Anna Blackburn chats to Eoin O’Dubhghaill about his career, Irish, and the differences between stage and screen.
The film and theatre industry becomes more competitive every day. Acting is a career that can lead to lots of success if you’re lucky enough to work your way in. Eoin O’Dubhghaill is a professional actor from Connemara who specialises in the Irish language. Chatting to him gave great insight into the realm of acting and the industry.
O’Dubhghaill grew up in a small town in Connemara where his mother started and encouraged his acting career. At 12 years old, his mother took him and his siblings to audition for the show Aifric, an Irish teen drama filmed in 2006. O’Dubhghaill said he was incredibly lucky to be cast on the show and said he was even luckier to have worked and trained with the show’s award-winning director, Paul Mercier. At his workshops, Mercier had the young actors watch scenes to demonstrate how much the camera picks up. “The camera picks up everything,” said O’Dubhghaill, “one boy looked at the camera for just a second, but it felt like forever because it was so noticeable. The camera really does pick up everything.”
Aifric became the strong starting point of O’Dubhghaill’s career. He filmed the show in the summertime and paid for college with the money. Despite his early start in show business, O’Dubhghaill went on to study Journalism and Irish at DCU, but it was the DCU Drama Society that helped him discover how much he loved acting. “I remember skipping lectures to run around doing things for the Drama Society and that’s when I thought maybe this was something I wanted to go into.”
It wasn’t until he was cast in the film Out of Innocence, with the acclaimed Fiona Shaw and Alun Armstrong, that his career began to take off. He then landed the role of Danny in the television mini-series Grace Harte in 2017. O’Dubhghaill specialises in the Irish language and was the only actor auditioning who had the level of Irish required to play Danny. Since then, he has done an incredible amount of work in every aspect of the job, performing in musicals such as Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, and the stage version of James Joyce’s The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. He even worked in devising various productions and production companies including Fíbín and An Taibhdhearc, the national Irish language theatre of Ireland in Galway.
Acting on stage and on screen are two completely different experiences. While both are similar in the way they tell a story, each type requires a completely different type of acting. When asked what he prefers to work in, O’Dubhghaill said that at first he preferred acting on screen, a direct result of his early work with Mercier, but stage acting has become his passion. Going to the theatre is an intimate and personal experience that cannot be replicated. “You have this connection with the other people on stage and with the audience that no one else experiences and then it’s gone. Even if you perform or see the same show for two weeks, you’ll never have that same feeling the next time you step into the theatre.” Even though live shows are often filmed nowadays, you cannot film an experience or a feeling. It is the physical presence of being in the same room with people who appreciate theatre as much as you do that makes the experience all the more worthwhile.
When acting on stage, you put all your energy into a show for the short burst of time, which makes it all the more fun to put on. But when film acting you have to “pull everything back and make everything smaller” because the camera will catch your every move. The most fundamental part of acting on screen is “energy distribution, being strategic with how you conserve your energy.” On set, there is a lot of waiting around and actors have to be mindful of themselves because you have to stay in character and stay focused even when you aren’t filming, quoting Jim Cagney: “They pay me for the waiting. I throw in the acting for free.” O’Dubhghaill also stressed the importance of finding the balance between stage and screen acting, making sure that as an actor you don’t look wooden on camera and aren’t too animated on stage.
It is an uncommon specialty for an actor to be fluent in Irish, and this has come in handy for O’Dubhghaill over the course of his career. Irish is his first language, and he is more comfortable performing in it. One of the highlights of his career includes starring in the Irish soap opera, Ros na Rún. His character, Fiach Ó Tuairisg, has appeared in 58 episodes of the show. Soap operas are not a very popular thing to watch these days. Many people know what they are through other shows like Joey’s fictional role in soap opera ‘Days of Our Lives’ from the popular television show Friends, and I wanted to know how accurate this portrayal of soap acting was. “It’s not that far off actually. My character Fiach is very much like me if I was a more enthusiastic and dramatic person, and it's really fun to play this larger than life character.” O’Dubhghaill revealed that this will be his last year on the show as he wants to move on to other things, but the writers plan to leave his character’s storyline open-ended in case he wants to come back.
O’Dubhghaill has also had the chance to do voice acting, doing the Irish voice-overs for movies and television shows. His most popular work was voicing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films and playing various characters in children's cartoons such as Alvin and the Chipmunks and Dora the Explorer.
Set to be released on 6th of November 2020, the film Arracht, starring Dónall Ó Héalaí and Dara Devaney, is Eoin O'Dubhghaill’s latest project. In the film we see O Héalaí’s character, Coleman Sharky, suffer through the Great Hunger in 1845. O'Dubhghaill’s plays Seán, Coleman’s light-hearted brother.
Eoin O’Dubhghaill has had a tremendous career so far and has been using his recent surplus of free time to get into writing. His goal is to eventually move to London and perform there, but with the uncertainty of the pandemic, O’Dubhghaill has put his plans on hold. He continues to act and work as much as he can and puts his heart and soul into his work, not letting the little bumps in the road shake his confidence. “Even though I love what I do, I could wake up tomorrow and just not want to do it anymore and I’ll move on. And that’ll be fine because I’m only going to do this for as long as I enjoy it.”