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Jonjo O’Neill: International Star You Should Know

After five knockout years onstage, Brit thesp ready for multimedia success

Chairman of the Boards

Jonjo O’Neill has given electric performances in the U.K.’s premier theaters this past year: the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theater and the Royal Court. With 20 productions in five years, he’s been onstage nearly every evening, with roles ranging from a tapdancing medical experimenter to Richard III. In the RSC’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “As You Like It,” he stole the show as Mercutio and Orlando, respectively. Next frontiers: TV and film.

Background Impressions

“I’m from Ireland, a place of funny people who are good at telling stories, at doing impressions. All of that is an actor’s skill set, it’s all present in my family, but I’m the only one who has chosen to pursue it.” His family, he says, has been amazingly supportive. “They think I’m smart because I do Shakespeare. When your son is playing a king at the RSC, it seems like the apex of cleverness.”

The Bard Mystique

Shakespeare is intimidating to most people. O’Neill says they are under the illusion that there’s a group of people who comprehend it naturally. “Understanding Shakespeare is just staring at it for hours, rehearsing and asking a lot of stupid questions: ‘Why does he say that, what does this mean, what is he doing here, who is she exactly?’ ”

Peek at Technique

“When you go onstage night after night, your technique grows. You develop new levels of relaxation out of necessity. No matter what time you wake up, you need to peak at half past 7 every night. So you pace yourself, how and when you eat, how much you exercise, ‘How is my voice today? Am I getting a cold?’ It’s like babysitting your character until the performance starts. Always at the back of your mind is ‘I have a show at 7:30.’ ”

Testimonial

“There’s no one more fearless and playful in a rehearsal room, and no one more alive and dazzling with an audience,” says director Rupert Goold. “Men want to be him and women just want him, but it’s the size of his soul that makes him such a poetic actor.”

Making Choices

“My agent says it’s great to know what you want, but it’s important to be flexible. If you’re too fixed, you could lose out. A lot of actors have waited around so long that they’ve lost momentum.”

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