At the time of the interview, Damien Molony was performing in Anders Lustgarten’s new play If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep at the Royal Court Theatre.
Damien’s first major stage role was as Giovanni in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the West Yorkshire Playhouse directed by Jonathan Munby. His next stage role was as Motl Mendl in Travelling Light directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre.
In between the these two plays, Damien made his television debut as Hal Yorke in the hugely successful BBC cult series Being Human.
Damien took time out to have a chat about his career and the new play he is in at the Royal Court Theatre.
You grew up in Johnstown Bridge, County Kildare, Ireland.
What did you enjoy doing most as a young lad?
I loved playing football and I thought that when I grew up I wanted to be the next Mick McCarthy or Eric Cantona, but that dream fell by the wayside. I also loved watching films. They were two of the things that I loved doing most.
You studied and graduated with a degree in business and politics, but clearly that wasn’t where you wanted to be with your life. What prompted you to take the course?
I had discussions with my family and friends about acting as a career. We only did about one play a year at school so I didn’t have a lot of experience of acting, and didn’t know how to go about becoming an ‘actor’, all I knew is that I wanted to act. And acting is a very uncertain career so the business and politics course was a ‘back-up’, just in case acting or theatre didn’t work out.
When did you first get inspired to be an actor?
For as long as I can remember, watching television and film was my comfort area, my happy place. I would happily watch films over and over again, learn the lines and be able to repeat them, play out the final fight scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; I was mesmerised by the magic of film. I was introduced to a lot of old movies when I was younger and I have memories of watching Singin’ In The Rain, My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins. I guess I was spellbound by these magical Hollywood films. When I was growing up the last thing I wanted to do was go to the theatre but over the years this has completely changed, and now I try to go to the theatre once or twice a week.
I gather that The Drama Department at Trinity College, Dublin, turned you down for picking a sweeping camera shot at the start of The Lord of the Rings as the most important cultural moment of 2002.
Can you tell us why you thought that was the most important cultural moment of 2002?
In the opening scene of The Lord of The Rings I was blown away by the ground-breaking special effects. The camera was doing things I had never seen before, doing things that I thought it was physically impossible to do. There’s the foreboding narration of the prologue and the camera shot coming across the mountain top and along a cliff where creatures were falling off and into the valley below where there was a battle raging between Orcs and Elves and suddenly we’re on a close-up of their faces. I thought it was incredible. I filled in the TCD application form a couple of weeks later with this opening scene still fresh in my mind. Looking back on it now I should probably have said something to do with theatre. I think it was innocence coming to the fore there.
You worked your way across Ireland in a one-act play to fill your portfolio for performing arts schools to take notice, and the Drama Centre in London did. What can you tell us about your one-act play and that journey?
It was the year after university, and I decided that I would do everything I could during that year to try to get into drama school in London. I joined an amateur theatre company called Balally Players and they were putting on a ‘one-act’ play called Riders To The Sea, by Synge. I was asked to a read-through and I met the director in a hotel in Dublin. I did the read-through over breakfast and they offered me the part. I rehearsed with them twice a week for about 4-5 weeks and we put the play on in Dublin. This was part of the One Act Festival in Ireland where you have to get a certain number of points to get into the final and you perform in regional weekend festivals and you go against other one-act plays. The weekends were amazing travelling to the various regions. I think we did five regional festivals and got the required number of points to reach the final. The final was in a small church in Cork. We won the competition and I was nominated for Best Actor. I performed Macbeth (I was working with a youth theatre group called Kildare Youth Theatre at the same time) on the Saturday afternoon and flew down to Cork on the Sunday morning for a Sunday afternoon performance, and then had my first round of auditions for RADA on the Monday morning. It was like a Hollywood jet-set style life for a few days.
You starred in the short but brilliant film When the Hurlyburly’s Done. What can you tell us about being a part of this dramatic thriller?
This was during my first year at drama school. There were two very amazing young film directors, Hanna Maria Heidrich and Alex Eslam from a film school in Germany. They came over for about 4-5 months to take part in classes and also to see how actors were trained. From a directing point of view they wanted to know how actors worked. They sat me down one day and asked me if I would like to go to Germany with them for a week to make a short film. Obviously I was delighted, although I hadn’t done any film work before so I thought it would be great to get the experience in front of a camera. Because of their connections at the film school, they had a very strong working relationship with all of the crew; some of them had worked together for 3-4 years. They had incredible equipment rented from the film school. We spent a week in what was like a deserted town house which they had turned into a Victorian style house. The whole experience was really phenomenal and great fun. I think those guys will go really far in their careers.
How did it feel to be accepted by the Drama Centre in London?
When I got in I was thrilled and also a little relieved. I had put a lot of pressure on myself over the previous year to get a place. The Drama Centre has a strong history of success and an amazing group of alumni. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Before you graduated you were asked to co-star as Giovanni opposite Sara Vickers as Annabella in John Ford’s tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. How did it feel to be playing your first major role?
I was absolutely delighted to be cast in the role. Jonathan Munby is such a fantastic director and the show that he put on was a real triumph. I was just so proud and honoured to be involved with it. During the final year at drama school everyone is eager to get out there and show everyone what they could do and I was the same.
You were cast as the vampire, Hal Yorke, in BBC’s Being Human. What was it like being a part of a successful cult television show?
Absolutely brilliant! I was so delighted to get my first TV job. Obviously, it was daunting to begin with because it was my first television job. It had such a massive cult following with a huge reputation which meant a tremendous amount of responsibility on my shoulders. But I couldn’t wait to get down to Cardiff. I went down a week before they started shooting for the costume fittings. Being a part of the show was brilliant and an incredible experience. I was just delighted to work with such a fantastic creative team: the writers, the directors Daniel O’Hara and Philip John and the incredible cast. Sitting in the read-through room and the train comes in from London and you see people getting off the bus coming into the rehearsal room, and it was like “Oh my God I have seen that guy in this…” it was a real joy to work with so many heroes of mine.
You played the role of Motl Mendl in Nicholas Hytner’s Travelling Light alongside Antony Sher at the National Theatre. How would you describe performing at the National and your time in the play?
From my first days in drama school in London I thought how much of an honour it would be to perform there. It is at the pinnacle of not only British theatre but also of world theatre. The script was really great and when they offered me the part, I couldn’t believe it. I was so delighted. For the rest of my life I will remember what it was like in the audition room, getting the part, making a phone call afterwards. I really hope I get to work there again. It was an incredible six months working with Nicholas Hytner, Antony Sher and an amazing cast. I will never forget it.
You are currently performing in previews (from 15th February) of If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep at the Royal Court Theatre, which opens on 20th February. What can you tell us about the play and how you got to be cast in it?
The play is very provocative, eye-opening and deals with a dystopic future. The government and private banks start investing in crime reduction and social dysfunction schemes. The play deals with the repercussions of that. It is very topical and extremely well written. It is great to work with director Simon Godwin whose energy is truly unparalleled. I think he is absolutely brilliant. We have a wonderful cast, a lot of who are directors, writers and artistic directors in their own right. It has been a hugely collaborative process during the five weeks of rehearsals.
I was cast in December. I went to see Amy, Simon and Anders Lustgarten the writer at the Royal Court. The Royal Court is one of the theatres that most actors really want to work in. It has such a rich history for producing bold theatre, and isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers. It was really on my top list of places where I wanted to work. So I am thrilled to get the opportunity.
How would you describe your characters and how they fit into the storyline?
I play three characters: a workman who fits tax meters, a direct repercussion of the private-public partnership discussed above. I play another character called Jason, a young man from a satellite town and he is a real victim of the current system in this country. In the second part I play a guy called Ray who is a professional Irish activist. It has been exciting to play a part in my own accent and great to have three characters to explore, really great fun.
If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep is part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme. How important is new writing to the industry?
Good theatre strives to mirror what is currently happening in society. New writing, and specifically this play, questions and confronts what is relevant now and what is being discussed now. It is so important to have a finger on the pulse of today’s society. For example, If You Don’t Let Us Dream deals with immigration, the financial crisis, Occupy movements and the right to protest, social bonds and their good intentions and their potentially flawed outcomes. It is hugely important to fund new writing to provide a platform for current issues to be explored, debated and shared.
Is there a particular role you would like to play or anything you would like to achieve in your acting career?
Films are really my first love and I would like to work in more films. I would love to work with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese who are on my list of dream directors. I also want to continue working in theatre. In terms of a role I’d like to play, I’d love to continue being challenged, being inspired. There was a great speech at the start of an Icelandic production of Faust I saw at the Young Vic a few years ago. The old man, an actor in a nursing home, was remembering fondly all the great parts he had played. He listed them off, Hamlet, Lear, Richards II and III, all these great parts and I remember sitting there thinking ‘That’s the kind of speech I want to make when I’m his age’.
Away from the stage what do you like to do to chill out?
I love going to the cinema as watching movies is a passion. I love trying out different restaurants and try to keep my finger on the pulse when new restaurants are opening in London. I also like the television series Breaking Bad, and recently I got more up to date with that. And I love checking out new coffee houses.
Have you any message for those that are following your career?
I would like to thank them for their support. Being Human is where it is now due to the support of the fans. I am extremely grateful for everyone’s support, so thank you very much!
Many thanks Damien and very best wishes for the current production at the Royal Court Theatre and all that you do in the future!
Book tickets for the Royal Court Theatre at www.royalcourttheatre.com
Interviewed by Neil Cheesman
Content updated 1st May 2014