Tom Vaughan-Lawlor gets caught up in his many characters

Tom Vaughan Lawlor, with Sophie O'Toole, 3, at the launch of the Big Toddle.

After playing Nidge and Padraic Pearse, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is happy to just be himslef for a chat to Clodagh Finn

ACTOR Tom Vaughan-Lawlor says his head is spinning from his multiple identities; he’s playing five totally different characters on screen and stage in the coming months.

That’s not even counting his portrayal of Padraig Pearse in the slick and thought-provoking Trial of the Century, which finished on TV3 last night. Nidge, the gangland-boss star of Love/Hate, is well and truly dead and we’re set to see the man who brought him to life in a range of roles that would put anybody’s head in a spin.

“It’s that funny thing — timing; they all come out at the same time,” he tells the Irish Examiner.

It’s like buses, we offer.

“It is, it is,” he says, flashing an enormous smile. “You can be very quiet for a while and then all of a sudden things come out together.”

And what a line-up. In July, we’ll see him star alongside Breaking Bad lead Bryan Cranston in The Infiltrator, the true story of a US customs official who went undercover to rumble Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Vaughan-Lawlor, who plays Cranston’s agency handler Steve Cook, says it was nerve-wracking meeting Cranston, one of his heroes.

“I was very nervous meeting him mainly because I’ve been such an admirer of his as an actor, but he was every inch the gentleman and every inch the artist that you hoped he would be. He’s such a lovely man. And a great leader as well.”

The action movie involves “lots of running around”, as Vaughan-Lawlor puts it. It was good fun, but also challenging. “You are in scenes with really big-name actors so you have to be really on top of it all the time, but it’s also nice to be testing yourself on a big international stage.”

We catch up with the actor at the Radisson Hotel in Dublin during a short break in the filming of Maze, a drama about the escape of 38 inmates from the “most secure facility in the UK and Ireland” in 1983, during which a prison officer was killed and 12 others injured.

He’s spent the last month shooting in the recently-closed Cork prison and is en route to Sweden to complete his portrayal of IRA member Larry Marley, the man who masterminded the escape plan.

The history of militant nationalism is very much in the ether as audiences have just seen Vaughan-Lawlor’s powerful portrayal of Pearse in Trial of the Century, an imagining of how a legalistic showdown might have gone had Pearse been granted a trial.

Ironically, it’s almost exactly 100 years to the day after Pearse wrote his letter of surrender at Arbour Hill prison in 1916.

Vaughan-Lawlor says he didn’t know what people would make of his Pearse. “This is an imagined history and what Hugh Travers and Colin Murphy have done very cleverly is offset the public and private man.”

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor gets caught up in his many characters

Certainly, the actor’s own research into the “fiercely private and privately unknowable” man was eye-opening. “He was a very complicated man but charismatic in his own right. He was very driven, focused, obsessive and dynamic, but probably quite an intense presence to be around. Very intense, I would imagine.”

Another topic that has made for lots of discussion during the 100th-anniversary commemoration of the Rising is the number of children killed. Aoibhinn McGinnity, Nidge’s on-screen wife in Love/Hate, brought the heart-breaking reality of that home as she tells Pearse’s trial how her two-year-old son, Sean Foster, was shot dead in his pram.

“On the one hand, you have the idealism and fervour of these men and, on the other, you see the casualties — children and babies — and that is very sobering,” says Vaughan-Lawlor, father to five-year-old Freddie.

The joy of being a father prompted him to accept a role as ambassador to children’s charity Barnardos four years ago.

“At the height of Love/Hate, I was approached by many charities, but you can’t lend your support to everyone. At the time, my son was a baby. Seeing how fortunate my own son is and how loved he is and all of the things we can provide him with, you realise how vulnerable children are and how important it is to support them culturally, educationally, socially from the very youngest age.”

He has built an ongoing relationship with Barnardos and has just got behind its latest campaign, The Big Toddle, which asks parents and toddlers to do a sponsored half-mile walk in May and June to raise €250,000 to help children.

Speaking of money, there was a story doing the rounds during season three of Love/Hate that, while his face was on bus shelter advertisements here in Ireland, he couldn’t afford the bus fare in Kent, England, where he lives with his actor wife, Claire Cox.

He laughs and says the story of penury was slightly blown out of proportion, but yes, acting is very precarious. “People might say, ‘Well, you’ve made it’. There is no such thing. But that insecurity keeps you honest as an actor. Sometimes, people see actors as arrogant but it’s an incredibly humbling profession.”

Rejection is also a big part of it. Ask him if he’s ever been rejected and he replies: “Oh God, yeah. All the time. You are always competing with actors above you in the pecking order in terms of status. That is also a wonderful thing — to be testing and stretching yourself and aiming for big things.”

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor gets caught up in his many characters

Though, it doesn’t look as if one of our best-known actors has had to cope with too much rejection of late.

This summer, he plays Covey in The Plough and the Stars at the National Theatre in London. In the autumn, he’s IRA man O’Donnell in Jim Sheridan’s film, The Secret Scripture, based on the Booker Prize-nominated novel by Sebastian Barry. He’s also in Daphne, the Peter Mackie Burns drama out next year.

Yet, for the public, he’ll always be Nidge. “That will never go away,” he admits. He still gets regular calls of ‘Howya Nidge?’.

“It’s nice to be greeted in the morning by complete strangers. Genuinely, it is very nice. It’s a very warm energy. You realise how powerful a thing Love/Hate was.”

No wonder his head is spinning.


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