Stephen Hagan: James Nesbitt brought some drama into my life
Greenisland man Stephen Hagan on his wonderful marriage to an older woman and how a chance meeting with the Murphy's Law star led to the pair of them shooting a detective series, which starts on TV tonight. Stephanie Bell reports.
Growing up in Greenisland, Stephen Hagan wrote off his chances of becoming an actor as a pipe dream and even when he secured a place at a top London drama school, he still couldn't quite accept that it would lead to fame and fortune.
Ten years on and, while he might debate the fortune, he certainly has secured the fame and tonight will revisit our TV screens starring alongside Coleraine actor Jimmy Nesbitt in Sky One's new drama Lucky Man.
Ironically Stephen (30) credits Nesbitt with being the reason that he finally realised acting was a possibility when, as a student, he got the chance to meet the star on the set of his hit drama series Murphy's Law.
That was over 10 years ago and the two local men never met again until last year when Stephen was thrilled to be cast alongside Nesbitt in Lucky Man.
Since graduating from drama school in 2007, Stephen has bagged a number of leading roles in TV and film and, in fact, his star has been rising rapidly in a profession which is notoriously hard to break into - hence his scepticism about making a career out of it.
Today he lives in north London with his wife, actress Wendy Wason (39), and the couples two step-children Isobel (13) and Max (11) and son Riley (4).
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
As a boy in Greenisland he says that he assumed from a young age that he would work in his dad's property development company Hagan Homes even though he loved drama.
His mum Ruth worked as a nursery school teacher, but gave up her career to bring up her two sons - Stephen and older brother Jamesy (32), who now runs the family firm.
It was Ruth who recognised her son's talent and persuaded him to apply for drama school after his A-levels. But even when he landed a place in the prestigious LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), he still didn't consider that he would do anything other than work for his dad James.
He recalls: "Mum and dad both came from farming families and were the first generation in their families to step away from farming and pursue their own careers. It was a big learning curve for both of them trying to find their feet.
"Dad turned his hand to everything and then got into property in 1985 which was the year I was born.
"Mum was a teacher and was the first female nursery school principal at Ballyclare nursery. She gave it up when my brother was born to raise us.
"Dad worked a lot while mum looked after us two crazies, me and my brother. Looking back I think it is amazing she made that step to be there for us 100%.
"Her job experience in child care and child education meant she knew what she needed to do and she always used to say 'give me a boy of 10 years old and I will show you a man'.
"She is brilliant at what she does and it's only now that I have kids and can see how easy it is to get it wrong that I realise what a good job she did. I always call mum to see what she thinks and for her advice."
His passion for acting developed in his early teens when, as a pupil of Carrickfergus Grammar School, he joined the Lyric Players.
But despite enjoying a foray into stage acting he still plotted his future with business in mind choosing business studies, maths, accounting and computers for A-levels while applying for a university degree course in business.
It was his mum who stepped in and changed these well laid plans, as he explains: "I had been accepted at university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I had never even thought about going to drama school. Growing up as a wee lad in Greenisland the idea of being an actor was just a pipe dream to me.
"I thought I was being realistic as I know that it's not an easy job to get into.
"Then mum asked me one day if I wanted to go to drama school and told me if I did, now was the time to do it.
"I applied for a number of schools and got accepted at LAMDA for a year and even then I still didn't think I would make it as an actor. To me it was a gap year before going to university and then into my dad's company."
However, a chance meeting with Jimmy Nesbitt changed all that.
Stephen was in his first year of drama school when his dad won a competition landing him a prize which gave him and a friend access to the set of Nesbitt's hit drama Murphy's Law written and adapted for TV by Bangor author Colin Batemen.
And his drama student son was the natural choice to accompany him, so they both went along thinking that they would be standing in the background watching the TV show being filmed.
Stephen explains: "We didn't really know what to expect but when we arrived Jimmy Nesbitt came straight over and said 'Hello' and asked me if I wanted to be in front of the camera. I was stunned and he was so friendly. It was one of those scenes where if you blinked you would have missed me but it was a great experience.
"I had experience in theatre but I had never been on a TV set before and it was like another world. It was an eye-opening experience and with Jimmy being from here and seeing what he was doing - which was pretty amazing - made me realise for the first time I could do it, too. That moment was a real turning point for me."
Stephen applied for another three years at LAMDA and was fortunate to secure an agent before leaving so that he was one of the very few actors to walk into his first job straight from drama school.
He played Vito Barratini, Michelangelo's muse and the inspirational model for the statue of David - an imposing force at the centre of Anthony Sher's play, The Giant, performed at the Hampstead Theatre. Meanwhile, that same year he made his screen debut in the British drama Clapham Junction.
From such a promising start he then found himself unemployed for a year and, while it was a tough time he regards it as a valuable period - when he also met his future wife.
He says: "That was the hardest time for me but it also gave me a chance to figure out who I was and what I wanted.
"It was a bit of down time and it was good to get the chance to realise this (being an actor) isn't easy. I was auditioning for stuff and getting rejected but I learnt how to deal with that and not take it personally.
"I was also happy in my personal life which I think helped - I had met Wendy and fell instantly in love with her."
Wendy, who is nine years older than Stephen, is a beautiful brunette who is known as a comedian and actress and has appeared on the popular local panel show The Blame Game.
The couple met by pure chance in 2008 when Stephen was dragged reluctantly into a bar by his mates and Wendy was there, too.
Stephen is besotted and makes no bones about it. The couple married in 2012 and have a son Riley who is four. Wendy also has a son and a daughter from her first marriage.
He says: "I joke with Wendy that she came with a flat pack family out of Ikea. The kids are great. I think if they weren't there it would have been harder for us but they made it easy and I am lucky to inherit them.
"Wendy knows what she wants and we are always very honest with each other. We communicate well with each other and she is beautiful and gorgeous, too, which is a bonus."
In the last few years Stephen's career has just got bigger and better. He filmed the Steven Seagal action movie Against the Dark and his TV work has included dramas Mistresses, The Cut and Injustice. He was also among a stellar cast, which featured many top local actors, in last summer's hit movie Shooting for Socrates.
Meanwhile, Stephen's stage credits also include working with the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company for a year playing leading roles in Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors.
A jaunt across the pond to chance his luck in LA in 2014 resulted in him landing a leading role in an American TV pilot for CBS called Identity and the lead role in the Hallmark film A Royal Christmas with Jane Seymour.
On his return he was guest lead in Midsomer Murders and then took up a role opposite Joseph Fiennes in the feature film Risen which is scheduled for cinema release here in March.
His latest role though, alongside Nesbitt in Lucky Man is what he describes as "my biggest to date."
This first-ever UK TV drama from the legendary Stan Lee is a fresh, original crime drama based around the intriguing concept that a mysterious bracelet could bring its owner tremendously powerful amounts of luck.
Stephen plays the character Rich Clayton, who is the half-brother of DI Harry Clayton, played by James Nesbitt.
Harry is a talented murder detective with London's Central Murder Investigation Squad (MIS). A compulsive gambler, Harry lost his family home in a poker game and then his wife and daughter left him. He has huge debts, and questions are being asked about his ability to do his job.
Stephen confesses that the chance to work with Nesbitt had made him more nervous than usual on his first day of filming.
However he gives a wonderful insight into the star and his professionalism on set.
He says: "I always get nervous before every single job but this one more so, because I didn't know how to play it with Jimmy - did I walk in and say we had met before and come across too friendly or not mention it at all.
"Jimmy made it easy because he came straight over and shook my hand and he knew exactly who I was and how long ago it was when we met. He never forgets anyone and knows everyone's name.
"I have to say it was a fantastic experience. The crew and the atmosphere on set is usually set by the leading man who was Jimmy and it was one of the happiest, most enjoyable jobs I've ever done and that's down to the atmosphere created by Jimmy."
Having just seen a screening of the first two episodes Stephen says he is relieved not to be cut from his scenes, describing his performance as "actually alright in it". He now hopes the public, who will get a chance to see it tonight, will embrace it and if all goes well there is the chance of a second series.
He adds: "It is unlike anything else out there because it has the cop side but it also has the super power side, so it is a bit different and fingers crossed the public will like it."
- Stan Lee's Lucky Man will be broadcast on Sky 1 tonight, 9pm