Actor Frank Kelly: When I was 21, I wish I'd known...
The Fr. Ted star offers advice to his young self
To just go for it. I was in UCD studying a Bachelor degree in civil law. It was the best year of my life.
Nothing went wrong. I was also doing the bar. You could do them simultaneously then, you're not allowed to do it now, but I loved it because I had been a drop-out in school and wanted to leave school. I had already had a girlfriend in school at that point and she smelled of lipstick so I wasn't into gymslips at all or chipped nails. I went to a grinders in Blackrock, it was called Martina's.
I was determined to get out of school but I overheard my mother on the phone saying, "even if he only gets one subject it will keep him off the streets". So, I worked like a maniac, I got the matric in all subjects, and even got it in maths and I was now eligible for UCD but they forced me to do another year in school which was awful. I was fairly mature when I went to college, I was 19. I don't think you can have the bit tight enough between your teeth in your early 20s, there will be people to discourage you, so you just have to go for it, really go for it. I never stopped to think if it was a good idea or not.
... that when I went to college it would all open up for me. I joined the DramSoc. I stopped at the boxing club stall first. There was this huge, big guy at the stall and I had notions of maybe joining a boxing club so I asked him, who would I be fighting and he asked me my weight. I told him and he said, you'd be fighting me. I tore up the papers and walked away. I'd have been killed!
I had been very active in dramatics in school, had played nine leads. They weren't interested in me academically but they were interested in me packing out the hall. I had studied violin intensively for 10 years and gave it up in rage. My father wanted me to go to a conservatory in Paris.
... that I would be glad I got my degree. I always felt then that I had options and I hadn't made my choice by accident or just fallen into acting. Acting was very much like a religious vocation, it was something I just had to be. It can be a curse if you're not successful, I don't look down on people who don't have a successful career in acting.
...that there is so much work to be done you can't be diverted or distracted. Ideally, to be single in college. I finished an affair before I went to college and I decided I wasn't getting involved with something like that again. I had had enough of a rough time, so I said no more of this for a while. I was fairly successful in that area but had no steady girlriends. I had seen too much grief. I had seen members of my family going to the edge because of affairs.
... to never be put off your faith by a silly priest. When I was in school I used to bunk off the religious retreats. One year, I went to one out of curiosity and the priest was painting a picture of people with tridents being shoved in their naked bottoms for their sins and he stopped and said, "never be put off your faith by a silly priest". You couldn't have heard a more iconoclastic statement at the time. The words 'silly' and 'priest' didn't go together. It stayed with me ever since.
Frank Kelly appears in Moll by John B Keane at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin until June 7. www.gaeitytheatre.ie.
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