Meet the Cork actor who’s taken a leading role in Netflix’s big new spy thriller. Four years ago, Cillian O’Sullivan moved to the US with a backpack, $1,000 in savings and a dream of furthering his acting career. Now the actor is entertaining global audiences as the male lead in so-called ‘spy-fi thriller’ In From the Cold, by far his most high-profile role to date.
For the actor from Ballinlough, it’s been an exciting time in his career. “It’s definitely the biggest opportunity I’ve ever gotten, 100%,” says O’Sullivan, adding he was especially surprised as he got the part without being called back for a second audition as is common. “It was much like all the other auditions I had done that year. I was excited about it. I did it. It went off into the ether and I expected to hear nothing about it again.
“A week later I'm sitting in NBC Studios auditioning for something else. And my agents called me in a conference call. ‘You got that part in the Netflix show’ and I was like ‘WHAT?’”
Already impressed by the Corkman, show creator Adam Glass was convinced he had his lead after watching Thumb Wars, a short film from Lisa Keogh that he had done previously. “He wanted to see that I had the romantic side of things [necessary for the character]. I always had it on my showreel because I loved it so much.
“I didn't think it was a bad audition. But I wasn’t going: ‘God. That was one of the best things I've ever done. If they don't give me the part for that now, they're just crazy’,” he smiles. “I ended up landing the biggest role of my career to date. It's about people watching the show now and we just have to see what happens.”
In From the Cold, which is new to the global streaming platform and is currently moving up the viewing charts, is a mash of genres, hence the ‘spy-fi’ moniker the actor uses to describe it. The action-packed, eight-episode series centres on Jenny Franklin (Margarita Levieva), a seemingly regular US mum who has a secret past as a KGB operative.
But her secret is exposed by a top CIA man, Chauncey (O’Sullivan), who compels her to use her very special set of skills to track down a group of people implicated for a series of harrowing crimes. The twisty thriller even has supernatural elements.
“Given his line of work in the CIA, he has a cold side where he can probably see bad things as in favour of the greater good. So certain things that would shock a normal person might not shock him. He can come across quite cold in an off putting way sometimes. But when you get to the surface, he's an extreme romantic. He's extremely empathic.
“He’s a ruthless romantic, that’s the best way to put it. When I read him the first time even at the audition, I just thought this guy's super, super layered so yeah, and well dressed, and well bearded!”
His US accent is pitch-perfect. In fact, though the Cork accent is very much evident when we speak for this interview. O’Sullivan was born in the US. His Cork parents Deirdre and Tom moved to the US before he was born, and the family returned to Ballinlough when he was aged nine. He was also able to hone his US accent for other roles in shows like The Blacklist and FBI’s Most Wanted.
As a child he had an American accent when he first came to Ireland. “I went to an all boys school called St. Anthony's in Ballinlough.
“The Irish are so different, you know, mocking the s**t out of each other is a form of affection. I didn't know that. Any time an American word came out of my mouth, and I was so dramatic, I'd get the p**s ripped out of me.
“This is the thing: I love being Irish. And I love what growing up in Ireland gave me, what it made me. There's certain aspects of myself that are specific to being Irish. And I'm very grateful for those things.”
Successful roles on stage and in TV shows like Vikings and Taken Down followed, but four years ago, he made the decision to move to the US, keen to see where he could bring his acting career next.
“When I came to New York four years ago, you know, I came with $1,000 a backpack, no friends, no place to stay, no agent, no nothing. I had worked in Ireland, but never in American roles,” he says. “About a year after I got to America, I got a great agency called Buchwald Talent, and they started firing me out the door for auditions, and most of them were American.
“I knew that there would be more career opportunities here. I just had heard about the sheer number of auditions that actors get in America, in comparison to Ireland, and maybe even England.
“You need to be in the running and auditioning and kind of gambling, you've got to be playing the odds. It just felt like the place for me to be was America.”
- In From the Cold is now on Netflix
As well as his Netflix break, Cillian recently completed filming on another new series which will come to Sky later this year.
Then You Run - which also stars Limerick actress Leah McNamara (Dublin Murders) centres on a group of friends who plan a dream summer holiday together. But their plans turn into a dark and dangerous adventure when they inadvertently cross paths with some of the most dangerous criminals in Europe.
“I was in Berlin shooting a show called Then You Run for four or five months,” says Cillian.
“It’s a new Sky show with a super interesting new type of really dark... I don't even know if you'd call it a comedy, but it's really funny. It's an adaptation of a book called You. I've seen a few minutes of footage and it looks unbelievable. So that'll be coming out at some point. It wrapped about six weeks ago.” For the actor, it’s marked a continued welcome return to work after In From the Cold was temporarily halted in March 2020 as Covid struck. “Three days before we started shooting we got shut down. We were all in Madrid (where filming was scheduled to begin).
“There were a lot of challenges shooting, we were one of the first productions in the world to come back shooting in the middle of a pandemic.”