Lorcan's biggest role
Lorcan Cranitch is still passionate about his acting career -- as can be seen at the Abbey, with Pygmalion -- but reveals the one job happily hogging the spotlight is that of fatherhood, having fostered an Ethiopian baby, finds Ciara Dwyer
In the Nineties, Lorcan Cranitch was on the brink of giving up acting. Having trained in Rada, London's prestigious drama school (beating 700 applicants for one of the 22 places), the Dublin-born actor went on to work steadily, flitting between the UK and Ireland. Then, all of sudden, his phone stopped ringing. He languished for a spell and then he decided he should face facts. With no work, maybe it was time to retrain and do something else.
"I hadn't worked in a while," he tells me. "I was at quite a low period. I'll never forget it. I was really fed up with the business, because it's an unforgiving mother when it wants to be. I was offered a 10-day schools workshop in Derby for £150 and you think, 'What am I doing?' At that point, I was thinking, 'I've got to do something else. I've got my health and I'm reasonably intelligent. I need a plan B.'"
It was then that he was called for an audition for Jimmy McGovern's television series Cracker, about criminal psychologist Fitz, played by Robbie Coltrane, and the crimes he solved with his detective team. "I was feeling in two minds about everything but, nevertheless, you go in and give it your best shot," he says. "For some reason or another, I got this part as DS Jimmy Beck, one of the team. I didn't know what was going to happen. I don't think any of them did. It was the first series of this show, but they had it structured and organised very well. Jimmy McGovern's writing was inspirational stuff.
"Chris Ecclestone [the actor] decided that he didn't want to do a second series, so suddenly my character got more of a position in the thing and I was thick in the storyline. Cracker opened up a lot of doors for me."
Indeed, Cracker changed his life and took him to another level. And thankfully for us, it is one of the main reasons he didn't pack in acting. Otherwise, we would not get to see him at the Abbey Theatre in Shaw's Pygmalion, playing Eliza's father Alfred Doolittle.
Down the years, Cranitch has dazzled us in the original production of Frank McGuinness's Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme at the Abbey and in Arthur Miller's The Price at the Gate, as well as David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow and Chekhov's Three Sisters. He has also appeared in lots of character roles on different British series and is a gifted comic actor too.
When he appears on stage as Alfred, the filthy faced dustman, he is delightfully disgusting, like a rat who has come up from the sewers. The minute he starts on Professor Henry Higgins with "Listen here Gov'ner, you and me is men of the world ... ," he has the audience in the palm of his hand. With his shifty ways and his curious eloquence, his Doolittle is a total transformation from the nicely spoken, gentle soul I interview.
"People come to Pygmalion with an idea of the musical My Fair Lady, but the play is a different animal altogether," he says. "It's a lot darker, but a lot of it is funny, too. In the story, there's a huge concentration on money and what it can buy. Alfred goes in to see Higgins when he hears that Eliza has gone to him for voice lessons -- his reaction is to go in and see how much he can get out of Higgins for his daughter. He tries to sell her. That's pimping."
As he says to Higgins: "What's a five-pound note to you? What's Eliza to me?" And then he adds: "I'll do you a good deal." And when Higgins asks: "Have you no morals?" Doolittle replies: "I can't afford them, guv'nor."
Rather incredibly, Cranitch had never seen the film My Fair Lady or the play. I tell him to keep it that way. He doesn't need the baggage to colour his performance. Besides, he plays a blinder.
The 51-year-old grew up in Harold's Cross. (Three years ago, he and his wife, Susan Jackson, the RTE newsreader, moved back to that area.) He has lived in Dublin full-time for the past 10 years.
"Home is where the heart is," he adds, and quotes Billy Connolly: "Home is where the mortgage is."
He has a younger sister Ellen, the talented musician who also presents a programme on Lyric fm. Mathew, his Wexford-born father, worked as a clerical officer in the GPO, while his Dubliner mother Eileen had been involved in amateur dramatics before she married.
Cranitch attended Terenure College, a school which is renowned for its tradition of drama. (Donal McCann and Stephen Brennan went there.) "They had a tradition of doing a good, strong play every year," he says. "I was in a couple of them and they worked out well. But not at that point did I think this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. The idea that you would actually turn it into a profession ... You had to make a living and I had three generations of Cranitches to follow -- they'd all worked in the civil service. Like everyone else, I sat the bank exams and the civil service exams.
"I had this notion that I would like to see the world and one way of doing that was travelling on a ship. My parents were friendly with a guy who was an engineer in the Merchant Navy. The ship was in town one day, and I visited him and thought it was a great idea."
Cranitch signed up to do a radio officer's course in Kevin Street, but he soon discovered that it was a mistake. Instead, he found himself drawn to UCD. where he got involved in shows with people such as Michael Scott, Gerry Stembridge and Ben Barnes. "Then I thought, if some of these people are going to go on and do this professionally, what would happen if I had a go," he says. "I thought I should get some training, so I applied to Rada and got in. Then I told my mother what I'd done.
"God love my parents, because they didn't know what I'd taken on. They were caught between pride of some description, but also abject terror of how the hell they were going to get their son through this. They had to have a little think about whether they were going to allow this and, thankfully, God bless them, they did."
Rada was an extraordinary place, he says. Fiona Shaw was in his class, Kenneth Branagh in the term above him and John Sessions in the year after him. "The best thing about the two-and-a-half-year course was that we were encouraged to try things out and make mistakes," he says.
But graduating from Rada is no guarantee of work. He tells me that of his class of 22, only three are still acting. "Touch wood, I haven't had huge bouts of unemployment," he says. "I've had slumps and then the next thing three jobs come along and you hope you make the right choice. I like to think I'm not a worrier, but I do lose a bit of sleep occasionally about where the next meal is coming from.
"I know we're all in a recession, but actors have been in a recession forever. I do feel sorry for people who have been in jobs for 15 years and they've discovered what unemployment is like. It's hard. Welcome to my world and the instability. The difference is that we have chosen that instability, but it doesn't make it any easier."
In 1995, Cranitch met Jackson. She was doing a piece for the BBC World Service about the Dublin Film Festival and interviewed him after his film was shown in the Screen Cinema.
Did they click when they were doing the interview? "No, it was afterwards. I met her in a bar and we got chatting, and one thing led to another and so on and so forth. We've been together 16 years and we're married nine years. We got married because, in the old-fashioned way, we wanted to celebrate what we were doing."
Five years ago, they decided that they wanted to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. "We decided that we'd be good parents, so that's why we did it."
Why Ethiopia? "I suppose it was a place we had more of an understanding of than the Far East. I had been to Kenya and Susan had been to South Africa to cover the elections. We just thought this is right."
As with so many adoption cases, he tells me that there was "tons of ridiculous red tape" and that it took five years. "It's bulls***, absolute bulls***." But judging from the smile on his face as he talks about their now 20-month-old baby, it is clear that getting Robel from the orphanage last July was well worth it.
"He's a phenomenal little child and he's certainly the light of our life at the moment," Cranitch says. "He's learning words and he's learning about all the things around him, and he's fascinated by everything. He's still teething a bit and he's crawling. He's as fast as lightning and he's a dab hand at pulling plugs out of the wall. You need four eyes and four arms -- two to do what you're doing and two to stop him. It's great and I am enjoying it."
Cranitch boasts that he's "a dab hand at changing a nappy now -- 30 seconds flat. It all takes planning," he adds. "Susan was working every day over Easter, so essentially I was looking after him. We keep looking at each other and saying what did we do before we had to look after him? How did we fill our time? A couple of weeks ago, he had a night where he was in his granny's and it was the first night we had since Christmas."
How did they spend the evening? "We sat at home, cooked ourselves a nice dinner, had a nice bottle of wine and watched The Late Late Show, or something like that." He laughs at such simple joys. "The wine tastes so much nicer. It's brilliant.
"I know it's the most obvious thing to say that it's life-changing, but it puts a profession like this, which is centred around us ... it just puts a whole different spin on why we do this. There are things that matter and things that don't."
Cranitch is quick to point out that he is still as passionate about his work, but it's simply that his perspective has changed. "Sometimes, when you're younger you think that what you're doing is changing people's lives ... you're not. Hopefully, this play might sow some seed and maybe people will come out and have some discussions. There are great things happening in the world and if you can be a part of them, great; but if you're not, don't worry about it. This boy's life is the biggest thing, really."
Do people react in a strange way when they see him pushing a buggy with a black baby? "No, it hasn't been an issue. We don't have to teach him anything about Ethiopia, but we will and you'd be crazy not to, because it's going to come up at some point."
Cranitch is due to go back for a dress rehearsal and we are tied to time, but we lose track of it as he talks about his beautiful son. How could you not? "He's just the best," says the doting father, brimming with pride.
Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, is on at the Abbey Theatre until June 11. For bookings, phone 01-8787222, or visit www.abbeytheatre.ie
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