New wave of Irish acting talent hits the big time

Ireland may be going through a rough patch in economic terms, but creatively it’s in a good place, and the new wave of Irish acting talent reflects that vibrancy.

A host of Irish thesps have broken through into big-budget pics and series in recent years. Saoirse Ronan and Sarah Bolger were already established teen thesps, but have made the transition to more challenging roles, with Bolger playing a dark and complicated Mary Tudor in “The Tudors,” and Ronan toplining “Hanna” as a teen assassin.

Ronan is rumored to be among the cast of “The Hobbit,” in which she joins another rising Irish thesp, Aidan Turner.

Leading Irish casting director Maureen Hughes, who helped cast Cannes competition entry “This Must Be the Place” and Directors’ Fortnight pic “The Other Side of Sleep,” says Ronan reminds her of a young Natalie Portman, and says her career seems to be following a similar trajectory.

Hughes also points to Colin O’Donoghue as another Irish player who has graduated to the major leagues recently with “The Rite,” in which he toplines alongside Anthony Hopkins.

Hughes says Irish acting talent tends to peak every four or five years. “Years can pass and then a complete generation can break through,” she says. “We are experiencing a very good vein of talent coming though.”

Domhnall Gleeson is another promising newcomer that casting directors rate highly. He has appeared in several major productions in the past year, including “True Grit” and TV movie “When Harvey Met Bob,” in which he plays Bob Geldof. His brother Brian Gleeson is also making a play for bigger roles, with U.K.-Irish horror “Wake Wood” his latest credit.

Whereas in the past an Irish actor often had to move to the U.K. or the U.S. to be discovered, now opportunities are to be found on their doorstep. The country’s Section 481 tax credit continues to work its magic, luring foreign-backed productions to the emerald isle.

These have included Paolo Sorrentino’s “This Must Be the Place,” which puts a spotlight on Irish thesps Eve Hewson, who is Bono’s daughter, and Kerry Condon, and big-budget TV series like “The Tudors,” “Camelot” and “Game of Thrones,” which have allowed local actors to rub shoulders with major international talent.

“The camera training has been incredible and in some ways there’s more opportunity (in Ireland) than there is in London,” says casting director Amy Hubbard, who helped cast Glenn Close passion project “Albert Nobbs.”

One quality possessed by many Irish thesps is a natural flair for comedy. Chris O’Dowd, who broke through with Brit comedy series “The IT Crowd,” has paved the way to Hollywood with a romantic role in the latest Judd Apatow laffer “Bridesmaids.”

Robert Sheehan may follow. He grabbed the attention of U.K. auds in sci-fi laffer “Misfits,” and then segued to the big screen in Nick Hamm’s comedy-drama “Killing Bono,” in which he appears alongside another rising Irish talent, Martin McCann, who plays Bono. McCann had minor roles in “Clash of the Titans” and “The Pacific.”

Some Irish thesps are pigeon-holed as comedy actors, and then struggle to grab dramatic parts, but comic Pat Shortt managed the leap in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Garage,” and has since appeared in “The Guard.”

Abrahamson has proved himself adept at seeking out fresh talent, and is set to cast several unknowns in his adaptation of the novel “Bad Day in Blackrock,” playing alongside those with limited screen experience, like Patrick Gibson, who will also appear in Syfy TV movie “Neverland.”

Casting director Amy Rowan says when casting child and teen roles, it is often necessary to go outside Dublin to find fresh faces.

“Anyone who wants to find an actor under the age of 18 needs to get out into the country,” she says, “that’s where you find the really interesting people.”

She did so herself last year when casting child roles in Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s “Stella Days.” Casting sessions were held in Tullamore, Athlone and Limerick to find three tyke actors. One of those, Joey O’Sullivan, whom she describes as “an absolute natural,” has since been picked up by an agent.

Hughes, fellow casting director Nick McGinley and helmer Rebecca Daly held open casting sessions in the sticks for many of the roles in Daly’s “The Other Side of Sleep,” a thriller about a murder in a rural town. “I wanted to go for the maximum level of authenticity,” Daly says. Through these session, held in County Offaly where the film is set, they discovered Sam Keeley and Vicky Joyce, neither of whom had any professional acting experience.

Keeley later picked up a part in “This Must Be the Place,” and is in demand for roles in Ireland and the U.K.

Keeley and Joyce played alongside Antonia Campbell-Hughes, who is another face to watch, says Rowan, who cast the thesp in “When Harvey Met Bob.” Campbell-Hughes also appears in “Albert Nobbs.”

Jack Gleeson, who features in “Game of Thrones” and is appearing in indie pic “All Good Children,” is another name to track, says Rowan.

“He is a very strong actor with an unusual energy,” she says.

Hughes says Irish TV drama is also producing a high standard of work. “It has really upped its game and is beginning to platform a lot of the young talent in this country,” she says, citing shows like “Love/Hate,” which stars Aidan Gillen and Sheehan, and “Raw,” toplining Charlene McKenna, another talented thesp to keep an eye on, Hughes says.

SPOTLIGHT: IRELAND:
Spot of green on horizon | For Irish, one is loneliest number | Two new facils up the ante for local filmmakers | Reel estate | Sea of rising thesps from the Emerald isle

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