Q : Tell us a little bit about yourself. Your background, education, acting passion.
I come from a small border town called Strabane which borders the beautiful County Donegal, in the North of Ireland. Performing and being on stage was always a personal passion which really started from being a magician. Performing magic for family and friends and onwards to being a professional comedy stage hypnotist. I was able to combine both the magic and mind-reading side into the act. I recall a friend of mine many years ago as we lined up to buy the newly introduced National Lottery in Ireland saying “you’re a hypnotist mind reader, surely you should know the lottery numbers”. Laughs Shaun. So throwing off the stigma of someone possessing, in their minds, a ‘special power’ was a daily occurrence, in a fun way. At school the PE teacher thought it would be more educational and more fun, to have me hypnotise class members and have a hypnosis show for the period. Pupils running around the assembly hall clucking like chickens and crying because they thought they had lost their belly buttons, would have been more in line with the drama department. It was actually the same teacher who got me my first professional paid gig as a Hypnotist, in the local golf club entertainments night. My first at aged 16. I remember getting paid three times the average weekly wage, for a two hour performance. So after that, education was now not on my agenda, I thought this is a better easier way to make money. Was it the correct decision? Maybe at the time but not when you consider down the line, and the future having no fall back.
I grew up in an era whereby, expressing yourself was frowned upon. Whilst attending an all-boys secondary school, being taught poetry may have been fun for most of the class, but it wasn’t for me! The teacher loved my poetry unfortunately, and she enjoyed reading them out to the class to my detriment. She actually was able to get a number of them published, something the class never found out about, which thankfully kept my reputation as a ‘hard-nosed hypnotist stroke boxer’! Laughs Shaun Paul. They jokingly named me ‘Poemy’ McGrath. Laughs Shaun Paul.
So for me at aged 15/16 I wanted to act, but drama back then wasn’t seen as something cool, certainly not as its viewed today. I really wanted to attend the after school drama club, which took place in the old dark dim assembly hall. The perfect place, I thought, as I would not be seen in full light from a passing peer. So I needed an excuse to stay late as none of my peers would accept my reason for staying after 3.15, was for extra study classes. Back then it was cool to have no school bag. Laughs Shaun. So I pretended it was detention. Anyhow, I was very nervous about doing this, as believe it or not, I was a very shy teenager, until I got on stage, something I could never really understand to this day… So I get to the double doors of the old assembly hall, it had two porthole style windows and peeped a look in…There was about 10 people there, not the ‘cool’ kids, prancing about like ballet dancers. So I mustered up the courage, pushed the door about an inch open, it creaked I freaked they all looked, and I shyly apologised as I backed away pretending I had ended up in the wrong hall.
I feel that was one of the worse decisions I made, as it took me another 15 years before I went and studied and trained as an actor at University. In those 15 years I had filled the void, being on stage as a hypnotist and entertainer performing around the UK and Ireland, attending radio interviews around the country. If anything, it give me a good grounding in life, in terms of experience and knowing about myself, which has helped me tremendously today as an actor. The world of acting requires you to dip into your reservoir of life’s experience, to help bring to life the role that you play. I remember asking my professor at university Gerry McCarthy, a wonderful charismatic old school, Eaton graduate professor, what’s the best book to read concerning acting skills?.. He said, “Go to the cafeteria and people watch… try and work out who they are, their relationships … analyse their body language “. As a school teacher myself, teaching drama, I use the same quote.
From leaving school at an early age and returning to education later in life and becoming a secondary school drama teacher, it has made me appreciate the decisions I have made in life’s journey of discovery, both in body and mind. My passion for acting has never wilted nor has my passion for passing on the skills to those who wish to learn about acting. More importantly, it’s the joy I get from seeing the person they become in the process of understanding themselves through the process of acting, no matter what age. That for me encompasses all the angles for my passion for acting.
Q : Your most successful project?
For me success is not about awards, although it’s part of the process of what ‘success’ means. Success can come from any budget production, but for me as long as the audience are touched emotionally, spiritually, even if they hate your character, you have affected them in some way and you have done your job properly. If reverence comes from this process in the form of awards, so be it … but it’s not the be all and end all for me. I’ll leave that to the materialistic film world of measuring success.
Q : Any upcoming projects?
I have a number of projects taking place, The Widow’s Moon, a feature which was shot entirely in the South of Germany is currently in post-production in USA. It’s a film about Ben Benner and his wife, played by the talented Hanni Bergesch, The couple are based in a remote farmhouse neighbouring a village in the Bavarian hills. Ben an upcoming Irish international artist, integrates into the village. He is accepted and well respected alongside his German wife. After a while things don’t seem real, when both their good friend and Psychiatrist, Dr Gunther, played by J. David Hinze, reinforces for the audience, that thin line between art and nature, reality and illusion. From here as a viewer you begin to solve a puzzle or begin the journey of solving who is controlling who, or if anyone is being controlled, for that matter. I think the audience will stay hooked as the arch of the story evolves and completes. Finally their questions are answered at the end, possibly they will gather more questions due to the themes and issues, which is a positive thing. Such to the testament of the writing and directing by, Werner Schumann. The camera work cinematography by Elias Trad is mostly handheld, it captures and evokes a voyeuristic suspense feel for the audience, a style that has totally complimented the genre and style of the film.
We are also in pre- production for Carthago, which is a new 3X10 TV series. Shooting in Columbia. It’s a story about a British concentration camp set in the African jungle, time period is set in the 1940s, and my character Archie McDonald is the camp commander, second in charge to Lord Davidson. MacDonald an Irish character is renowned by the prisoners for his torture techniques. The storyline has many moments of humour and will have the audience laughing at the most inappropriate time, if there’s such a thing. They will also root for the detainees escape plans, squirming whilst they are captured. Different character connections and relationships are made amongst the international prisoners, producing entertaining sub-arch storylines. The well written scripts harbour a retro cursive style and humour, which will entertain and make the audience smile throughout. It’s written by an Emmy Award winning Israeli team, Reshef Levi and Tomer Shani. This type of genre is very popular, so it should hopefully have a positive following.
Q : What has been one of the most exciting achievements of your acting career so far ?
I think getting back into acting after many years away from it. I decided to devote time to my Theatre school business, which took my undivided attention for several years. I was working with kids aged from 5 to 18. We had heavy choreography, movement and acting productions, It was a great creative time and it was a difficult decision to pass on the business, but if I hadn’t I would be in the position I am today. Life is like stepping stones, some you skip over and some you stand on for a number of years. It’s all positive, but I believe all decisions in life are meant to be, and we are guided to our correct destiny in work and life as we follow these decisions.
Q : What’s your goal in life you want to achieve next?
My next goal is to build upon the interest that I have acquired since returning to the industry. I have a new agent, The Bohemia Group, which are based in Los Angeles, and I have a wonderful manager Alex Surer, who is my guardian angel for all decisions. To be honest the industry is fraught with confines, which is ruining the creative industry. I would like to work with directors who are not frightened to take chances in the telling of their story, regardless of the budget or constraints of the people at the top telling them, you must cast ABC and do this and cut that! Too many great scripts are not made or cut or pre cast, because of too much control from those holding the purse strings. Some of our recent industry films have broken free from these constraints and restrictions, and with the help of well-known actors they have helped produce these creative projects, with the actor’s fee being invested back into the film budget. Being part of these projects is what the creative industry needs, and those which I feel happy and enthused to part of and contribute to.
Q : What motivates you to do your best work as an actor?
I like an actor’s director, the director who is more concerned with capturing the truth in the scene, the one who lets the camera roll and when he shouts ‘cut’ he keeps it rolling, all in the off chance of capturing more ‘magic’. Many top directors work many times with the same actors, because they have reached that synergetic stage of creativity, they basically produce the result easily, that they both desire. I like the director who pushes you mentally and physically to get the best moment of magic in your ‘purgatory’ or ‘heaven’ like world, yet still harbours that sensitivity to help you achieve the appropriate action and communication needed for that scene. This is a common debate amongst actors, most directors have different styles, they all like to work in their own way that suits them, and all styles of directing are valid, I like all types of cheese but my favourite is chosen first! Laughs Shaun Paul.
Q : Did you choose this industry, as a career, or as a hobby?
If you love what you are doing and getting paid then it’s a career. Most people start off acting as a hobby because the money is less important than the credit. We have many low budget film makers’ and productions out there, needing creative people to accept a lower fee or expenses only, to help benefit the film. Certainly for the actor at this point, it’s a hobby, but a good hobby. A hungry tired over worked cast and crew will not produce the desired result, but a creative well feed, well slept, happy cast and crew can produce magic. Even more so if the dynamic of the group is so, that they all believe they are truly witnessing the making of something special. Such will be the positive group dynamics that will have everyone, carry on to the end of the late night shooting schedule. Only when your focus puller falls asleep, do you know you’ve truly pushed the team! Laughs Shaun Paul.
Q : Your favourite actor ?
It has to be Daniel Day Lewis, I came across him whilst I was watching an Irish film. There was a scene on a ship whereby his mate sneaked up behind him and startled him, Lewis turned round and in a Northern Ireland accent mumbled in a perfect dulcet tone, with the correct combination of expletives’, well who is this Irish actor I thought?. He’s definitely from the North I thought. It was the most perfect Irish accent articulation I’ve heard to date. Little did I know at the time, I was witnessing a master technician smudging and exposing the ‘truth’, hence my obsession begun with the on screen technique of a truthful naturalistic acting style. Which by far, when you view his performance is only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of preparation for the truth. So finding the truth for me is an obsession which I enjoy, like a cat who plays with the mouse, I have fun and don’t lock myself away like Daniel, but that works for him and is evident in his final performance.
When I made Endgame, I played Martin, a kindly school teacher, who was in fact a double agent. There was a scene whereby I was being chased. I had to find a hiding place within an old abandoned house. Of course the scene started with me running into the house being chased. So I decided the only way to truly get my heart racing in these upcoming close-ups, was to run on the spot in the garden before the take, which I did but then I see a length of old Aerial flex, I twisted it around each hand to make the suitable length, as an ex-boxer, I was well versed on skipping, I continued skipping until Darren the first AD called me on set. To this day I’m proud of those scenes as I was truly shattered! The sweat on my forehead and breathing was real. In the torture knee drilling scene, I used screws nails hidden in my shoes and I’d push down hard on my foot when my knee was being drilled. This help give me the desired reaction and helped my performance in the scene, in my opinion. I also recall falling out with one actor who refused to really slap me in the scene, when I specifically asked him to do it. Once again a slap to an experienced s boxer is nothing, but truth in that moment was achievable, if all concerned are willing and all feel safe to help acquire it. I’m limited only by how much truth the other actor and director will be comfortable with. Daniel Day Lewis is a wonderful exponent of that style.
Q : Everybody needs time out. What do you do in your free time?
I like to play guitar and sing. From Irish folk style to modern ballads and pop. I have my own studio whereby I shut away the world for a few hours and sing my heart out. It’s just like acting for me. The lyrics tell a story and as a singer you need emotion to communicate it. It’s such a cathartic release, and it can actually help change your mood for the better. I also like a game of squash or Tennis. If I have more time I like a game of golf. At the end of the night what better way to relax than catching a well written and acted Netflix show. The likes of the now iconic Breaking Bad, or Prison break, both top quality well-written and acted shows.
Q : How can people find you and follow you online?