Ronan Keating: 'It's sometimes hard for the director to see past the singer and believe in me as an actor'
Success hasn't been in short supply for Boyzone's Ronan Keating, but it's taken almost two decades to make his movie career dream a reality. He talks to Susan Griffin about the humbling experience of starting again from the bottom rung.
Ronan Keating turned 40 at the start of March, but the Boyzone singer insists he doesn't "have a problem" embracing the new decade. "All the boys in the band are 40 plus now, so I'm finally catching up. I think I'm in the best shape I've been in my life."
And he insists the ageing process isn't any tougher when you've been hailed a heart-throb for most of your adult life.
"I feel better about myself and more confident in my own skin now than I ever have," adds the Dublin native.
This year not only marks a landmark birthday; Keating's also set to become a father for the fourth time.
Already dad to Jack (18), Marie 'Missy' (16), and 11-year-old Ali from his first marriage to Yvonne, he and his second wife Storm, an Aussie-born fashion designer and blogger, are set to welcome their first baby together in a few months.
"We move together, Storm and I, all the time," says Keating, who filmed five series of The X Factor, and one of The Voice, in Australia.
Change is afoot professionally too and Keating has finally realised his long-held dream to appear on the big screen, with a role in the World War Two drama Another Mother's Son.
"I think it was back in 2000 when I had my heart really set on doing acting, so it's taken 17 years, really," he admits.
The film, written by Jenny Lecoat, recalls the courageous actions of her great-aunt Louisa Gould, who lived on Jersey during the island's Nazi occupation.
After hearing about the death of her son, the widowed Louisa (Jenny Seagrove) decides to shelter an escaped Russian prisoner of war.
It was a decision that would have a devastating impact, not only for herself but also her siblings, including Harold (Keating), who aided her.
"I did a lot of research on Harold and I felt a responsibility of telling the story and doing it justice, and I think I did," says the singer, who was also keen to prove himself.
"I wanted to be prepared because I felt like people would expect me not to be. I was aware I had to be on my game."
Although the Russian Louisa cared for managed to escape before detection - and would later credit her for saving his life - the Nazis discovered what she'd been up to.
At trial, she and Harold were sent, respectively, to Ravensbruck and Belsen concentration camps, but in an astonishing turn of events, the pair had a chance encounter while being transferred.
"That blows my mind," says Keating.
"What are the chances of that happening? Unless you realise that actually happened, you would think it's far-fetched."
It was the last time Harold saw his sister. Louisa was gassed to death in February 1945, while Harold was the only surviving Brit from Belsen.
Keating admits he found it incredibly tough to film the pair's last meeting.
After filming, he says, "Storm was like, 'Are you all right?' I felt angry, and I was really edgy. That carried on for a few days."
The scene in which Harold's recuperating after being liberated from Belsen took its toll too.
"I actually ended up hyperventilating because I went into such a dark state. The nurse had to come and check me. I had to blow into a brown bag to get myself settled down a little bit."
He ponders that perhaps "there are tools" that could help him "switch off".
"But then, maybe this is the sort of actor I am, I don't know," he adds. "You hear of people like Daniel Day-Lewis who's that character every day he's shooting the film."
Keating believes there are two reasons for his relatively delayed foray into films.
"It's been hard at times to walk away from my music for any amount of time, and also to get to a situation where the producer and director will see past the guy that everybody knows as the singer and believe in me as an actor."
It's been frustrating, but he admits "it makes sense, it's not unreasonable".
And so he just keep on going.
"The best training I've had is going into the room and trying to read for people," Keating says, revealing he auditioned for Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! as well as 2004's King Arthur and the recent Hobbit movies.
"All these big films I read for, in front of amazing casting agents and directors, I've learnt so much from," he says.
He doesn't deny it's sometimes been testing to start on the bottom rung again.
"It's humbling," he laughs. "You've got to put your feet on the ground and don't go in there with any airs or graces, which is good for the soul."
It's something he's learnt the hard way. "Baz Luhrmann flew me to New York to read for Moulin Rouge. Maybe I was a little blase about it," he admits. "Maybe."
The role ultimately went to Ewan McGregor, of course, but Keating allows himself to muse, momentarily, on what might have been... "Oh, that would've been a perfect role, but maybe too soon."
A turning point was playing the lead in the stage production of Once in 2014.
"It was a big deal and it changed people's perceptions and ideas of what I'm capable of," says the singer, who's heading to Australia imminently to film the TV series Love Child.
There's also a potential new film in the pipeline, although he's reluctant to say too much as it hasn't yet had the green light, as well as a reunion with his Boyzone bandmates to mark their 25th anniversary later this year.
"We'll do something soon, I hope," says Keating. "I've just been writing and recording with friends and that's been great. Music is my passion. I love making music, and performing, that will always be there."
Given the success of La La Land, and no doubt the inevitable resurgence in musicals, this could be a key time for Keating.
And so to those casting directors out there, he has three words: "Call me up!"
- Another Mother's Son is released today.