Sunday 15 September 2019

Dedicated to his Craft

WHERE DID YOU GET THAT HAT? Damien Molony in BBC drama 'Ripper Street'
WHERE DID YOU GET THAT HAT? Damien Molony in BBC drama 'Ripper Street'

Chris Jackson


'Acting is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances," says actor Damien Molony reflectively as he cuts into an avocado and searches the street with serious eyes. "The circumstances are imaginary but the problems and desires of the characters I play are real."

Dublin-born Molony is a serious young man. Very serious about his career – a career which has already included roles in prestigious stage dramas as well as on TV.

We meet at a restaurant near Notting Hill. We sit on distressed iron chairs under a shallow blue awning as cars trundle by under an autumnal sky. We order breakfast and coffee. Within minutes, he is talking about acting and film, with which the 29-year-old has been obsessed since childhood.

"When I was a kid I'd stay up till two or three in the morning to watch the Oscars," he says. "Film is my obsession. I'd rather spend any spare time I have in the cinema. There's a part of me that thinks that I'll eventually watch every film ever made."

Although he projects a persona of a man of high art he is not a snob. He is as comfortable on action films as he is on art house, and he is open about where he draws inspiration. "Harrison Ford is a hero, he's just cool. Meryl Streep is another, she's just incredible in everything. But my influences evolve. Right now I'm a big fan of Sam Rockwell, I think he is a phenomenal talent. It's so important to have that kind of inspiration."

Damien's dream to become an actor, though born in his youth in Johnstown Bridge, Co Kildare, seemed unattainable for a time. Although he had starred in annual school productions at Clongowes Wood, he was rejected by Trinity College drama department.

"I was immature. I hadn't done enough research into how to become an actor," he says. "The course I applied for, and was rejected from, was the wrong course anyway. I didn't know how to get what I wanted."

He studied Business, Economic and social studies at Trinity instead.

What reawakened him to his dream seems worthy of fiction. After the death of a relative he heard a sermon which he felt was beseeching him to change course.

"I'm not a particularly religious person, but I remember about that time I heard the Parable of the Talents from the Book of Matthew, which implores those with a talent to use it. I woke up one morning, my head still ringing with the parable, and said 'okay I'm going to be an actor'. The very next morning I started applying for drama schools.

"I joined two theatre companies. Over the space of just six months I did five plays. I worked 13 or 14 hours a day in a Ballsbridge newsagent and then travelled to rehearse in Dundrum three nights a week, and to Newbridge twice a week, and switched between the two on weekends."

Such commitment was worthwhile as he was accepted to the prestigious Drama Centre in London, alma matter of Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy and Colin Firth. That acceptance clearly carries a great deal of validation for him.

"I really feel one of the best ways to learn is to just go out and do what you want to do. I learnt so much in that year by just constantly practicing," he says. "I applied the same attitude at drama school. I had three years, three years of which I was intent on doing my utmost.

"I went from rarely ever reading plays, to reading one a day. I went from attending the theatre two or three times a year, to two or three times a week. And this was on top of 12 or 13 hours a day learning and honing my craft. I immersed myself. You could almost say I shut myself off from the world, so much was the singularity of my focus."

It's tempting to resort to cliche and say "and the rest was history", especially if you know the trajectory of his career since then – but since his move to London, it's more or less true.

Molony has enjoyed serious success. In 2011, he was nominated for the Spotlight Prize, a prestigious award for Britain's top student actors and he secured his first major theatrical lead in early 2011 as Giovanni in a modern production of John Ford's 1630's classic Tis Pity She's A Whore.

There was controversy before the play began its run in Leeds as the local Roman Catholic diocese complained the posters for the play portrayed the Virgin Mary as a prostitute. Molony, while appreciative of the inevitable controversy, was concerned elsewhere.

"Truth be told I was more worried about the nude scenes than anything else," he says .

Jonathan Munby's production, with its modern Tarantino-esque sensibility, was warmly received by critics, and for Molony it was a seminal moment.

"It was a great first job, to be the lead in a true classic, directed by a great director in a 1200-seat theatre. It was defining for me because my career from then has been dictated by my performance as Giovanni."

Such was the calibre of his performance, he received a nomination for the prestigious Ian Charleson Award, a prize for the best classical stage performance in Britain by actors under 30. Recent winners and nominees include Hollywood stars Andrea Risborough, Rebecca Hall, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Among those who saw him in Tis A Pity was the casting director of BBC's Being Human, who asked him to come to London to audition as the lead vampire Hal in the supernatural series.

Hal and Being Human is what has registered Molony on the public consciousness.

In early 2012, he was cast as the lead in Nicholas Wright's Travelling Light, an ambitious production about the birth of film and its effect upon a young Jewish man in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Staged at the National Theatre and directed by Sir Nicholas Hynter, it met with mixed reviews, although Molony was commended for his performance

He has since joined the cast of the critically acclaimed BBC series Ripper Street. Shot in the barracks at Islandbridge and Dublin's Georgian streets, he returned to the city he left five years before.

"I have never worked in Dublin before as a professional actor and it was really great to go back there, not just because I was able to get back and see family and friends, but also because there seems to be a sense of vibrancy there, on and off set," he says.

Ripper Street is a dark crime drama set in Victorian England, just after the Jack the Ripper murders. It's yet another part in a dark, violent, drama – like Being Human and Tis A Pity, the productions that define his career to date. But he insists he is not drawn to genre, just story.

"I'm not trying to tie myself down to any one genre. It's just some of the darker, more bloody roles have been the ones offered to me in the past two years. And with Albert Flight [his character], like Hal, his story is what attracts me. He is brilliant, ambitious, arrogant, and he's different."

Different; just like Molony. He's a man with commitment to his craft, the commitment of a man with a classical disposition but also rooted in pop culture.

Stardom can be capricious, but one would still be unwise to bet against Damien Molony's early promise.

Damien Molony debuts in 'Ripper Street' at 9pm tomorrow on BBC One

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