Ahead of his lead role in After Miss Julie at The MAC next month, Enniskillen-born actor Ciaran McMenamin talks to Una Brankin about love, marriage and his hopes for the future, as well as the challenges of the play.
After more than two decades treading the boards, Ciaran McMenamin still has a boyish face, with big candid eyes he can switch, at will, from ice to empathy.
The Enniskillen-born actor - well known for his title role in David Copperfield and for his award-winning turn in Saving The Titanic - has just turned 40 and has never been happier. Despite once claiming he'd be crazy to get married, he will tie the knot with his actress girlfriend, Annabel Scholey, next year.
Ironically, he also once swore he'd never date an actress.
"Well, I turned 40 this year and I like where I have gotten to in myself and in my career," he explains. "I have no regrets about anything in my life to date - regrets are pointless. Next year I marry an amazing woman and - touch wood - we will be blessed with little folk. I can't wait to be a dad."
In the meantime, Ciaran is starring in the Irish premiere of a new stage version of the acclaimed Patrick Marber play After Miss Julie, the story of a 1945 love triangle across the social divide, which has been placed in an Enniskillen context for local audiences.
The tour begins with Project Arts Centre Dublin on March 9 (with previews from March 4) before it tours for a month long, all-island tour finishing at the MAC Belfast from March 30 to April 9.
Despite being based in London for the majority of his career to date, Ciaran retains his strong Fermanagh accent - a bonus for this particular play, which is set against the backdrop of VE Day, during the Second World War.
"I love playing the part in my native Enniskillen accent and I think it is a very clever move by Emma Jordan, the director, to have Patrick Marber, one of our greatest living playwrights, re-set his masterpiece in one of the big Fermanagh houses, as opposed to one of the big English ones," he says. "It gives it a unique relevance for an Irish audience without losing any of the original class struggle, sexual tension or repression.
"Playing a character in your own accent can be a double edged sword as it makes it harder to get away from 'yourself' early on in rehearsals, but ultimately it frees you completely to let the emotional journey of the character come out without the technical hurdles of an accent. I have played parts in many different accents over the years, various Scottish and English regions as well as Received Pronunciation and American and Dublin.
"I find the further away an accent is from your own the easier it is to perfect. I would find it harder for example to play other Irish accents as opposed to an English or American one."
Describing After Miss Julie as a play about "sex and death", Ciaran plays John, the chauffeur at the big house, who fancies himself as a self-appointed leader of the servants. Recently returned from active service during the Second World War, he is engaged to be married to Christine, the cook at the big house, but finds himself deeply attracted to his boss's daughter, Miss Julie.
The actor agrees that chemistry between the leading man and lady - or ladies, in this case - is even more important on stage than it is on screen.
"The difference is, on screen there is a chance at least to do something to help the chemistry afterwards in an editing suite, with music and cutting," he says. "Changing from one shot to another size wise and other technical tricks can manipulate the audience towards feeling chemistry they want to feel. On stage, it is either there or it isn't.
"You don't need much more than sex and death for drama - except that chemistry to get you from one to the other. We have a fantastic cast and a bucket or two of chemistry to bind the three of us together.
"In this play people have to go to some really awful places with each other on stage, so we are very careful to keep it light, look after each other, and have a laugh off it."
So far, Ciaran has avoided romantic comedies and other Hollywood fluff. His next feature film, In View, due for release in 2017, focuses on depression and alcoholism in the Gardai.
He cites his stand-out role, as a man forced by circumstance to turn to cannibalism in The Last Confession of Alexander Pierce, as one of his favourite parts to date.
"I had to get absorbed in the Tasmanian bush for a month and examine the mind of a broken man who turns cannibal in order to survive," he recalls.
"It was a pretty full-on experience.
"As roles go, though, this one in After Miss Julie is undoubtedly one of my most complex challenges, and that is why I am here doing it.
"If it frightens you - do it. If it will test you - then take it on. If you lose that ethos as an actor, forget about it and do something else."
The first showing of After Miss Julie is March 30, at 7.45pm downstairs at The MAC. Tickets cost from £12-£25 and are available from the box office, tel: 028 9023 5053 or visit https://themaclive.com/shows/after-miss-julie
The tour begins with Project Arts Centre Dublin on March 9, before it tours for a month, all over Ireland, finishing at the MAC Belfast from March 30-April 9.
After Miss Julie is Patrick Marber's - described as the finest British dramatist of his generation by The Telegraph - re-working of Strindberg's 1888 iconic play, Miss Julie. Originally, Marber's version was set within an English manor during celebrations for the Labour Party victory in 1945.
However, Marber has worked closely with Prime Cut's artistic director Emma Jordan and moved the action to Co Fermanagh during the Second World War VE-Day celebrations, placing the play within an Irish context.