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IFTA Q&A Series: Stephen Jones on Acting
17 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Stephen Jones
To mark the 21st anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry.

We find out about their approach to craft, working on the projects they’ve been nominated for, and the best piece of advice they’ve been given in their career.

Stephen Jones is the lead actor and writer of Northern Lights. The series has four IFTA nominations, including a Best Script - Drama nomination for Jones, as well as Best Drama, Best Director - Drama (Tom Hall), and Best Lead Actress - Drama (Elva Trill). Jones wrote and performed in the original stage play of the same name that the television series was adapted from.

IFTN: What do you look out for in a script?

STEPHEN: “I know it seems obvious, but a good story. I just want to enjoy it as a reader before I start thinking about playing a role. Characters that feel real, that remind me of myself or people I know, even if their background etc. is very different to my own. I make notes on scripts, plays, novels that I read. I want to be writing ‘WTF!?’ at the end of a scene or a moment. I want to laugh and be moved and be shocked and surprised.”

IFTN: How do you prepare for auditions, and what advice would you give to younger actors?

STEPHEN: “I have a relaxed approach to them. I don’t put myself under too much pressure. I’ll try to use a hint of costume without doing too much, just enough to be in the world of that particular guy/story. I don’t like to learn the lines in its script format. I tend to type them out in Microsoft Word, almost like I’ve written them. I don’t know exactly why, it makes them less intimidating maybe. My advice is to be as free as possible. For me, there’s been no magic formula. Even if you don’t get the job, you have the chance to show yourself off and put yourself in the mind of the casting director/producers. This might seem shallow but no matter your age, weight, look etc., look your best. As someone who goes out with a dentist… Take care of your teeth!”

IFTN: How did you approach playing your character in this TV show, and how much rehearsal was involved?

STEPHEN: “Considering I wrote the part and played it on stage in its theatre version, I knew the character as well as I could. This meant I had a great foundation to go and play in a more subtle way for the screen. We didn’t get much rehearsal time. We kind of dove straight in and made it happen. I just tried to allow every scene to be fresh and as it's an emotional piece. I tried not to force anything. He is a guy who is going through the most unimaginable grief and there’s no right or wrong way for him to act at any one time.”

IFTN: What Irish Actor/s have you been most impressed by recently?

STEPHEN: “We all know the big names who have been smashing it for years and representing Irish actors brilliantly. Having worked so closely with Elva Trill and Jay Duffy on Northern Lights it wouldn’t surprise me if they are joining the list of household names such as Cillian Murphy and Saoirse Ronan in the coming years.”

IFTN: What Director or Actor would you most like to work with and why (Irish or international)?

STEPHEN: “I would love to work with Lenny Abrahamson. His work is always very character-based and has real depth. I have huge admiration for the actor Stephen Graham so would love to work with him. My partner is French so I’ll say Adčle Exarchopoulos would be a female actor I’d like to work with. Both actors I’ve named make you feel like you are watching real people and that’s what it’s all about for me, making me suspend my disbelief.”

IFTN: We are often our own worst critics. How do you combat this as an actor?

STEPHEN: “I let the negative voice in to have its say, but I only give it a limited time. I try to keep working hard and to keep having fun. It’s okay to accept praise and have confidence in your ability. It’s your job. If you hired a carpenter and asked them if they were good, and they answered ‘no’ you probably wouldn’t want them renovating your living room. Also, I try to remember that getting to do this for a living is an unbelievable privilege.”

IFTN: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

STEPHEN: “There will always be someone in the audience or watching at home that absolutely needs the show you’re doing at that particular moment in their life. So what I do for a living is really important.”

Bloomsday Film Fest: Director Martin Turk and Line Producer Jeremiah Cullinane discuss Kino Volta
Actors Hannah and Emily Dargan discuss The Watched
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