Timing is everything in acting - and for Barry Ward, his two latest projects have landed at a strangely opportune moment. The Netflix series White Lines - a blackly funny crime drama based in Ibiza - has, thanks to the lockdown, something close to a captive audience. Dating Amber, a comedy film due out next month, is a story about two teenagers' unorthodox relationship and is perfectly poised to capitalise on the success of Normal People. It even features one of that show's stars, Fionn O'Shea, Marianne's sadistic and patronising boyfriend Jamie.
Ward's latest roles follow a star turn in last year's paranormal comedy film Extra Ordinary, but ask him about the variety of parts he has played in recent times, and he will not waffle on about fine-tuning his craft. A dyed-in-the-wool career actor, the Dubliner is more inclined to refer to each project as a 'job', making casual note of how fun or interesting the work was, or how sound the crew were.
The White Lines shoot took him over and back to Spain and "wasn't the most taxing job", he says. The series was the most-watched Netflix show in Ireland and the UK last weekend. Ward knows that, in the current climate, the streaming service's offerings might draw a bigger audience than usual.
"I mean, I thought it would be a popular show given that it's Álex Pina [the showrunner, also behind Money Heist, the most-watched non-English language series on Netflix]," he says. "It's about sex, drugs and music, which means it has the ingredients to be a massive hit show, but nowadays, I suppose people have no choice in a way but to watch it."
Ward plays Mike, the husband of Zoe, who decides to head to Ibiza to find out what happened to her brother, a superstar DJ who disappeared two decades earlier. Mike has a sensible head on his shoulders, until he and Zoe get sucked into the dark underbelly of the island's nightlife.
In interviews, Pina has been enthusiastic about Ward's performance.
"The truth is, he added very important facets to the character," Pina has said. "On one hand, he had to be a husband in an ordinary family, but on the other hand, his emotions had to be very strong and he had to go through a powerful transformation arc when he goes to Ibiza." Ward juggled his White Lines work with a Curragh-based shoot on David Freyne's Dating Amber. The film stars Fionn O'Shea and Lola Petticrew (A Bump Along the Way) as Eddie and Amber, two teenagers who decide to stage a fake relationship to stop others speculating about their sexuality. Ward plays Eddie's father, opposite Sharon Horgan.
"There was a huge attraction in playing the parent of the lead," he says. "Working with Sharon, you're just thinking, 'I can definitely do something with this'."
As to how his improv comic skills measured up against Horgan's: "Ah, I wiped the floor with her," he laughs. "Really though, she was so generous. It wasn't about hogging the limelight; it was about getting the best take, and Sharon gladly and willingly gave the floor on many occasions."
When Ward landed the coveted lead role in Ken Loach's Jimmy's Hall in 2014, his fortunes could easily have gone either way. Leading man status was very much there for the taking. As is customary for young actors who have their image on the poster for a critically acclaimed film, he signed with a Los Angeles-based agent and was flown out for a week of pressing the flesh with Hollywood directors and producers.
"A job with that kind of profile definitely opened doors," he says. "I spent some time out there introducing myself, and I've found it's not about who you know, but who knows you. [In LA], there's a bigger pool of people doing the same thing as you, and there seems to be a limited number of jobs."
He has come a long way since being the class 'messer' in St Declan's College, Cabra, landed him his first TV role.
As a 13-year-old, Ward worked with director Michael Winterbottom and Roddy Doyle on the BBC drama Family in 1994. He got the part entirely by chance.
"I was in school in Deco's and BBC casting directors were going around the schools and streets of Dublin looking for someone to play the character [of John Paul]," Ward recalls. "I remember a teacher popping his head around the door and calling a few of us out, the real messers. I was thinking, 'Oh God, what have I done now?' But we did a meet-and-greet with these BBC producers, and over the course of a few months, we got called to auditions, and a few improv sessions. They just kept whittling it down and down, and eventually they said, 'We want you to do this job'."
At the behest of his parents, Ward went to NUI Maynooth to study English and philosophy. Around this time, he was cast opposite Cillian Murphy in his first film role, 2001's Watchmen.
"He was a bit older than me and he very much knew that this is what he wanted to do," Ward says of Murphy. "He was brilliant and so enthusiastic and I guess I got caught up in that and thought, 'Okay, so maybe this is a viable thing'. It's largely to do with him that I pursued [acting] and stuck at it."
Minor successes on stage and screen followed - a stint on The Bill here, a role on Silent Witness there - but as a young actor, Ward often had to juggle his dreams of acting with day jobs. He worked in retail, in teaching and as a bike courier. He was working as a lifeguard when he met Loach. That was when his fortunes had an upswing.
When he landed the lead role, Ward made sure to call his old boss, a fellow Loach obsessive with whom he had lost contact.
"I had worked as the manager of a bookshop and I'd say to my boss, 'I'm really sorry, I'll need to leave early as I have an audition in town', and Mike would say, 'Don't worry. Don't ever forget me when you get your first lead in a Ken Loach film'," Ward says. "He must have said it a hundred times. Four or five years later I got to ring him up and say, 'Ask no questions, wear a nice suit, and meet me at this cinema in London on this date'. When he got there he was like, 'Lovely to see you, what's all this about?' and I told him I'd see him in 90 minutes and to enjoy himself. It didn't dawn on him until Ken Loach walked out on stage, and then I walked out beside him. He was gobsmacked."
In 2015, he won the role of Dr Spencer in The Fall opposite Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson. A part in Maze with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, followed, as did parts in The End Of The F***ing World and Sky's Save Me and Britannia. Ward has spent lockdown in London with his partner Laura Kavanagh, a production manager at Focus Features. The time has largely been spent "keeping this little guy amused and entertained", he says in reference to the couple's five-year-old son, Tom.
"I suppose people are finding that they've loads of time on their hands," he adds. "But for most actors, our lives are like that normally - there's a lot of time hanging about the house, pretty much doing what we want."
'White Lines' is now streaming on Netflix. 'Dating Amber' premieres on Amazon Prime Video on June 4