Tuesday 11 December 2018

A cowboy and an angel wrapped up to make a legend

Emma Nolan

'I DID an Irish-language movie once, a short. Only thing is I can't speak Irish and I lied in the auditions." It seems Allen Leech, 25, has sweet-talked and blagged his way to fame, and with a fair amount of talent he's set to be around for a while.

The cheeky chappy slumps down on the couch beside me complaining of over-indulgence the night before, but his hangover doesn't hinder him being a charming, charismatic, down-to-earth guy, not to mention easy on the eye.

You hear of the life of the struggling actor, but in Leech's case he has managed to breeze through the last few years without breaking a sweat. He became interested in acting at 16 while doing work experience at the Gate Theatre.

"I said to them, look I'll stay on and if you want me to paint sets or anything and then maybe you'd give me an audition. And they were like, 'Eh, yeah maybe, paint that wall,' and I said, 'Well, do I get an audition?' and they replied, 'Yeah, maybe, just paint the wall.'" In the end they did give him an audition and he got a small part in A Streetcar Named Desire with Francis McDormand and Liam Cunningham. "That was where I went, 'Wow, people actually do this for a living!'"

He went on to study drama and theatre studies in Trinity.

"It was good because it was five hours a week. What I didn't realise was that you were supposed to do stuff outside the five hours, like write essays and read books, but I was too busy concentrating on the important stuff like going for auditions and drinking."

But the auditions paid off and it was during college that Leech got his big break in Cowboys and Angels, playing a flamboyant fashion student. And before he was finished college he had bagged his second lead role in Man about Dog playing Belfast boy 'Mo Chara'. With all the work and distractions he still managed to get his degree.

"I blagged my way through college. I remember doing mydissertation in the last threedays before it was due, 24-hour stints, apparently it wasn'tthat wonderful," he laughs. He came out with a 2.2, which isn'tbad for a guy who admits having done nothing.

By the time he finished college he was well established asan actor. He decided Dublinwas too claustrophobic for him,and London was the place to be. Legend is the new drama series in which Leech plays one of the lead characters, Willy. Set in a west Dublin council estate, the seriesis based around a close-knit group of twentysomethings and the hardships they go through. "A guy called Fridge has justlost his wife Harriet, who got killed by a joyrider, and I play hisbest friend Willy, who used to live next door but got kicked out because of a one-night fling. So he's trying to come to terms with the break-up of his family, as is Fridge," Leech explains.

Legend is funny, yet tough,at times grim but also life-affirming. Under the toughness of the characters, there is warmth and sincerity, Leech says of his character Willy: "He would be well-respected in the community and maybe has the air of a hard man but he's about as hard as cotton wool. I guess I'm a bit like Willy, a bit of a softie," he smiles.

Being from Killiney he found the thick Dublin accent harder than most of the cast, "because I speaka bit la-di-da, loike you know,"he laughs.

Leech enjoyed the bit of crack on location.

"A group of kids came over to us and said "You're bleedin' deadly in this play, aren't ye?" then they got bored watching the same scene, different angles, so they started to throw stuff at us. In some of my close-ups there are bricks flyingby my head. It was priceless,there were lads coming by on horses and everything."

Now established as one of Ireland brightest young things he finds the female attention quite flattering and hard to believe.

"I think I won the sexiest man in Ireland in U magazine this year. I think my mom must have entered most of the votes."

Currently, he is filming the HBO and BBC co-production Rome .

"I play General Marcus Agrippa, he's basically a very loyal and honest general who goes around killing people. I wear skirts, sometimes very short pants, I do get to wear this cool kinda armour stuff as well, it's brilliant," he says. .

Leech, the chancer, claims he blagged his way into the $110m series with a little white lie, telling producers he was the Irish national show jumping champion under 16s.

"I nearly broke my b****x bouncing around on the horse at the start, but I can ride pretty well now. Rome is probably the most enjoyable gig I've ever been on but the hardest work."

Being a man of many talents and ambitions, Leech doesn't see himself sticking solely to acting for the rest of his life. "I wouldn't mind directing and I'm thinking about producing a documentary after Rome . Then again I might not, I might spend my life acting and never get bored."

Knowing his luck, he'll succeed in whatever he sets his mind to.

Check out Alan Leech as Willy

tomorrow in the new series 'Legend' on RTE 2 at 9.30pm

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