This Much I Know: John Olohan says he loves TV but 'nothing beats being on stage'

Actor John Olohan starred in Irish TV classics such as Father Ted and Glenroe
This Much I Know: John Olohan says he loves TV but 'nothing beats being on stage'

John Olohan at Coole Park, Galway. Photo: Boyd Challenger

I loved doing Glenroe and Father Ted and all the other screen work but nothing beats being on stage. It’s thrilling.

You are in control, there is nobody else there to make the decisions in the moment. The director has already made their contribution. In film and TV, there are so many other people involved and elements at play that you are just a cog in the wheel. And, of course, there’s no live reaction.

As a kid, acting was never on the cards as a career. But I grew up in a public house so there was always a certain amount of performance going on.

When I left school in Kells, County Meath, I wanted to go to art college but the grant didn’t cover it so I went to UCD to study chemistry, physics, botany, and maths. I only half-heartedly went to lectures as I joined a band and that took up all my time.

My grandfather expected me to go into something like Law and come back and set up in Kells.

I fell into professional acting by accident when the music group split up because we weren’t getting any bookings, due to the lack of suitable venues. I joined The Abbey School of Acting. It like a club, two nights a week — a whole different kettle of fish to today’s acting courses which are fee-paying and full-time.

The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced is basically every show I’ve ever been in.

I never think I’m going to get it right. Whatever the project — Beckett, or Shakespeare or this new Lady Gregory show we’re opening with Druid — it gives you a different problem. You have to find a solution and then present the efforts of your work. Of course, the fact that it’s such a challenge is what attracts me to it as well.

My advice to anyone interested in a career in the creative industries is to 'keep at it'. And do as many things as you can. Acting, in particular, is so crowded now.

Just before Lockdown, we finished the Galway run of The Cherry Orchard and we were about to take it to Bord Gáis Dublin and The Edinburgh Festival. It was actually lovely to have nothing to do for a while. I did get to play the monster under the bed in the new Three ad. As I was under lock and key, they came to me: a van rolled up, out came two arc lights and we shot my section on mobile phones with me in my front room and the director in The South of France.

I do a bit of drawing and watercolours, so I’ve been doing a bit more of that. I’d normally go to the gym but I’ve replaced that with cycling.

I can’t wait to start performing DruidGregory, celebrating the work of Lady Augusta Gregory. It’s all going to be outdoors and socially distanced, with the audience moving from one area to another.

The trait I most admire in others is a sense of humour.

If I could be someone else for a day I’d be any great architect.

The thing that irritates me most about others is intolerance.

My biggest fault is that I’m impatient. With myself mainly.

I don’t believe in fate — I believe you need to go out and get things. Although I met my wife Catherine [Byrne, the actress] in the business so I suppose that it was kind of fatal!

My idea of misery is doing something office-based. I worked in a few commercial art companies, altering designs. The work was monotonous and we weren’t allowed to speak to each other.

I don’t believe in any type of afterlife. I’m sorry, but this is it. This is heaven. I remember David Attenborough telling Gay Byrne as much on The Late Late and thinking 'well, he should know', having seen every form of life on earth.

So far life has taught me that there is absolutely no point in worrying about anything. Of course, I still worry. All the time. About everything.

  • John Olohan joins the cast of DruidGregory — a Galway 2020 commission, celebrating the work of Lady Augusta Gregory. It launched in Coole Park, the first of 14 venues on an extensive Galway rural tour, running until Oct 17.

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