Tuesday 25 June 2019

My waking hours: With L.A.-based Irish actor Alan Smyth

Alan Smyth (43) is an actor. He used to be in Fair City and has had several stage roles. Since he moved to L.A in 2006, he has been cast as the bad guy. Born in Dundalk, Co Louth, he lives in Los Feliz with his actress girlfriend, Beth Riesgraf, and her son

Alan Smyth pictured for Life Magazine
Alan Smyth pictured for Life Magazine

Ciara Dwyer

I live in a gorgeous area called Los Feliz. Back in the 1920s, it was part of the old Hollywood, and all the stars lived within a three-mile radius, because the studios were nearby. For the most part, the sun is shining in the mornings. I've never got used to this, even though I've lived here since 2006. It puts me in a good mood, but I do slightly miss rain. I tend to get up pretty early, and if I'm working, I will be up at some crazy hour. If you're shooting a TV gig, you're often up at 4am to be there for 5.15am. But on days that I'm not working, I'll be up at around 7am.

I live with my girlfriend of five years, Beth Riesgraf - she's an actress - and her 11-year-old son. Usually, on school days, Beth does most of the work getting her boy off to school, and then we let the dogs out. In LA, everyone has at least one dog. I have a theory about this. LA is very big and remote, and most people move here to try to further their careers. But it's so spread-out that everyone is in their car a lot of the time. It can be quite an isolating place. I think people get dogs because they are good company, and it's a great way to meet other people. You can take a dog out and everyone comments on your dog. That's how you get talking to people. So, the dog serves a function beyond being a beloved pet.

But I didn't meet Beth that way. She worked on a show called Leverage and I played the villain on it - a loan shark from Belfast. For the most part, I play bad guys here. We didn't actually work together, but I met her on the first day and we got along really well. Later on, we met up and we started to step out.

I usually exercise first thing in the morning. I'll either head to the gym, or go for an eight-mile run. You can see the Hollywood sign from where we live, so I run around the trails here. You take in this beautiful view and you can see the city, and if it's really clear, you can even see the ocean at Santa Monica. It's a great way to start the day with this fresh air - well, fresh-ish, because it's LA. I've always exercised, but since I moved here it's gone up a notch. I think people are fit in LA because they have more time off. Nobody works a full 12 months.

I knew a chunk of people before I came out here and that was invaluable. Some were casting directors and actors, and a film company sponsored me. Up until then, I had been acting in Ireland for 15 years. I was in Fair City and I had done a lot of stage work too, from pantomimes at the Gaiety to classic dramas at the Gate. In LA, when I went for my first audition, I was booked. It was CSI:NY. From that, I got to meet a whole bunch of people at the network - CBS. It's really about having people who are willing to pick up the phone for you, because everybody in LA is peddling something. No one is waiting for you to show up. It is so vast that you can't just let your past work speak for itself.

In LA, you have to get yourself out there and be incredibly positive and sociable. Irish people are great for chatting, but we're not very good at asserting ourselves. You have to go in and say, 'I did this and I was great in it'. It doesn't matter if it's bullshit. But if you're too self-deprecating, they'll say, 'Well, this guy doesn't seem to think he's that good, so why should I give a shit?'

I had a fantasy about coming here. I always liked America and Americans, and even as a kid I wanted to be in movies. Sometimes actors give out a lot and end up begrudging the work. I was working non-stop for a long stretch of time in Ireland, but I was afraid that if I didn't give myself a kick in the arse I'd become that person. There is something about all creative people - no matter what you're doing, that you want to be doing something else.

I wanted the opportunity to make a lot of money. LA is hard to get into, but the rewards are infinitely greater. When you do one episode of a TV show over here, you notice the difference in the money straight away. But also, you get a residual cheque every time it is shown, and none of that happens at home.

In Ireland, actors get screwed and the union is useless, but over here actors are appreciated more. When I do TV work, I play mostly bad guys. I think it's because I don't look American and I've got pointy eyebrows. They think I'm a bit edgy. So, I'm a murderer, a rapist, a psychotic, and I usually kill at least one person. My mother thinks this is hilarious, because I'm a bit of a softie. I love it, because at home, for the most part, I was playing nice guys or funny guys, but LA has decided that I'm not a funny person. When I'm cast for something which is on the darker side, I say, 'wait a second, I was Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. I don't go around murdering people'.

In the evenings, if I'm not working, I might go out for a meal with Beth. That can be tricky because, since we've met, one of us is almost always out of town with work, but we try not to leave it longer than three weeks. Our part of town is like a little village, with a lot of restaurants and cinemas within walking distance. LA is amazing when you're working and when you're not, it's awful. Everyone I know has had lulls. Of course I miss home and I think about it every day, but I don't pine for it. I was ready to leave. It's easier to stay in touch with people through social media, and I genuinely see more of my parents now that I'm here. They come to visit me and my sister, who lives in San Francisco.

I like to watch TV in the evenings. I love shows like Mad Men and Homeland, and when you live in LA, there is a reasonable chance that you can get on those shows. I find that very exciting. I write a blog, and I've also completed the first draft of a novel. When you're here, you cannot sit back for a second. You just need to keep moving. I usually go to bed at 1am. If I'm playing a bad guy, I tend to have more energy. There's something about the psychology of those characters that gives me an extra edge. When I fall asleep, I'm usually going through my lines.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Sunday Independent

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