Tristan Heanue: 'I worked as a double for James Franco' 

The Irish actor stars in new crime thriller Broken Law, after taking a long route that involved building sites and door-to-door sales jobs before finally making his breakthrough
Tristan Heanue: 'I worked as a double for James Franco' 
Tristan Heanue in Broken Law.

Tristan Heanue got his first taste of the movie business in his early twenties when Hollywood came to his native Connemara. 

Romantic drama Tristan & Isolde was filming in the west, and Heanue landed a job doubling for an up-and-coming actor by the name of James Franco. This means he would stand in for the actor during the setting up of scenes"

“I was his double for five or six weeks and it was great,” he says of that summer in the west of Ireland.

“Henry Cavill was on it, and Mark Strong - loads of really good actors.

“I’d harboured notions for a year or two before, but sitting around watching these actors, I was like: ‘Maybe I could do that’. 

"Up until then I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was a bit lost I think, but I was always very creative, I’d tried writing songs, writing poetry.” 

Life and circumstances would, for a time, send him down another path. “I came up to Dublin in 2004 and I wanted to study acting but I had no money. 

"So I went working in construction and I ended up working in that until the crash came and I got let go in 2008.” 

Desperate to make an income in an unprecedented recession, Heanue spent 18 months working as a door-to-door salesman for two prominent companies. 

He eventually left after auditioning for a production of Martin McDonagh’s The Loansome West, still in his sales suit with his van outside, and getting the part.

It was a tough time, struggling to make commissions to get by, but at least the rejection at the doorstep prepared him for a career as an actor, he laughs.

“It was horrible. I hated it. But it totally did because you got so used to rejection and being chased away down the driveway by people. 

Tristan Heanue at the Cork Film Festival awards ceremony last year. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Tristan Heanue at the Cork Film Festival awards ceremony last year. Picture: Denis Minihane.

"When I walk out of an audition now I almost instantly am able to put it out of my mind, unless it’s something you’re in love with. You just move on.”

 He adds that is even more the case since he started writing and directing his own work.

“Because now I’ve been on the other side of the table, I’ve had people audition for things, you see that sometimes how little control you have over it. 

"There are so many different things at work, when you go into an audition, you could do a good job and you’re just not right for whatever reason. But you have to go in and give a good account of yourself.”

He certainly does just that in Broken Law, a robust, well-paced crime thriller set in contemporary Dublin. 

He plays Dave Connolly, a loyal and respected Garda whose motivations are tested when his criminal brother (Graham Earley) lands in big trouble with a local hoodlum (John Connors) and is desperately in need of his sibling’s help.

It marks a strong feature debut from Paddy Slattery, a shorts and music video director who turned to film after being in a car accident in his twenties that has left him confined to a wheelchair.

“Paddy’s been trying to make it so long and put so much into it and his motivation never wavered no matter what setbacks along the way,” says Heanue of the filmmaker. 

“His determination and his positivity would put most people to shame, he’s inspiring. 

"I was working with him on this for a good number years, so I’d seen it at very close hand, the ups and downs, the hills you have to climb to get it done.”

It was Slattery who first encouraged the actor to try writing and directing and Heanue has since established himself as a shorts filmmaker - his latest, Irish-language short Ciúnas, was nominated for an IFTA last week. 

Another short is being prepared to go into production, while he is also developing his first feature film.

“I was looking for a creative outlet because I hadn’t worked in a few months. I shot and made my first film in 2013. That was out of needing an outlet and to just express myself, I guess. 

"Why don’t I go find the strongest character I can for myself? That was called In This Place and it premiered at the Fleadh in 2014. 

"Mark O'Connor saw it and gave me a part in Cardboard Gangsters. Ciaran Creagh gave me a part in In View and lots of stuff came from just writing and making that short."

A new short, Harmless, was put on hold during the Covid crisis, but it’s clear that Heanue will be a busy man as soon as normal service resumes.

 -  Broken Law is released in cinemas this Friday, July 31

More in this section

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up