Tom Vaughan-Lawlor tells Esther McCarthy about playing an IRA man in prison-break film, Maze
HIS multifaceted turn as sinister crime boss Nidge in Love/Hate singled out Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as one of our greatest emerging talents.
Now the actor is building on that extraordinary breakthrough with a major role in Marvel’s next Avengers movie and a zombie horror thriller.
This week, we’ll see him play an IRA man who masterminds the prison escapes in Maze, which was shot on location in the decommissioned Cork Prison last year.
For Vaughan-Lawlor, taking up acting meant making a move to
London. “I went to Trinity to do the academic drama course, and then I went to RADA. The honest answer is I wanted to go to London because I knew that if I wanted to be an actor I’d have to be unafraid of being embarrassing, if that makes sense, or unafraid of making a fool of myself,” he tells me.
“I think I was probably too self-conscious a kid growing up to be able to feel comfortable doing that in Dublin. We used to spend movement classes in Russell Square in London chasing leaves around. If I’d done that in Stephen’s Green, I would have been too self-conscious and embarrassed. I was a bit of a shy teenager. But doing it in London where no-one knew me, I could do it with double intensity. So it was an amazing way to go away and experiment, and push the boundaries of what you’re capable of in certain ways, without feeling self-conscious.”
Making the decision to move to London in 2000 did not come easy. The city has been kind to him and he’s bought a home there with actor wife Claire Cox and their six-year-old boy, Freddie. But he vividly remembers the day he left.
“It was 2nd of September 2000, and I remember getting on the plane and being kind of inconsolable, and my dad (actor Tom Lawlor) didn’t know what was wrong with me, and I think it was because he thought I was going to be a student.
“But I knew I was leaving, I was moving. I knew I’d always come back but I just…you have that moment of being on the brink of something else in your life and you’re standing on this precipice, standing on this threshold, or frontier, that you’re passing into something else. It made me really emotional, that this was a really big moment in my life. And it was.”
Getting the opportunity to work regularly at home on stage and screen has been wonderful, he says, and indeed in the days after we meet he plans to catch up with family and friends. “Because I come back to work here so often, I never feel that I’m gone too long. I just love coming home. Home is where my wife and son are first and foremost, and yet, that pull of Ireland is that wherever you go it’s always there.”
In Maze, he plays Larry Marley, one of the IRA prisoners who masterminded the notorious escapes in the 1980s. The film’s much more than that story, centring on the
relationship between Marley and a prison warden (Barry Ward).
“That’s why the film isn’t just a prison escape film, it’s also a drama about men from opposite sides of the divide who have a shared understanding of conflicting internal
“Especially whereby choices they make politically come into conflict with their domestic obligations and responsibilities. The love of their families. How they reconcile a
political motivation with their roles as family men. That’s why I thought it was a really clever script.”
The young Vaughan-Lawlor grew up in middle-class Dundrum and was fortunate, he says, to be exposed to the arts from an early age.
“My mum is very artistic as well, so it was a very artistic household, a very liberal household. There was always music and books and films, we were always going to the theatre. They’re of the psyche of if you have a passion for something, whether it makes you wealthy or you struggle to pay your bills, if it’s something that makes you happy, and it’s something that you have a passion for, that’s what you should pursue. And I think that’s so important, isn’t it? That you find something you have a passion for, if you’re lucky enough to find something you have a passion for.”
We’ll next see him in zombie thriller The Cured, and he was recently revealed to have a key role in the next Avengers film (he is sworn to secrecy, but seems very excited).
But for many Love/Hate fans, he’s still best known as that kingpin who dominated their TV schedules, and they still talk to him about it when he’s home.
“Because I lived in England when it was being screened, I only got it in fits and starts. I was able to duck out when I needed to!” he laughs.
“What’s great about it is it’s irreverent stuff, it’s never fawning sycophancy. It’s always familiar and generous, it’s not a negative energy coming at you. At times it was intense, but it was never unkind.”
Cork Prison not only made the perfect location for Maze, but it also helped get the project back on track, says writer/ director Stephen Burke.
“At the end of 2015 the production had stalled, we’d lost a bit of money. We were going to build a small set, but at that time we heard that Cork Prison was closing. When we went down we hoped it would be like the Maze prison. We needed two wings in a line, separated by a cage area. We just walked in and there it was. It was as close as you could hope for.”
But first they had to address the colour scheme, which featured the county colours. “It was all painted magnolia and red, Cork colours, which for a prison it was quite strange! So we had to change that. When we looked at it the prisoners were still there are we were chatting to them.”
It proved to be an inspired call, as filming in a real prison added authenticity to the film. “Actors trying to imagine surroundings and endow sets with authenticity, we didn’t have to do any of that,” says Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
“Because you’re really in cells, and you’re really on wings, going through functioning gates, and yards, and shower rooms. You do understand the intensity of what that must be like, to be incarcerated for long periods in very confined spaces. And not being able to have free will or free movement. It was quite eye-opening and sobering.”
Forthcoming drama Michael Inside was also filmed in the prison.
Maze will feature in Cork Culture Night’s film programme at 8.30pm on Friday in the Concert Hall in City Hall, with a Q&A with Stephen Bourke and cast.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved