Tom Vaughan-Lawlor was filming a new comedy series in Belfast when production was halted due to Covid-19 back in March. Six months later he’s back to complete the series, self-isolating in his accommodation.
The series, Frank Of Ireland, will see him join forces with Brendan, Brian and Domhnall Gleeson. “We were pretty close to finishing it and I was back home, they said: ‘Don’t come back because we have to shut down’. We’re all either on set or in our hotel room isolating. It’s very strange, but it’s the only way we can do it now. You just make the best of it. It’ll be fine. What’s amazing, though, is people’s ingenuity and people’s abilities to work around things and get things done. It’s a challenge, but people are resourceful, people are clever.”
As for all of us, the last six months have been an eye-opener for the actor, who lives in the UK. “There was nearly 1000 people dying every day in April in the UK, which is so shocking and upsetting.” He considers himself fortunate that his family’s home outside London is near the sea. He and his actress wife Claire Cox have spent their days walking by the coast, trying their best to homeschool their nine-year-old son Freddie, and enjoying the dynamo that is their toddler daughter, who is oblivious to Covid and just wants to play.
“Her name is Maia, she’s really cool. She’ll be two in November, and she is very funny. We’re up in the mornings watching Peppa Pig and Paddington. She’s keeping us on our toes and keeping us laughing. That is a real blessing, to have someone who has no concept that there’s a pandemic. To have someone who’s just living every second in the moment. It’s a real tonic for us as parents just to be with her and watch her explore the world and experience the sea, and rain and the elements, that we can just be here with her and experience that with her.”
Vaughan-Lawlor has become one of our most in-demand actors ever since he had the nation on tenterhooks as canny criminal Nidge Delaney in Love/Hate. The series became one of the biggest sensations ever in Irish TV, with hundreds of people often turning up to watch filming on the streets of Dublin. Vaughan-Lawlor was superb as the multi-layered crime lord and has done a fine job of mixing it up in his choices ever since. He’s done low-budget movies and TV’s Dublin Murders, and even taken on The Avengers as baddie Ebony May in two Marvel movies.
His latest movie is Rialto, a new drama directed by Peter Mackie Burns and written by Mark O’Halloran who adapted his own stage play. He plays Colm, a married father of two who embarks on an affair with a younger man following the death of his father.
“I’d worked with Peter on his first feature Daphne, and he first mentioned it. I’d worked with Mark once before on a docudrama about Hugh Lane.
“Even if it was a day and a couple of scenes, I’d have done it no question. But then when it was the lead, and it wasn’t just any lead it was a lead like this, I just jumped at the chance. I couldn’t put it down when I read it. It was a knockout script and one you can’t really pass up because they don’t come along all the time.” He put on weight for the role, much to the annoyance of his son, who kept finding that dad had eaten all the biscuits, he smiles.
“He’s supposed to be a man who’s very self conscious and physically hates himself, hates his body, hates how he speaks, how he looks. So we talked about him being slightly bigger and that I needed to be bigger for it just because he’s uncomfortable in his own body.
“He doesn’t look after himself. He doesn’t look after his mental health. He’s a mess both internally and externally. So I needed to be a little bit bigger to achieve that. What’s amazing is his ability to be with this young man in a bedroom and to take his clothes off and to reveal himself and to be vulnerable in front of this stranger, where he can’t be vulnerable with his family and his wife and his kids.” In doing so there are hugely damaging consequences for his wife and family. Is it important for him as an actor to be able to empathise with the characters he plays?
“If you agree with a film politically or socially or you agree with the message of the film, what the film is trying to say, I don’t think you need to.
“You can’t third eye the part, you’ve got to just try and understand the man and his wants and his needs. And although he does some terrible things to his family, they’re born out of a place of self hatred. They’re born out of a place of shame and grief, and a life of trying to find out who he is. You just need to try to understand the character. I suppose he is in freefall. He’s unmoored.”
Getting back to work has been a strange but greatly heartening experience, and Vaughan-Lawlor has enjoyed turning his hand to comedy with Frank Of Ireland. It’s been another example, he feels, of the storytelling talent we have in the country, and he hopes it is fostered as cameras start rolling again.
“The talent is there and the resources are there. That’s not going to go away, we just need to make sure that on the other side of this, that we’re still promoting those talents, and we’re still funding those new new writers, new directors, young storytellers. I feel really excited seeing what’s happening and I feel really proud to be a part of this time.”
He is hugely concerned for his peers in the arts sector which has been devastated by the pandemic, but hopeful that they will be supported in the future.
“If the lockdown has proved anything it’s the importance of culture to keep us sane, and to keep us in conversation with our own minds and souls. When this is all over, and especially in theatre, dance, music and live events, people, I hope and I think, will be hungry for that again. I think great work will come out of this time. And so it’s a strange mix of, of course, fear and sadness, but also hope for the future that culturally we will endure and we will have voices again. And those voices will be potent and strong and passionate.”
Rialto is released on Friday, October 2