Brillant Nyansago: You were born in England, but moved to Ireland at a young age and are now based in London - where do you call home and how do you connect with your homeland?
Rory Fleck Byrne: I consider myself a bit of a wanderer, to be honest. Although I’m Irish (my family home is there) and have a base in the UK, I’m very much still open to the idea of home. I do believe that one can make a home anywhere. I went to New Zealand last year and felt like I could have been born there. It must be all the nature. I connect to Ireland by getting back there as much as possible. Around the table with family, eating good food (my mum’s vegetable pie!), cheering the rugby with my dad, and getting up into those mountains.
BN: Tell me a little about your entry into acting and what drove you to pursue a career out of it?
RFB: My love of it I guess. It’s that simple. Doing what you love and loving what you do has always been a phrase that has stuck with me. I’m very curious by nature and have followed my instinct. It’s something that’s been in me since I was a child. Combined with supportive parents and determination, this has allowed me to make a career out of it. I feel very fortunate. Although the reality can at times be unpredictable and scary, it’s the love of storytelling and people that lights my fire and drives me.
BN: In recent years, the film and television industry has been celebrating stories based on historic British’s figures - giving UK's young talent an opportunity to earn their stripes on a global scale. How has this impacted your own work, what do you think is the reason behind the rise of English storytelling?
RFB: Behind great storytelling is great character – and because British history is steeped in rich complex character (and incredibly high dramatic stakes), it comes as no surprise that this is happening. Look at “The Crown” – it has people hooked. And for good reason. It hasn’t impacted my career too much yet, other than playing Prince William, but he’s not really historic, is he? Maybe some day I’ll get to play some legend. I’d enjoy that.
BN: Your previous roles vary from stage play to recurring characters on television series and on the big screen, how do you mould yourself and adapt your craft to shine on such numerous platforms?
RFB: Well part of the preparation that never changes depending on the medium is I read the piece a lot, a lot, a lot. Michael Fassbender did an interview where he recalls his methods of preparation and one of the things he mentions is reading fastidiously. Morning - noon - and evening. And I agree. The more you immerse yourself in the imagination of the piece and bring your own imagination into union with it, the more it gets under your skin and into your bloodstream. And from there it is choice making. And you are better informed to make those choices. In relation to moulding and adapting craft – in a way I think that can just happen naturally based on the needs of the story and space.
BN: In western culture, celebrity and stardom have been almost turned into a currency and a way of embodying and projecting “soft power,” especially in the case of Hollywood. Many actors and actresses are often labelled in ways that risk reducing their creative freedom. What's your take on this tendency to turn celebrities and actors into objects of various desires for glamour and prestige?
RFB: How long have you got? Haha. This is a constant debate/point of conflict in this profession and a difficult path to maneuver sometimes. I think fundamentally it comes down to perspective and the individual. Some people navigate so well, the likes of Julianne Moore come to mind, through celebrity, branding, endorsement, and creativity, and can retain that special thing that keeps them connected to their creative artistic power. I’m not sure I have a definitive answer for this as there are so many variables, but in short – you want be an artist? Then keep a part of you sacred and protected, have an inner circle of trusted advisors and people to call you up on nonsense, and keep bloody challenging ideas!
BN: Alongside starring in the short films “Inbox” and “Bodies” in which you wrote and produced for - what was the process like being involved behind the camera and how did you define your role opposite to the responsibilities you had behind the screen?
RFB: I loved it. And will continue to do it in the right capacity. Sometimes the lines can get blurred, so you do have to be careful. But I’m someone who likes to keep a few things cooking at once, so to speak; it fuels me. In relation to defining my role – that was down to good quality time spent working with the director, where I’d say: “Okay, I’m switching off the logistics part of my brain now – let’s explore what the character’s thinking, get creative.” It was fun. And it’s also great seeing a team of people coming together. I enjoy being part of that.
BN: As writer and a producer, how much control and freedom do you have in telling stories close to heart?
RFB: I wouldn't really call myself a producer, to be honest. That is a very specific job which I respect and wouldn't claim credit for. In relation to writing though – Yes! I have all the freedom to tell stories form the heart, and this is why I do it. It allows a certain sense of creative release that might be unavailable in other areas sometimes. All I’m interested in writing are things that move me personally, and therefore, I hope, other people. You then hope to build up a team alongside you who it also touches in order to make it a reality.
BN: Audiences and viewers hold a pivotal role in the entertainment industry – how much do you take into account audience expectations and assumptions when you write or produce a story?
RFB: Quite a lot. I believe it to be vital. Or else you are in danger of it being an ego-trip. One needs a sounding board. People to continuously bounce ideas off and get to challenge your perspective. I am always saying “where’s the audience’s place in this story? How do we let them in?” Someone said, I think it was Brian Cox in a Russell Brand podcast, that “when you find yourself in a debate with someone you should scream for joy because it’s evidence we live in a democracy – the moment everyone is agreeing with you is dangerous”. Hence why I think it’s so important when a director becomes big that they have the intelligence to keep people they trust around them to challenge the work. Because the audience definitely will, and you want to get people in debate. I would aim to create debate in people rather than have them all praising a piece of work. Who doesn’t like a bit of provocation?
BN: This Fall, you held your ground, playing Sean Morrison in Martin Campbell's blockbuster film “The Foreigner,” alongside Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan - how was the experience like and the training required to portray an ex-Royal Irish Ranger/UK Special Forces?
RFB: Amazing. Best time ever. When can I do it again?
BN: Perhaps what's unexpected about “The Foreigner” is the emotional heart-felt story based on Stephen Leather's thriller novel. What attracted you to the role?
RFB: The humanity in the piece attracted me to it. At the core, it´s a very human story: a man fighting for justice for his daughter’s death. Not to mention getting to work with Martin Campbell, an iconic Bond director. In relation to the role, I saw someone who was fundamentally good trying to find his place in the world and that had taken him to pretty extreme circumstances, circumstances I have not found myself in, but was curious to explore.
BN: What can you tell us about your upcoming role in “Night of the Lotus?”
RFB: “Night of The Lotus” is a beautiful homage to romance and loss. I play Cillian, a bookish purposeless guy who gets tied up romantically and emotionally with Natalie (Adelaide Clemmens), an American who is spending twenty-four hours in London waiting to go back to the US. It’s sort of “Before Sunrise”/ ”Before Sunset” in nature, and I hope the audiences will have a great experience with it.
BN: How do you know when a role is yours and the commitment that's required to give your all is worth it?
RFB: Big question. Not sure how to answer – I think you just know.
BN: Could you tell us some of the projects you are currently working and that we can look forward to seeing this year?
RFB: I am heading back to the stage to do a terrific piece of new writing called “The Phlebotomist” at The Hampstead Theatre. It’s the debut play by a great actress/writer called Ella Road, and it is being directed by Sam Yates. In short, I’d pitch it as a punchy Black Mirror-esque comment on society now and where we’re headed in the near future, with particular reference to the health system. Link that to our obsession with dating apps and there you go. It’s a dark, funny, challenging, and snappy piece of theatre. Following that, there is nothing confirmed, which I like very much: it’s open to all kinds of possibilities.
Words: Brillant Nyansago
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu
Photography: Jack Lee