BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month - CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN's Conor MacNeill
Conor MacNeill is currently making his Broadway debut in the role of Bartley McCormick in Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, directed by Tony Award winner Michael Grandage. In the comedy, when a Hollywood director visits a remote Irish island to cast his latest film, the locals clamor for their once-in-a-lifetime chance at movie stardom. But it's Billy (Daniel Radcliffe), a frail young man with the odds stacked against him, who has the biggest Hollywood dream of them all.
Today Conor MacNeill talks exclusively to BWW about the "more vocal" New York audiences, getting egg yolk up his nose during a recent performance and making his Broadway debut in this biting, dark comedy!
To begin with, a big congratulations on the show's Tony nominations, so very much deserved!
Yes, thank you, it was very exciting. And I think we are all genuinely enjoying being up there so hopefully that is what's coming across.
Was there any celebration on the night the nominations were announced?
Not really because it was a Tuesday night and we have two shows on Wednesday, so we had one small drink after the show and then we sort of trotted off home. Also Sarah [Greene] had to be up early the next morning because she had to do a lot of press the next day because obviously she was nominated for Best Featured Actress. So because of the combination of those things, we'll probably do something on Sunday once we get the week over with and we'll celebrate properly.
As I was reading up on your successful career, I came across an interview in which you explained that the way you got into acting in the first place was a bit of a fluke.
Yeah, completely! When I was young I used to play traditional Irish music, I played the trad flute and I played with a group at home and different music sessions and things like that. And there was a local theater company called DubbelJoint Theater Company and they were casting a show where they needed a boy character who played the flute. And it was sort of bizarre and hysterical. I had a family member who was working for the company who told me to come in and read, and so I came in and read and played some music for them and that was it, that was my introduction to acting. It wasn't anything that I had ever thought of before, it was just that I came in and got it. And after that I got an agent and started working, mostly on small things at first. But that was it, there was no great plan or anything like that.
Amazing. So did you ever have formal training as an actor or has it been mostly learning on the job?
Oh it's all been learning on the job, completely. I've been really privileged and really lucky to work with a lot of very successful older actors, I did a film with Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess and was working with incredible theater actors working in the Irish Theater so I had to up my game very, very quickly. And I'm not knocking drama schools but I think I've learned invaluable lessons doing it this way, not just about acting but also how you approach the life of an actor because you're working with other experienced actors so you learn how to manage the down times and things like that and also how to keep your eye on the right thing, the secrets to getting work. I don't know if you'd learn those things as well through acting lessons.
So it's almost as if acting found you, and you found a passion that you weren't even aware you had!
Yeah, I think so, genuinely, because there is absolutely nothing else I can see myself doing.
I'm always interested when shows transfer from the West End to Broadway, do you find that American audiences react to things differently? Is our humor a bit different than in the UK?
Oh most definitely! You know our London audiences were incredible, we really had such fun with them. But I do find the New York audiences slightly more vocal, you know a lot of gasping and oohs and ahhs and they get really caught up in it which you can feel, you can feel how involved they are. And I suppose going to a Broadway show, you know it's different in London, theater is pretty much a part of a lot of Londoners lives you know, you go catch a play, but with Broadway, the audience has planned the trip, they get their good clothes on and they're coming for a night out. And I think that affects how they watch the play, they really want to enjoy it much more because they made a night of it, you know, which is sort of lovely, lovely and intimidating as well because you want to be brilliant for them. So hopefully we are!
Were any adjustments made to the dialogue in order for American audiences to understand it more clearly?
Not really. We changed a word here and there but only a handful, no more than three or four words, just because there are certain points where the plot was more important than the authenticity of what someone from Inishmaan would say. So for example, in the Irish language, 'Gasur' means boy, but that just didn't work so they changed it to 'boy' just for clarity. Because we didn't want the audience wondering 'well what does that mean?' when it's the plot that is really more important at that point. So things like that, but we really worked hard on things like diction and clarity so that they would be clear.
You have one particular scene, and I don't want to give away too many details, but it's an extremely messy scene, shall we say, involving eggs.
(laughing) Yes, it's very messy indeed! I actually got some egg up into my nose last night. It's disgusting!
How did you rehearse that scene initially? Did you have to do it over and over again, or did you just pretend?
I think at first we just pretended, but then I said for me to react realistically, we really had to do this, so we started using the eggs. I'm actually quite used to it now and it really doesn't bother me at all. The only thing that bothers me is when they're cold or obviously when it goes down your back or like last night, when I breathed in some yolk. I actually do quite enjoy it and I know the audience enjoys it. You hear their shock and it's brilliant!
What has it been like working with Daniel Radcliffe? Did he have some advice for you being that this is his third time on Broadway?
He did actually. He made me aware, he said early on 'be prepared for a noisy audience, they're going to gasp and laugh and scream,' because he knew I was used to a slightly quieter audience in England. So that was very helpful, we weren't overly shocked after our first performance. So it's been great working with him and with all the cast. I know most people always ask about Daniel, but Daniel is very much a part of our ensemble team and we all get along so incredibly well and everybody is brilliant to work with, people like Ingrid Craigi and June Watson who have been working in theater for years and years. Just watching them is a lesson.
What has it been like to make your Broadway debut in The Cripple of Inishmaan?
It's been pretty terrifying and exciting all in one breath. It all happened so quickly, I didn't have too much time to mull it over. You know we were in London, we were up and running and now here we are on Broadway. But it's been incredible and everyone's so nice. And the community on Broadway is really so solid and so supportive I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. The community is very unique and it's been really wonderful, it's been great.
I hope that means you would be willing to come back and do another show.
Oh most definitely - certainly. I love the whole thing here, I want to stay here. I'd love to come back... if you'll have me!
About Conor MacNeill:
Conor MacNeill's stage work includes appearances on the West End, the Donmar Warehouse, Gate Theatre Dublin and Belfast's Lyric Theatre. He received an Irish Theatre Award nomination in 2011. His screen work includes Stand Off alongside Brendan Fraser, Sundance winner Five Minutes of Heaven, Fifty Dead Men Walking and An Crisis, for which he received an Outstanding Actor nomination and 2010 Festival de Télévision Monte-Carlo.
Photo credit: Johan Persson
Photo credit: Walter McBride