No regrets for Listowels Seán

Fresh from his appearance in ‘Game of Thrones’, Fergus Dennehy talks to Listowel actor Seán McGillycuddy about giving up teaching to become an actor, his love for the craft, his proudest moments and his upcoming future projects

Seán McGillycuddy
Seán McGillycuddy

Fresh from his appearance alongside Ed Sheeran in the opening episode of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, Seán McGillycuddy insists that he has no regrets about giving up his teaching career to pursue acting.

The former English and Maths teacher in Ballincollig Community School, Seán is looking relaxed, dressed in a leather jacket, jeans and a shirt when I greet him in the lobby of The Kerryman offices to discuss his career to date.

It's been a little over four years since Seán received the blessing of both his parents, his school principal and more importantly, his grandmother, to go pursue his passions for acting.

Sitting across from him now in our boardroom and seeing the enthusiasm and expression in his face as he talks about his craft, it's easy to see why he was pushed to take a chance on an acting career.

"It was only in college that I really started getting into the plays and performing. I just love being on stage, I love performing and taking on a role and connecting to that part and putting that across to an audience," said Seán.

"It's the connection with the audience that I love. When you know that they are absolutely absorbed in what you are doing on stage or in-screen and that they lose themselves in the work. There's just such a buzz from this, for me,"

A student at what was then the Gaiety School of Acting in Cork, Seán says that the training that he received here over two years has helped him massively in his career.

"We did everything there, from comedy, drama, all the different types of methods, all the different types of theatre, it was a very hands-on course. We focused a lot on the abstract stuff, things like abstract plays that really pushed your boundaries, things that made you really look at yourself as an actor."

"The course really got me thinking, especially things like script analysis which was a big thing for me. I remember one time where we were doing an 'Alice in Wonderland' for adults type play where I had to play a goat and don't worry, it wasn't like playing a tree in a Christmas play or anything like that, it was an actual part," he laughs.

"Researching that and getting into it, I just found that absolutely fascinating because I was being asked to take on the characteristics and the mannerisms of a goat. It was really good fun in the end and I got really good feedback on that role and it was just a really unusual play to be a part of," he continues.

Talk inevitably turns to what I can only describe to him as a 'sudden and massive career change' and Seán, nodding knowingly, says that it was a process that evolved over a couple of years as he progressively got more and more into teaching an after-school drama class.

"It started going really well, the kids were enjoying it and so we started touring around the place a little bit and we won a few little awards for some of the scripts that we were putting together and all that aswell."

"I just thought 'God, this is what I love doing' and I mean, I loved teaching and I loved being in the classroom but for me, there was just this constant draw towards acting."

"When I saw the kids up on stage and you get this sense of pride in their ability, I mean, seeing kids who would have previously have been shy or quiet and then all of a sudden, they're up there on stage, giving it socks and they're going for it and coming out of themselves."

Eventually the time came for Seán to make a decision and he said that although he was nervous, his family and friends couldn't have been more supportive of his decision.

"The principal in Ballincollig, I rang her in August to tell her that I wouldn't be coming back and initially she told to sleep on it and to ring her back tomorrow but she actually rang me back the next day and said 'Seán, you need to do this, go for it. You can't have regrets down the years and now is the time."

"She was right because I feel that if I hadn't done it, those regrets would have destroyed me and led me to be some sort of bitter teacher 20 years down the line."

"My parents and everyone else were so supportive, my grandmother was the person that I was most worried about, I thought she would think I was this awful eejit but she was delighted aswell, she said that the schools couldn't contain me," he chuckled.

"Actually, a lovely thing happened to me recently after the whole 'Game of Thrones' thing, some of the kids from the Ballincollig actually got onto me on Facebook and they were saying how delighted they were for me and telling me to keep going and keep working hard and this was absolutely lovely."

"Acting can be an isolated profession because you really don't have work colleagues that last longer than eight weeks sometimes so to get this encouragement now and again, it does get you through those days of doubt," he says.

With all actors, there is a preference towards either screen acting or stage and sitting across from him now, I make the judgement that Seán, who himself admits that he's very expressive in how he acts, is more of a stage actor than a screen performer.

"I get asked so much whether I prefer the stage or the screen and they're just so different, they're hard to compare at times. On the stage, you're open, you're big and everything is so large, you can use big expressions, whereas on screen, you have rein all that back in and be a lot more subtle with your acting.

"I drive people mad on set with wanting to know about angles and what size lens they are using on the camera because say if it's a wide-angle lens, you can use your hands and everything and you've a bit more expression but in a tight and close up shot, you better make sure you don't move," he laughed.

"The best book on acting that I've ever read is by Michael Caine and I thought it was just fantastic because it was just this no-holes barred, he was just saying as it it is, how it is on stage, what to do and I think I actually picked up more for screen acting from that book than any other book I've read."

Never one to rest on his laurels too much, Seán, who is also doubling up his skillset by jumping into the role of a producer, has big plans for the future, starting with his latest project, a comedy series.

"We've got a very exciting comedy series that we're filming at the minute and we've got six mini-episodes filmed at the moment and the show is called 'Logan & Regan' and I'm producing that with a Mayo man and very talented writer and director called Peter Melrose."

"I play Logan and he plays Regan and it's about two lads in their mid-20's who are living together and they're both a bit oddball, a bit screwball you know, and they both kind of see the world a bit differently. The episodes are looking great and we're very excited about them and we'll be getting ready to pitch them to RTÉ, BBC and whoever will have it."

"We're in the process of trying to set up a production company but right now, we have six mini-episodes which are about three to five minutes each in length but we also have full-length scripts ready to go aswell. We also have a feature length script aswell that we're working on aswell at the moment which we're very excited about and it's one that we'd like to film in Kerry aswell," he continues.

Our talk wrapping up, I ask Seán if he can pick out a proudest moment from his career to date and after a bit of deliberating - he finds one.

Reflecting on a trip to Guatamala a number of years ago, a trip which he says greatly affected him because of the poverty and impoverished housing that he witnessed there, Seán, says how he wrote a short monologue to reflect his time there, a monologue whhich he says was made all the more special because there was Guatamalans in the crowd listening to him.

"They came up to me afterwards and thanked me, it was just a really special, special moment for me," he finished with a smile, a man with no regrets.