Having tried his hand at teaching and a variety of other odd jobs, Don Wycherley may have come to acting later than some, but he's made up for any lost time.
Over the past ten years, Wycherley has become a stage regular in his native Ireland, particularly at Dublin's renowned Abbey Theatre, and its sister Peacock Theatre, where his many credits have included A Whistle in the Dark, Translations, The House, Away Alone, The Honey Spike, The Last Apache Reunion, The Winter Thief, A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant, On the Outside, Famine, Tarry Flynn, Silverlands and The Muesli Belt.
He has previously appeared on stage in London in the Dublin transfer of Portia Coughlan at the Royal Court, and he's now making his West End debut in another Abbey transfer - Eugene O'Brien's two-hander Eden, directed by Conor McPherson, which is now playing at the Arts Theatre.
Wycherley's screen credits include The Last of the High Kings, Michael Collins, I went Down, Widow's Peak, The General, One Man's Hero, When Brendan Met Trudy, Father Ted, Bally Kissangel, Fillean an Feall (which he also wrote) and the popular sitcom Bachelor's Walk, now in its second series on Irish television.
Date & place of birth
Born 15 September 1967 in Cork City, Ireland.
Lives now in...
I live in Dublin. For the London run of Eden, I've just moved into a gaff in South Kensington after a round of hotels. It's got two bedrooms for when the family visit.
There aren't many acting schools in Ireland like here, but I did do a short course at the Gaiety School of Acting.
First big break
I got a part in a play called Away Alone at the Peacock, the smaller space at Dublin's Abbey Theatre and from that was offered a year's contract under artistic director Garry Hynes at the Abbey. During that year, I played myriad parts, from the obligatory spear-carrying ones to some really great roles.
Career highlights to date
Some stuff you just enjoy more than others. On telly, Bachelor's Walk - the second series of it is just going out in Ireland - is something I'm very proud of. I had to choose between that and another project and I think it's turned out well. On stage, I love doing Tom Murphy's work. I'd never miss an opportunity to be in one of his plays; I think I've already done four or five. Also, at the Abbey, Bernard Farrell's The Last Apache Reunion and Brian McMahon's Honey Spike. For The Last Apache Reunion, I was so bold. They wouldn't see me at first because I was only 24 and the part was a 35-year-old. I did a bit of an Al Pacino, put on the weight and all. I had no fear. And Honey Spike was my first-ever lead role. I'm also very proud of Eden. It started two years ago and has been an amazing journey to where we are now.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
The first time you do something is always a favourite. Like with my first movie, which was Widow's Peak. 'Rural lout' was my title. It wasn't big but I had a great time doing it. But then, all productions have their own merits and excitements.
I've enjoyed working with Conor McPherson. I thought a writer directing would be a strange one, but he's been really good. I've worked with some great directors and also some dreadful ones. I think they know by how we got on at the time which ones I think they are.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I've done lots of things. I was a schoolteacher for a few years and I'm still qualified, as my mother constantly reminds me. I've also been a pizza chef, a bouncer...whatever. If I weren't an actor, I'd find something else to do. But acting is a great way to make a living if you can.
What's the last thing you saw onstage that you really enjoyed?
The thing I saw most recently was Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore here in London. I went in thinking it was not going to be my cup of tea, and I actually had a good laugh, though I can't imagine it going on in Dublin or Belfast and what the reaction there might be.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of theatre?
I don't know about here. Certainly we could do with more funding in Ireland and more support for the unions. It's really hard to get stuff on, especially for new companies. Art needs funding to survive. And it's no good saying, well, some of it's bullshit, just don't fund the bullshit. It's true there is a lot of dross out there, but you have to see that too before you can find the play that will leave you awestruck.
How do you feel about performing in the West End?
Is this the West End? I'm never sure. The West End itself is so strange, this concentration you have of theatres and shows and people in queues for ticket booths. It's all new to me, there's nothing like it in Ireland. I feel fine about being here. Besides, I don't think Eden is your typical West End show. Our show appeals most to people who go to theatre a lot, not really to tourists.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
My father. He died when I was a year and a half old. My eldest brother remembers him but I don't. I think I would come away with something being him for a day.
I really enjoyed Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I'm looking forward to reading his new one and William Trevor's new one, too.
Favourite holiday destination
Anywhere with a bit of sun and a beach.
What attracted you to the part of Billy in Eden?
I knew Eugene O'brien (the author). He was an actor and we shared a dressing room once or twice. He asked me to look at this script he'd written, which is something you dread as an actor - I thought I'd have to make up some superlatives. But I was truly stunned when I read it. I couldn't believe this guy I'd known for ages could write something like that. Eden captures so much in terms of small town life and the sadness of this couple (Billy and Breda) who cannot communicate. It moved me. There are so many layers, too, so much to play for.
How do British audiences react compared to Irish audiences?
There is a percentage of stuff, like the telly references, that's truly colloquial. In London, we always know when there's an Irish punter in the house because we'll get loud laughs in places we don't normally. And I'm conscious of the fact that the accent may be difficult and some of the speech - which is like cockney rhyming slang but, in Ireland, is quite unique to this one part of the country. We have slightly slowed down the opening to make sure people have a second to grasp what's going on and really hear the language.
What would you say to a Brit about to see Eden to prepare them for the language in the play?
We requested that the theatre put a sign front of house about the offensiveness of some of the language. We did that in Ireland and here. Once I looked out and saw an old man with his 15-year-old granddaughter and felt awful. People should be aware.
Are there any phrases you think need translating in advance?
Some of the rhyming slang. Like "Vera Lynn and Supersonic" (gin and tonic) or "the Peggy Dell of sweat and the Moby Dick (the smell of sweat and sick) on the bus would be enough to poison a rat." Maybe it'd be easier for people if I said it in a London accent, but it's not difficult really.
What's your favourite line from Eden?
One of my favourites is: "I'm so on track I'm thinking I could afford to sit down with her for a minute. It'd be odd if I didn't, like, so I do." There are so many I enjoy delivering. The ones that guarantee you the laugh when you deliver it right are great, but then, if you make Billy too comic, you can't take the audience all the way with the character.
What's the funniest/most notable thing that's happened in the run to date of Eden?
It just amazes me sometimes what people do when they're watching a play. Yawning, coughing, talking, standing up in the middle, mobile phones going off. I heard a great one about Al Pacino on stage in New York. A lady's phone was going off and she wasn't answering so he does it for her. It's hard when you're on stage and noticing all that out there, but somehow you've got to stay in your own world and keep going.
What are your plans for the future?
There's talk of another series of Bachelor's Walk on Irish television and another show at the Abbey. I haven't worked over this side of the water for a long time, so I want to have a lash while I'm here, get out and meet people, see what's about. "Is available for work," put that. Dublin's only an hour and a half away, remember, so even once I go back, I'm still available.
- Don Wycherley was speaking to Terri Paddock
Eden continues at the Arts Theatre until 14 December 2002.