Hi everyone. I am really excited to announce my latest interview to you all. Probably best known for getting into the final eight on TV’s ‘Superstar’ (the search for Jesus), Irish actor Niall Sheehy is currently rehearsing for Les Miserables on London’s West End and he kindly agreed to answer some questions for me. Once again I am extremely grateful to him for taking his time out to do this.
Niall and myself, 18th May 2013
1. Was acting something you always wanted to do?
It’s quite a hard question to answer. I know I always wanted a creative job – which led me to study marketing (which turned out to be a lot less creative than I expected). Ireland is slightly different to the UK in the sense that there aren’t many established theatre schools for younger children, so I never really got into performing until a later age. I did a bit of performing as a child and loved it, but none of my friends were with me and when I had to choose between drama classes or football, I chose football. Having said that, ever since I finally started performing on the amateur circuit, it was genuinely the only thing I wanted to do.
2. If you weren’t an actor what would you do?
If I had never acted at all, then I think I would still be in my Sales job back in Dublin. I didn’t really enjoy the work, but I was on a good salary and had a lot of great friends there. But, if I was to walk away from acting at this point in my life, I think I would like to work with children with development issues. It’s something I’ve been touched by in my life, and I can see me pursuing it later down the line.
3. You had been in a few productions prior to auditioning for ‘Superstar’. What made you decide to do it? (I think it would be terrifying to sing the composers songs in front of him…!)
I’m not really sure why I applied for Superstar, to be honest. I think it came down to frustration; I can’t count the amount of times I’ve done a great audition process, only to be told I was preferred for one of the lead parts, but the other guy had “more of a profile”. It can become debilitating and I said to myself a few years ago that if another suitable show came along, I’d apply. I never actually thought I’d get anywhere NEAR the live rounds, but I just wanted to throw my hat in the ring.
4. Please talk us through the process you had to go through to get to the finals? Did you genuinely get on well with all the other guys?
God, it was such a long process, I’d bore you if I went into any major detail. We initially went along and prepared a couple of Rock/Pop songs, and were eventually whittled down to about 200 or so guys, who were recalled to another day in Brixton. Before that, we were asked to prepare a different song, along with the song “Gethsemane” from JCS. So, one by one, we went onto the stage there and sang our songs. From this day, we were cut down to a final 41 guys, to head off to the Bootcamp. I have to say, that was the best part of the whole experience for me – it was just group of guys hanging out (working hard as well, obviously) and having fun. The TV Show showed the rest, really; they cut us down to 30, then we headed to Majorca and were cut down to 20. We then had to come back to London to sing for a place in the finals. Sorry….I sort of rushed that a bit, but honestly, we’d have been here all day!! 🙂
5. Was being live on TV and singing to audiences of millions different to performing on stage? Did you find you were more nervous going through this than usual?
I didn’t really notice the whole “Live TV” thing that much because there was a fairly big audience in the studio anyway, so it wasn’t that different to performing on stage. Having said that, I was gradually getting more and more ill over the course of the week, and knowing that you are going to perform far below your best in front of the nation was a really horrible feeling. It didn’t make me any more nervous as I was fairly resigned to it, but it was just depressing knowing that I wasn’t able to show people what I was capable of…..Ah well, it could have been worse, I suppose!
6. Would you go through a reality show again and would you recommend it to people looking for a break?
I don’t think so. Not for any negative reasons, as I had a great time, but I feel I’ve had my moment. I mean it all depends; if there was another casting show to find a guy to play a part and I REALLY thought I’d be right for the part, I would probably apply. I would always recommend those shows to people because it’s the MOST nerve-wracking experience you can go through and as a result it helps you find out what you’re capable of. I always said that you have nothing to lose other than a perceived sense of pride – I didn’t care if I got cut; I just wanted to try.
7. If Jesus Christ Superstar was to return to the West end, do you think you would go for Jesus again (or even Judas/Pilate/Herod/Simon/Peter)?
Of course. I would love to be part of that show. I’d just put myself in for it, and after that, they’d hopefully see me as being right for something in the show.
8. Do you have any advice for combatting nerves?
Not really. You can only combat nerves yourself. Nervousness is completely self-imposed, and people don’t always realise that. As rude as it sounds, I really don’t care what anyone thinks of my auditions/performances – I’m only interested in doing my best and being proud of what I’ve done. For that reason, I don’t really get nervous very often. If I had any advice, it would be to stop worrying what other people think – the people who like you will be biased and say you were great, and you can’t impress the people who don’t like you….So when you think about it, all the criticism AND praise is fairly redundant – do it for yourself, no one else and I believe you’ll feel less nervous.
9. Les Miserables – the next step on the ladder. How does it feel to be part of such an iconic show?
To be honest, it’s a dream come true. Les Mis is probably the most iconic show of all time and to get to say that I’ve been a part of it’s history is a great feeling.
10. How are rehearsals going? – Are you excited for mid June?
Rehearsals have been fantastic – the only problem is you ALWAYS want more time, but that is the same in any show. Knowing that we’ll be opening in a week is incredibly exciting, but at the same time, we saw the current cast at a matinee last week and it’s daunting to have to try to match the level that they set. Fingers crossed, we can achieve somewhere near the level that they set for us – they’re a tough act to follow.
11. You have been lucky enough to be a part of all three of the shows you wanted to be in – do you have a favourite? How about a favourite character to play?
Yes, I always said I wanted to be part of Les Mis, Wicked & Spamalot. When Spamalot closed I was devastated, but thankfully I got into Wicked and as I was preparing to leave after 2 years, they announced a UK Tour of Spamalot and I was blown away to get into it. Now, getting into Les Mis has completed my wish list – I’ll have to add some more shows on there. As far as a favourite goes, I couldn’t really pick – they’re all so different. Getting to go on for Fiyero & Sir Lancelot was a real honour and I’ll always remember those shows vividly, but now I’m 1st cover Enjolras and I have DREAMED of playing that part, so I’m slightly afraid I’ll blow my mind the night that I get to go on!!
12. If you could perform any song from any show, which would you choose?
I don’t really know. I was introduced to a Swedish show written by Benni & Bjorn from Abba, called “Kristina från Duvemåla” and there is a song in it called “Du Måste Finnas” which I heard performed by the original “Kristina”, Helen Sjöholm in English, entitled “You Have To Be There”, and I have to say her performance was so emotional I just fell in love with the song…..so in a VERY long-winded way, my answer is “You Have To Be There” from the show “Kristina from Duvemåla“.
13. If you could play ANY role what would it be?
I’ve never really had my heart set on a specific part – I just want to work. When I audition for a part, I can feel myself wanting to get it, but there has never really been a part I felt the need to play – maybe it avoids the disappointment of never playing it….Wow, that was deep! If I’m allowed to get overly ambitious, I have always wanted to be one of the X-Men in one of the movies….I actually wouldn’t care who – just one of the gang!!
14. What is the most embarrassing thing to have happened to you on stage? And off stage?
Onstage, I would have to say blanking on a line in “West Side Story” – instead of saying “Afraid to slug it out?”, I blanked and had to quickly think on my feet. Unfortunately, all I could think up was to say “Afraid to…MESS WITH EACH OTHER’S FACES?” and proceeded to shake a jazz hand in Riff’s face. Everyone in the building laughed for a week over THAT one!
Offstage, there have been some atrociously embarrassing things that have happened to me, but I couldn’t possibly divulge – that’s how you make certain people forget about them….! 🙂
15. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Never be afraid to try. The worst thing that can happen is you will be told “No”, but anything other than that is a win.
16. You will be performing at West End Fests in July – why should people buy a ticket?
Well obviously, there is the incredibly important fact that it helps to raise money for a really worthwhile cause, CRY_UK, which fundraises for raising awareness, preventions and treatments of cardiac risk in the young. Other than that, all I can tell you at this point is it promises to be an amazing night, with some hilarious fun thrown in on top.
17. Describe yourself in three words?
Laid-back. Friendly. Marmalade.
18. What single item couldn’t you live without?
I have my Grandfather’s old initialled ring, which I always seem to wear when I feel homesick. Over the past year, however, I’ve started just wearing it all the time; Not because I’m homesick, but because it reminds me of my family. I think if I lost that I would be fairly heartbroken.
19. What do you get up to in your spare time?
Nothing. Honestly…..If all goes to plan, I will do next to nothing during my down time. The shows can really take it out of you, so on that rare day off I try to just chill out in the park or at home and switch my brain off. I have a fairly extensive and varied collection of music, so I like to just whack iTunes on shuffle and veg out.
20. You live with Killian Donnelly – do you find you both burst into song (are you both actually really ‘stagey’) and is there any rivalry between you two?
Ha. We actually DO burst into song all the time – the other week he played a tune on the piano, and I dropped a SICK rap on top – we’re really cool that way!! He’s my best mate and we have a great laugh living together – the amount of times we’ll be in the middle of just talking utter nonsense in some concocted scenario and one of us will have to say “Who is this benefitting?”, but yeah, we have a laugh. As far as rivalry goes, there’s none. I mean, we’ve never been up for the same part, so one of us getting a job is never at the other’s expense. Naturally, you’re always envious of someone who gets a great job, but when it’s your best mate, you’re just proud of them. We’re like two loser brothers, really…..Hugs and cups of tea.
21. Killian and John Owen Jones used to do videos of John V Killian…have you ever considered Niall V Killian?
HA….I always say that for a laugh and he says no way! I think you have to be original with ideas; John V Killian was so funny, but doing the same thing again with different people would just be a cheap knock-off……I’m busy creating a new idea called “Niall Throws Killian Off The Roof Of Things” – don’t tell Killian though…..!
22. Who are your idols, influences and inspirations?
I come from a really varied background, so a lot of the people I looked up to when I was younger were actors, musicians and athletes, as well as the people who directly influenced my life. I could sit here all day listing people, but I’d forget someone and feel terrible. More than anyone, I look up to my Dad – he’s my hero and what I want to be when I grow up!
23. What is your favourite film?
WAAAAY too many to pick just one, but if I HAD to pick a Top 5, it would be……5) Amélie 4) Cemetery Junction 3) Stranger Than Fiction 2) Oldboy 1) The 25th Hour. Do NOT hold me to that, though….!
24. If you could only choose one thing to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
My Mom’s Lasagne….Hands down, no contest!! AND DON’T TRY TO GIVE ME A DIFFERENT LASAGNE….I’LL KNOW IF IT’S NOT HERS!!!
25. Tell us a little known fact about yourself that a lot of people don’t know.
At 2pm on the opening night of my first professional job out of drama school, I stepped on an upholstery pin in my bare feet. It snapped and got stuck in the bone. They drove me to hospital, where they cut my foot open to get it out. The anaesthetic was taking forever to kick in fully and we only had 2 hours until the opening show, so I lied and said I couldn’t feel anything – which meant I sat there in absolute agony as they sliced my foot open (What a hero, huh? Or idiot, as it’s also known) but because it was jammed in the bone, they couldn’t remove it and we had no choice but to just dose me up and stitch me shut. I did the show that night, in more pain than I could imagine and bleeding profusely from start to finish, then, the next morning I had to be put under a general anaesthetic to have an operation to remove it. I woke up in a panic, and tried to fight my way out of the bed, shouting “You don’t understand – I have to get to the theatre” (How dramatic are actors?), only to be told that it was a few hours still until the next show. So I went in, dozy as hell, and did the remainder of the week with a club foot and crutch….Then they didn’t even pay us our full fee……Showbiz, eh?
Another huge thank you to Niall for not only answering my questions but for being so entertaining. If you would like to see him in action he will be on stage at Queens Theatre from 17th June. Do stop by and say hello, I have no doubt he’ll be happy to have a chat. I hope you have all enjoyed reading a little more about Niall as much as I have enjoyed putting this together.
L-R – George Blagden, Killian Donnelly, Fra Fee, Niall Sheehy, photo courtesy of Phill Cowndley (thank you)