As an actor, you are always getting kicked in the face. You get used to the rejection.
Now, if I don’t get a job, I allow myself one day’s grace to moan about it. Then, I have to get on with things. Else, it will block the next thing from coming.
I was born in Dublin. I studied English and history at UCD, before going to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (RADA). I went to university first, because I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to act professionally. I had to be certain that it was what I wanted to do.
I think I was a pretty stupid child. I wasn’t bad at school, but I’d always say the wrong thing. I was a mixture of a complete show-off and a really quiet kid. I went to drama classes just to show off.
Somewhere along the way, there was a weird transition. I no longer needed to act for the external attention, for being noticed, but, dare I say it, it turned into a vocation. And I got hooked on the adrenaline. One of my earliest memories is a school play in Terenure College.
I literally got sick with nerves, before I went on. It was the thrill of the whole thing. The knowing that I could go on stage and communicate — or I could on stage and it could all go very wrong.
I’m not from an acting family. I’m the third of six kids. My dad had an electrical shop in Harold’s Cross. My parents thought acting was something I’d grow out of. But when I spent money for my 21st on going to auditions in the UK, rather than on a party, they knew I was serious.
But RADA is costly and, when offered a place, I’d never have been able to raise the necessary funds if it wasn’t for my mother. I’d have buried my head in the sand. She became my greatest ally and galvanised an entire sponsorship campaign into action.
The nerves don’t ever go. In fact, they get worse the older you get. If you start skipping ahead, thinking ‘I don’t know line four coming up’, you are finished.
To stop stage fright, you must stay in the moment and say ‘I will say the next line, although it might take a minute’ and allow yourself to receive it. It might sound very zen, but it’s more a touch-wood kind of thing.
This production of The Field is very interesting. I’m the fella who comes in and tries to buy the field. He’s lived in England for 12 years, so people treat him like he is English.
That’s what makes him fight so hard for the field — he has a ‘who do you think you are, I’ve as much right to be here as you do’ attitude. I’ve lived in London for 21 years, so I can relate to this, how emigrants get treated.
My kids are based in Dublin, but myself and my wife have a flat in London.
I just played Lord Loxley in ITV’s Mr Selfridge — it was a lovely production to work on. Sounds boring, but it’s true.
I’m pretty good at compartamentalising work and personal life, but, in fairness, family comes first. My wife, Aisling, is an actor. We met at the RSC. I was Richard the Third and she was Lady Anne. We worked together for a year and barely spoke. Now, our kids are eight, four and two.
My biggest challenge, so far, was my dad’s death. It does change one’s perspective. But I’ve always been checking in with myself about what’s going on in my life.
I nearly gave up acting altogether, in 1998. I’d had a couple of acting jobs, but they were miserable and I thought ‘if this is what it’s going to be like forever, I can’t do it’.
I went to South East Asia for three months and was so bored with lying on a beach, I remember thinking ‘I’d love to get rejected for a part.’
That’s when I realised I just loved acting. The big difference was that, up until then, I’d put huge pressure on myself to be a really brilliant actor.
Suddenly, I realised that I really didn’t care if I was only mediocre. It was what I wanted to do. I flew home as soon as I could and within a week was offered the role of Puck with the RSC.
So far, life has taught me that whatever seems important, in terms of work, isn’t. Very few things are, except treating people nicely and creating as much love as you can. Anything else is just part of a game.
No matter how wealthy you are, the exit sign is the same for us all.
Aidan McArdle is appearing in The 50th anniversary production of The Field, by John B Keane, until May 16, at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, tickets from €22.50
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