the grittiness, shall we say!" he laughs.

The experience is in stark contrast to the two days he spent on set filming DC Comics' ill-received Justice League, which he refers to as "one of those action hero movies".  He played the minor role of a veteran cop.

"You know what kind of movie you're on when you walk on set.  There might be ten people or 20 people or with Justice League it's a couple of hundred people," he says.  "That's just production crew.

"It's just gas being on a Hollywood set.  You're ferried around the place in chauffeur-driven cars and it's incredibly well paid.  They took over two streets in East London, cordoned them off, and the art department had changed them into their city, they have fake traffic, fake cars and you go, 'Okay, this is big budget'."

His preference is to play an interesting character on a smaller project, of course, although he adds, "Having said that it’s nice when you’re not covered in shite, being immersed in ice cold water.  It’s nice not to have too much of that!  ‘Director, I know my character – are you sure he needs to be shoved in there in the dirt?’  ‘Yes!’."

He gets philosophical when speaking about what he gets from acting and why he continues to pursue it.

"It was kind of a challenge which essentially was about presence, about actually almost allowing yourself to be seen to a certain degree and that is a really interesting thing to do," he explains.  "Most people think acting is about not being you and actually it is the exact opposite. 

"It's about being you, whatever that means, because what it ultimately means is there is no 'you'.  Every aspect of ourselves we think is us i actually just part of the illusion of the ego we create or is created for us."

While he admits he's in danger of running down the "rabbit hole" with his philosophy, he adds that he got into it looking for "some other dimension or aspect of life or some other form of expression" and has caught the acting bug.

"When they talk about the bug it's that, it's that absolute feeling that you get when literally everything is just running through you and it's working and it's flowing.  You hear a lot of new age people say 'you're in the flow of the universe and it's all working out' and that's the thing that happens when you're acting effortlessly - that's where you are."

Blood & Glory is released on Digital HD across the UK and Ireland from 23rd April 2018 and available through Amazon.

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