Belfast Telegraph

Why Richard Clements is now back making music in memory of late actor pal Peter Quigley

Bangor actor Richard Clements' tells Ivan Little about life with his Spanish wife and the poignant reason behind his decision to donate proceeds from his new album to Cancer Research.

Actor Richard Clements is the quintessential man of many parts having played everything from a gay Tony Blair and a homosexual Unionist politician to one of Gillian Anderson's PSNI underlings in BBC thriller The Fall and an IRA heavy in the movie Teenage Kicks, but the versatile Bangor man is currently showcasing another string to his artistic bow - as a musician.

Starring alongside Gillian Anderson in The Fall, which was set in Northern Ireland, has brought him to the attention of the viewing public. Now, though, he is able to use his abilities as a musician to help raise money for charity.

Richard will donate proceeds from his sixth album, Empier of Light, to support Cancer Research after the loss of some well-known fellow actors, including the inimitable Peter Quigley.

"I thought it would be nice if I could do something. I saw Peter not long before he passed away and he's a tragic loss to the theatre here," says Richard, whose musical talents have had to play second fiddle to his acting for most of his adult life. Though not so in his teenage years.

In 1991 the multi-instrumentalist was in an aspiring group called Spontaneous Dog, who beat off stiff competition from young bands from across the UK to win the Panasonic Audio Rock School competition hosted by TV stars Anthea Turner and Mike Read.

Richard, an easygoing, affable 41-year-old whose fresh-faced looks belie his birth certificate, laughs as he recalls talk of record deals for Spontaneous Dog.

But the big time never quite arrived and though former colleagues Iain Archer and Steve Jones did go on to carve out their own niches in the music industry, Richard's heart was pulling him in another direction, to the theatre stage.

Richard had been a fixture in all the school plays at Bangor Grammar and also went to speech and drama classes, where one of his teachers, Patricia Irvine, encouraged him to take acting to the next level.

"She was a major influence on me, but in the first instance I studied languages at Queen's University in Belfast, keeping my acting for my spare time," he says.

The game-changer for Richard came after four months spent with the National Youth Theatre in London, where his contemporaries included Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was nominated for an Oscar for the movie 12 Years a Slave last year. "David Walliams and Matt Lucas were also about the place at the time," says Richard, who realised during his time in London that acting was definitely going to be his life - although there was the small matter of a degree to finish at home.

After completing his university education he spent a year teaching in Spain, where he met his future wife Maria, then decided to enrol in a one-year postgraduate course at the Royal Welsh Drama School, which led him to move to London in search of stardom.

He spent five years in the capital city where he and Maria enjoyed the social life but, as with so many aspiring actors, it was a struggle to find jobs in the theatre and Richard survived by working in pubs and restaurants.

He did get a number of small-scale productions, but the big breaks just eluded him.

Richard had five recalls for a part in the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton musical about the Troubles, The Beautiful Game, but didn't get the part.

"The last audition went really badly and I remember thinking that London wasn't the right place for me, especially as people were introducing me to their friends as 'an actor', but making those gestures of quotation marks around the word," he says.

However, a week after he resolved to come home to Northern Ireland, fate stepped in and re-wrote the script of Richard's life.

"I was cast in Tim Loane's comedy Caught Red Handed, with the Tinderbox company, which was about a fictional unionist party and it was a huge success," he says.

The storyline was loosely based on the DUP and Richard played the openly gay son of a prominent politician who died from a heart attack in a toilet.

The play, which was attended by prominent unionists, opened the doors for Richard as an actor and he soon found himself in demand from mainstream and independent companies.

He found himself back in London in 2003 with an ambitious production called Group! The Musical, written by Lurgan composer Conor Mitchell, and which is being revived soon at the MAC in Belfast, with largely the same cast.

"We were at the Pleasance Theatre for three weeks and it was a real heady time with this bunch of twenty-somethings trying to put on this musical with next to no money," says Richard.

Back home Richard has appeared in 11 productions at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and, in 2013 he had one of his most challenging roles, as a clergyman in a controversial drama called Summertime by Dundonald writer David Ireland at the MAC.

One of the highs of that run was the encouragement he received from one of his acting heroes, Stephen Rea. "He came to see the show and stayed behind to meet the cast and he had kind words for ourselves and David Ireland," he says.

Richard was in another Ireland play five years ago called Arguments for Terrorism, in which he played Tony Blair as the gay live-in lover of former American President George W Bush.

"It was one of the funniest plays I have ever been in and people loved it," he says. "I did do a Spitting Image-type impression of Blair. I enjoyed that immensely."

Last summer, Richard made his debut at the Edinburgh Festival in an award-winning play, Spoiling, by Lurgan-born John McCann, about Scotland in a post-Yes vote scenario following the independence referendum.

"That was the stand-out job of all time for me," says Richard. "We also took the play to London and returned for a week in Edinburgh around the time of the vote, and the fervour surrounding it was incredible.

"But after Scotland said 'No' to independence, it was like someone had burst the balloon."

In recent times Richard, who made his film debut in the drama Titanic Town alongside Julie Walters in 1998, has appeared in front of his biggest ever audience, as a PSNI officer in The Fall.

"That was a fantastic opportunity," he says. "All of my scenes were with Gillian Anderson and she was a pleasure to work with. The filming days were long and arduous, but we really did have a great cast and it was a great experience."

Richard has no idea yet whether or not he will be in the third series of the show, but his fingers are obviously crossed.

In the meantime, though, he's looking forward to November and the release of the movie A Christmas Star, which has presented him with his first major lead role in a film, and also stars Bronagh Waugh, who played the hard-done-by wife of serial killer Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan, in The Fall.

"A Christmas Star was made by Cinemagic, and Bronagh and I play the parents of a young girl who, along with her friends, fight a battle against property developers to save their village pottery, which is owned by my character Joe O'Hanlon," he says.

"One of the main protagonists is an American developer, played by Rob James Collier from Downton Abbey, who was a lovely guy to work with.

"It's a great family-friendly movie - probably the first of its kind in Northern Ireland - and the plan is to have a premiere in Belfast while broadcasting it simultaneously on BBC and UTV over Christmas."

A lot of the film was shot in Carnlough, Co Antrim, home of Brendan Rodgers, the manager of Richard's beloved Liverpool Football Club.

"We just missed him, apparently, because he had been there the week before," says Richard, who has also filmed a short movie called Cleansed, produced by the creative team behind Good Vibrations, which also featured him in the role of an IRA man.

"Cleansed is a really brilliant wee story about a guy who washes up on a beach in a dinner suit and doesn't know who - or where - he is," he says.

"One day he sits in front of a piano and starts playing the most beautiful work, which was written by Conor Mitchell."

Richard's own composing goes way back. Throughout his acting career he has quietly forged ahead with his music - writing songs, playing piano and recording albums, mostly at home.

However, with his latest album, Empire of Light (below left), Richard - a one-time Bangor Parish church choirboy who sang at St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in his day - brought in friends to make a more professional recording of his songs, which are all highly personal musings about issues such as family, relationships and work.

"It's a bit like a personal diary and I've released it on iTunes and Spotify, and it's been doing quite well," he says.

"I'm pleased to say that because I want to raise funds for Cancer Research."

Richard, who has played cello and piano in a number of stage productions, hopes to put a band together in the near future for more recordings and concerts - if his hectic schedule as an actor allows.

And then there's his family life to consider, as he divides his time between Northern Ireland and Spain during the school holidays.

Richard's wife Maria, who is a long haul stewardess with British Airways, spends most of the summer with her family in Albacete while her husband, who can avail of cheap flights, travels back and forward to see her and their children, Sofia (8) and four-year-old Nico.

The children are bilingual. and Richard adds: "I speak to the kids in English in Northern Ireland, otherwise they would get confused, but Maria and I always speak to each other in Spanish - though sometimes we all slip into our own Clements family version of Spanglish."

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