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JDIFF: Interview with Robert Sheehan
24 Mar 2015 : Seán Brosnan
‘Love/Hate’ star Sheehan on his new film ‘The Road Within’, screening at JDIFF
With his film ‘The Road Within’ screening at JDIFF, IFTN caught up with actor Robert Sheehan to talk about his role in the small independent US film, written and directed by Gren Wells.

Sheehan is probably best known to Irish audiences for his roles in Irish gangster drama series ‘Love/Hate’ and British show ‘Misfits’ which both garnered him IFTA nods (as well as a BAFTA win for ‘Misfits’) but the Laois actor has also been quietly making his mark internationally too with films such as ‘Season of the Witch’ (opposite Nic Cage) and ‘Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ (opposite Lily Collins) – and he will also star in the upcoming blockbuster ‘Geostorm’ (opposite Gerard Butler).

The small independent US film ‘The Road Within’ has also garnered Sheehan notice however with Variety stating “Irish actor Sheehan (sounding thoroughly and convincingly American) makes a fine impression in a role that demands all manner of verbal, vocal and bodily contortions” and The Hollywood Reporter noting that “Sheehan does an amazing job not just with the American accent but with capturing the physical manifestations of the ailment”.

In the film, Sheehan plays Vincent, a young man with severe Tourette’s syndrome who after his mother’s death is carted off to an experimental treatment facility by his father (Robert Patrick) – who as a local politician is eager to keep up appearances. While there, he meets two fellow patients (Dev Patel and Zoe Kravitz) – one with extreme OCD and the other with anorexia – and they escape the facility together aiming to reach the ocean where Vincent wishes to scatter his mother’s ashes.’

IFTN: I can’t even imagine where the research began for a character as outwardly affected as Vincent – it kind of goes beyond any method getting to the point where his aggressive tics – both vocal and through body convulsions - become as natural as sneezing…

Robert Sheehan: ‘It was a combination of hanging around with a guy in LA who has kind of gotten a handle on his Tourette’s – a guy the same age as me who suffered a lot with Tourette’s in his adolescence and he had obviously been through a lot. It was incredibly instructive and insightful and I learned loads from him. And I also hung around with a girl in London whose tics were really creative, confrontational and vocal so between the two I felt I had a wide range of what it was about. I also watched everything about Tourette’s Syndrome but hanging around with those guys was just invaluable.’

The absolute randomness of Vincent’s tics would suggest a degree of improvisation here – were you given a licence for that or did you feel compelled with something like this to stick rigidly to the script?

‘When it came to a lot of the vocal tics – Gren Wells (writer/director) came up with those as they were relevant to the context of where the character was but I did have a lot of creative license here which felt great – particularly with the more physical tics – but also with some of the vocal ones I suppose. The thing about Tourette’s syndrome is that all of their expressions are completely unique to them. We went through this whole thing of going through what Vincent tic’s would be and then naming them which was weird [laughs] but it was a very organic process.’

Was it hard to get into the head of a character like Vincent though? Not only did you have to think about keeping a flawless American accent but the physicality of Vincent must have meant it was hard for you not to keep thinking about the next move or sentence?

‘Well, thanks about the accent! That became the easy part after a while. It’s a funny thing because during the filming of ‘The Road Within’ - and I mean we wouldn’t even be filming – I could be sat on the toilet playing solitaire on my phone [laughs] and I am just there like “ticcing” [laughs] – so it all became very organic for me. That energy is very natural so you have to explore and indulge in it and let unexpected things happen. So, that was the whole rehearsal process and I think I got to the point where I wasn’t consciously thinking of the tics anymore.’

You had great chemistry here with your road trip buddies and co-stars Dev Patel (‘Slumdog Millionaire’) and Zoe Kravitz (‘Divergent’) – its’ like director Gren Wells was pulling actors out of some school for internationally renowned up and coming actors here or something…

‘Hopefully! [knocks on wood]. It was a lovely buzz. My natural energy and certainly the energy that I had to acclimatise myself to with this film was very high intensity and Dev is also someone who is very high intensity energy wise and poor Zoe was stuck in the middle of us! She was extremely dedicated to this film – she had to lose loads of weight for the role here – I think she got down to like 90 pounds or something mad so her energy was just zapped! Her job was definitely the hardest – she was on a very controlled but very limited diet. So, between the springer spaniels that are me and Dev and Zoe dampening things – I think it worked beautifully.’

And of course you had some fantastic and tumultuous scenes here with Robert Patrick (‘The Terminator 2: Judgment Day’) who plays your Dad in the film…

‘He is an incredibly intense and charismatic person. There’s an incredible stillness or something to him so I was part terrified meeting him which kind of worked out well for the film [laughs] because of the relationship between Vincent and his father.’

With big-budget films like ‘Mortal Instruments’, ‘Season of the Witch’ and the upcoming ‘Geostorm’ melded in with small, independent fare such as this film – you seem to going down the Cillian Murphy/Michael Fassbender route of mixing in blockbusters with the more personal projects – is that a conscious choice or are you just taking the work as it comes?

‘I think you have to judge each film on its’ merits and go from there. For me, it never comes down to the pay cheque. Thankfully, I have enough money in the bank to pay my rent for a while and put food in the fridge and for the time being I have no kids [laughs], no mortgage. I don’t need to make x or y amount of money at the moment. For me, its’ about doing things that I like whether they come in the form of a studio pic or an independent pic. I mean, for ‘Geostorm’, I was grateful and honoured by the fact that the writer/director (Dean Devlin) wrote a part for me because he was a fan of my work. And the script was fantastic – I mean this guy wrote ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Stargate’ - so how do you say no to something like that?!’

And you haven’t been on Irish screens since ‘Love/Hate’s’ Darren met a brutal end in 2012 – any plans for any Irish projects or are you going to follow the ‘Love/Hate’ remake to Hawaii?

‘I know, that’s mad! I only found out about that this week – I had no idea but Hawaii would be nice! Well, I am going to do a project written by a guy called Conor MacNeill, who is an actor and also one of my best mates. He’s from Belfast and its’ a script called ‘The Laughter of our Children’. Bobby Sands once said “our revenge will be the laughter of our children” which is a beautiful and wonderfully peaceful thing to say. And the script is fantastic. So, that film is hopefully going to happen this year.’

Sheehan is scheduled to take part in an event on Tuesday 24th March, 3pm in the Teachers Cub. The event ‘Expressing Emotion: Actors in Conversation’ will also feature Aidan Turner (‘The Hobbit’) and Sarah Greene (‘Vikings’) as all three discuss their careers, training and getting started in the industry.

Irish horror film ‘The Canal’ will also screen this weekend at Light House Cinema 1 at 8.30pm. Directed by Ivan Kavanagh, the acclaimed film stars Rupert Evans and Antonia Campbell Hughes. For more information on the screenings and events at JDIFF, go to www.jdiff.com.

Over €4.6m allocated by Creative Europe to Irish screen industry in 2021
Director Gary Lennon discusses Irish documentary Castro's Spies; currently on limited release in IFI
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