Belfast Telegraph

Some life lessons with Irish actor Robert Sheehan

By Stephen Milton

Hailing from Portlaoise, Robert Sheehan got an early start in the industry at just 15 with a small role in Aisling Walsh's Song for A Raggy Boy. He also starred in the Northern Irish 2009 movie Cherrybomb alongside Rupert Grint and James Nesbitt. Support work on The Tudors and The Clinic lead to a breakthrough as a male prostitute in Channel 4's Red Riding before landing starring roles in supernatural teen drama, Misfits, and his best-known role as Darren Treacy in gangland saga Love/Hate.

After two IFTA nominations, the garda's son bowed out with a bullet to the head in season three of the RTE crime drama and turned his focus to the big screen. First forays in Hollywood, Season of the Witch with Nicolas Cage and tween romance The Mortal Instruments, both bombed at the box office, forcing Sheehan to consider more independent fare.

He's since found critical success with emotional comedy The Road Within and will next be seen in psychological thriller The Messenger, playing a troubled soul plagued by spirits of the dead. The 27-year-old recently moved from London to Los Angeles to live with his actress girlfriend Sofia Boutella.

In his own words....

I am a strange character. In the typical upbringing of an Irish lad, there was a difference in me. Personality-wise, I'm continuously, instinctively trying to disrupt the norm. The normality of life drives me to do this. I was listening to an interview with Russell Brand where he was talking about leading people from the humdrum way they allow their lives to go by. It was nice to hear him, quite succinctly, express this in words.

Weirdly enough, I was pretty normal as a teen. Adulthood is where my true eccentricity made its appearance. For most people, it's the other way round.

In my early 20s I wanted to go to the gym and get one of those intimidating torsos. But I realised some time later that I didn't want that. I think part of the development of one's eccentricity, is that you have to realise what you are and who you are before you can build upon that. I think people who feel that pressure don't really know who they are.

I like the madness and the freneticism of LA. It's nice to wake up with the sun beaming through your window in the morning. You never live too far from a gigantic freeway or highway. At the same time, there's great opportunity for sanctuary and peace. You can walk into somebody's back garden and feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.

It was chiefly work and weather that dictated the move, but it was love as well. We were bouncing back and forth from continent to continent so it's nice to be in the same place at the same time.

It was difficult to watch Love/Hate carry on without me. Even though I was happy with my decision at the time, there was a certain sense of melancholia to it. But I never regretted my choice. It felt right at the time, that's what my gut was telling me and I followed a certain path.

I don't own that much stuff. I have very few possessions because I'm sort of innately suspicious of owning too much. As soon as I have too much s***, I want to get rid of it. I'm a bit nomadic in that sense.

It's a struggle picking work that's good but might not see the light of day. That's down the question of relevance. Love/Hate became a very relevant thing in Ireland and beyond. Same with Misfits, both sort of simultaneously became very popular, so then the lack of relevance becomes all the more palatable and tangible. Actors need the job to reach enough people for it to feel relevant. And the past three or four years has been about redefining relevance and what's relevant to me.

I like Ireland very much but I wouldn't want to live there at this hour of my life. I don't get back home too often. What I miss most is family. It's the clan and the people; if I could uproot them to somewhere sunny, I'd do it in a flash. Ireland's great for a short break and I relish getting home for a solid 10 days of 'Sheehnisation'. It's lovely and then I'm ready to leave.

The afterlife - I don't know. I'm one of those folks who considers myself agnostic. I think there's probably something out there but I'm not willing to commit myself to any of the institutions of thought that currently exist.

If there is an existence in some plain of reality beyond what we know, it's probably something more complex than the reality we're faced with every day. A reality beyond the five apertures - the basic senses. If you go to that other side and you're essentially an orb of light - a pure distilled soul and you exist in the other dimension - I think the last thing you're going to think about is sending a message back to your flesh relatives.

There's a similarity between The Messenger and The Sixth Sense. The overlying metaphor in The Sixth Sense was, 'they're all dead anyway'. Everybody's performance was so brilliantly subdued in that film, and that was what was so clever about that film, you didn't know who was dead, and who wasn't. Because they were all a bit dead. And that element is in The Messenger as well.

It's always interesting when you get a character who's on the outside of society. That seems to be something that I'm drawn to. It's easier to make a character like that interesting because the interesting stuff is already there. If people see this movie and my last (The Road Within), they'll think, 'that actor is insane'.

  • The Messenger is out in September

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