When Cork actor Aidan O’Hare tunes into the Oscars this weekend, he’ll find himself torn between his former theatre co-star Ruth Negga and his more recent work colleague Natalie Portman.
He’ll be rooting for both of them for best actress of course, but the predicament is indicative not only of O’Hare’s growing range of work, but of one of the most fascinating filming experiences of his career.
The Glounthaune actor landed his biggest role opposite Portman in Jackie, where he shared key scenes with the well-known actress.
In the film, he plays Kenny O’Donnell, one of JFK’s so-called ‘Irish Mafia’ and a consultant, advisor and friend to both Jack and his brother Bobby. The story focuses on the days around the president’s assassination, as Jackie struggles to cope with a nation’s expectations and her own bereavement.
“JFK came up through the ranks with these guys that he had around him, that he went to Harvard with,” said O’Hare of his character.
“When he started getting into becoming a politician he used his friends from Harvard who all had Irish heritage, and he nicknamed them the Irish mafia.
“He (O’Donnell) would have helped set up the Dallas trip as well, which in later years would have worn on him a lot. He became very depressed over it.”
He got the role after impressing director Pablo Larrain when he self-taped his audition — a growing trend for casting in the digital world.
“With a lot of auditions you have to jump through the hoops, but with this one it was put myself on self tape, record it myself and send it off. Within two or three weeks I was flying to Paris for a costume fitting,” said the actor.
“The director was talking to me about where I was from, he wanted to get a sense of me. But I’d never sat down and had a face-to-face conversation with the director before being cast. Years back you’d walk in, there’d be a director, a producer, maybe the screenwriter… it can be a pressurised situation.
“With this you’ve got a camera, you’re at home, you can take as many shots as you like, send it off when you’re happy.”
Filming opposite Portman and his co-stars in Paris, O’Hare worked on set in Luc Besson’s vast Cité Du Cinema, where huge recreations brought a sense of history to life.
“I walked into the Oval Office, to scale, and they’d built a to-scale interior of Air Force One. It was just incredible. Even things that were out of shot, notepaper, matchboxes, had the American seal on them.
“That’s where you want to be as an actor, standing across from Natalie Portman doing a scene. All the nerves dissipated. And I enjoyed it.
“It was a different slant, it was about one person and the aftermath, how the First Lady was in a sense dethroned. It was a different take. I’m a big fan of Natalie Portman’s career anyway and it was something I had to jump at.
“She was great. She did a lot of improvisation, was very funny in between takes. Very focused when she needed to be too. She’d spent some time in Cork. She toured Ireland after Black Swan, stayed in various hostels.”
But he saw how the intensity of playing a recently bereaved woman took its toll also. “She spent a lot of the time on set in hysterics. She’d be taking notes from the director in tears. And I could see, as filming went on, that it was wearing on her.”
O’Hare is enjoying a busy period in what is a vibrant time for the Irish film and TV industry.
We’ll see him this year in Maze, a drama about the 1980s escape of IRA inmates, which is set in Belfast but was filmed in Cork prison. And he’s currently filming the new series of the hit TV show, Vikings. “It’s a good time. The industry is thriving.”