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Upfront: Fair City's Maclean Burke on how being bullied led him into acting

 

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Maclean Burke will be appearing in 'Once Upon a Panto' in the Olympia Panto online fairytale. Photo: Tony Gavin

Maclean Burke will be appearing in 'Once Upon a Panto' in the Olympia Panto online fairytale. Photo: Tony Gavin

Maclean Burke will be appearing in 'Once Upon a Panto' in the Olympia Panto online fairytale. Photo: Tony Gavin

Maclean Burke (42) is an actor who is best known for his roles as Damo in Fair City and Bill in Little Roy. His first job was in In the Name of the Father. He lives in Ashford, County Wicklow with his wife, Ashleen, and their children, Cillian, Jude, Ava and Beau. This Christmas, he plays Dame Polly in Once Upon a Panto which streams online from the Olympia.

What were you like as a young boy?

I was very quiet but very active. If there was a bone to be broken, I had broken it. I loved putting things in vice grips and breaking them to find out what was inside.

You were bullied until you were eight. Did it mark you for life?

Yes, but it also shaped my youth. I was kicked around badly and I started to fight back, which made things worse. My aunt told me to change, and I did. I had no confidence, so my parents sent me to acting classes. I had an active imagination and I didn't have many friends because of the bullying. Something clicked in those classes, and off I went. My first gig was In the Name of the Father with Daniel Day Lewis when I was 12. If I hadn't been bullied, I wouldn't be an actor today.

Best Christmas ever, as a child?

When I was six, Santa gave me a Peugeot BMX bike. It was electric blue with gold wheels, the real deal. I used to see Santy every year going across the moon. Then there would be the absolute anxiety of whether he would come or not, and when I'd come downstairs on Christmas morning, my tummy would be all aflutter. Then I'd open the door, look at the presents and get sick everywhere. I'd have to go upstairs to calm down before I could play with my toys.

Best Christmas ever, as an adult?

When you're an adult, Christmas is all about the kids. I've been lucky enough to have four maggots. When my son was 12, he decided that he wanted a tractor and he got one - a 1940s Massey Ferguson. It was sitting outside in the front garden on Christmas morning. While other young fellas were on skateboards, he was going out on the Massey. We restored it together. Now he's a tillage farmer and he drives a brand-new Massey Ferguson.

Did Covid-19 change you?

I reconnected with my family, worked out like a demon and now I've no desire to be in a pub which surprises me.

What drives you?

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I love to have a purpose. I want to achieve for my family.

Are you a glass half-full person?

Yes, but every so often I need to be told - 'don't stress'.

Three words to describe you.

Loyal, emotional, stubborn.

Best piece of advice given to you?

When your baby is born, make as much noise as you did before the kid arrived, that way they'll sleep through anything.

Who are your role models?

Daniel Day Lewis. He is honest and in the zone. Aged 12, I was sitting on the steps of Liverpool Town Hall, having a conversation with him about his favourite football team and he was telling me that he didn't get on with his dad. To this day, I don't know if he was answering me as Gerry Conlon [his character in the film] or himself. And my folks. They are in their 60s and they are like two lovebirds, holding hands. They have a grá for everyone who comes into their life. Sometimes you look out the window towards others but if you look behind you, there it is.

You've played Damo in Fair City for 23 years and must be recognised a lot. Tell us about the most bizarre time.

I was sitting outside a pub in Ballina and a man asked me to draw a watch on his wrist, with the time that we'd met on it. I found myself doing the strap and the buckle. Off he went, saying, "The lads will never believe it."

What's the biggest surprise about dressing up as a woman for the panto?

That I look good in a dress.

What do you do for laughs?

For laughs, I hang out with the people I love. And for kicks, I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie - mountain-biking, boxing, anything that endangers my life. I've done bungee jumping, abseiling and I've done a parachute jump where I've lost all my toenails over it.

Once Upon a Panto, on demand from December 23 - January 3; www.olympiapanto.ie


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