25 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Looking for Richard
29 Jan 2015 : Paul Byrne
Richard Dormer stars in 'Fortitude' airing from January 29th around the world on Sky Atlantic
An overnight sensation that took just 25 years, Richard Dormer talks to Paul Byrne about taking the long road, getting dark with Fortitude, and still feeling those good vibrations with Terri Hooley.

It’s got to be a little like going from black and white to colour.

Having entered RADA whilst barely out of short trousers, Portadown-born actor Richard Dormer spent 20 years building up his reputation as one of the finest theatre actors around. And then he decided to give screen acting a try.

Five years later, and Dormer has got such much-loved hits as ‘Game Of Thrones’, ‘Vikings’ and ‘Good Vibrations’ under his belt, the latter proving to be his glorious big-screen breakthrough. Charting the misadventures of the music-adoring Terri Hooley - Belfast’s answer to Sam Phillips – ‘Good Vibrations’ is one teenage kick that’s hard to beat.

Today, Dormer’s feet rarely touch the ground. And when they do, it’s usually only for a few weeks or months, and then he is off to the next set. As his latest offerings, the TV thriller ‘Fortitude’, hits screens all around the world, Dormer took time out to talk with IFTN’s Paul Byrne about the joys and bolts of his unexpected late blossoming into fame and fortune. Oh, and Fortitude, of course.

PAUL BYRNE: How was the ‘Fortitude’ premiere in Dublin recently, alongside fellow cast members Christopher Eccleston and Stanley Tucci...?

RICHARD DORMER: ‘I was actually late. My plane got diverted to Manchester, due to the high winds, so, I missed quite a lot of it. But I was there for the after-party...’

Good man; always aim for the afters, when the fun starts.

‘Yeah, and the free wine.’

First and foremost, what grabbed you about ‘Fortitude’? Christopher Eccleston said he was tickled by the big reveal in episode one...

‘Eh, firstly the script. The writing, the location, and the cast. But, firstly it was the script. I just thought this was one of the most original things I’d ever read, and I got hooked. I just thought, this is something that I would want to watch, so...’

TV has hit something of a golden age, HBO’s children creating shows that can often beat the big-screen for depth, craft and scale.

‘Well, I think the beauty of TV is, if you get a good gig there, it can be a long period of work, and you get to do something that you don’t get with movies - you get to live with the character, to explore the character, over months and months. Which is something every actor wants to do. So, it’s a real exercise in acting. Also, because the budgets have gone up on the TV front, they’re every bit as well-crafted as film. That’s very attractive to actors.’

What sort of commitment have you made to ‘Fortitude’?

‘It looks very promising that there’s going to be another season. The writer, Simon McDonald, has planned up to the end of season three. So, they have big ideas, and big storylines, and it would be a shame to be introduced to this world, start to really get to know these people, and then it’s gone again. So, I would love to jump back in again.’

It’s a pretty kick-ass script - Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Stanley Tucci, that lovely lady from ‘The Killing’ - but the ad campaign puts you front and centre. Are you the leading man, or is it an ensemble piece?

‘It’s very much an ensemble piece. My character, Dan, is just the one who leads you through the stories, and given that my character being the sheriff is the connection between all these characters, that kind of puts him in the centre. When Dan can’t solve the case though, along comes Stanley Tucci’s character. So, it really is an ensemble piece. There are a lot of storylines going on through this.’

Whatever about TV’s golden age, it seems to be young Richard Dormer’s time too, from ‘Good Vibrations’ on. Or is it all just work?

‘I think the last five years have been a big change for me. I’ve been working in the business for the past 25 years, and it’s really only in the last five that it’s really taken off for me. I was doing well, doing respectable theatre, and working with great people, but when I hit 40, I got a new agent, Dallas Smith, and he really just changed my outlook on the world. And it all just started to happen – ‘Vikings’, ‘Good Vibes’, ‘Game Of Thrones’, ‘Fortitude’. It’s just been great. But it’s an overnight success that’s taken 25 years.’

Any shock to the system, or just a natural leap?

‘This is a whole new ball game, because the launch they’re doing with this is huge, and that’s a first for me. They’re going to launch it all across Europe and America on the same day - not sure how that works out - and it’s going out to millions of people. Twelve countries are going to be watching this, which I just can’t picture. It’s quite scary, just thinking about that, and the exposure, but it’s all part of the game. I’m an actor, and I need to work, so, after that, you just hope that people like it.’

Would you feel an instinctive loyalty to making films here in sunny Ireland, or is it all about following the good work, where’er it should take you?

‘I’ll go wherever the work is. If it’s a good script, a good director and a good cast, I’m there. I’m proud to be a Northern Irishman, but I’m a gun for hire.’

A gun for hire from Northern Ireland is a dangerous thing to put on your business card...

[Laughs] ‘Doesn’t sound too good at all, no. I couldn’t have said that 20 years ago, but, there you go.’

You seem quite busy, with three films coming out way this year alone - Gerard Johnson’s ‘Hyena’, James Erskine’s ‘Shooting For Socrates’, Jerzy Skolimowski’s ‘11 Minutes’ all heading our way. Money’s tight - which one would you recommend?

‘I’d go for, em, I haven’t seen ‘Hyena’, but I hear it’s very good, with a really good central performance from Peter Ferdinando. Also, I think ‘11 Minutes’, I haven’t seen it either, but I think it could be a really, quirky gem, one that just gets in there behind the net. It’s just very strange, dark comedy. All Polish, apart from me...’

How did that happen?

‘Just another case of a great script.’

Do you find it easy to watch your own work, or do you believe in the Robert De Niro and Woody Allen approach of never looking back?

‘Well, because I’ve only really been doing film and television for the last five years, I’m at stage where I need to watch it - just to see what I’m doing right, and what I’m doing wrong. We’re always learning - even John Hurt says he’s still learning, after about 1,000 films - but it’s a different ball-game, film and television compared to theatre. So, I need to watch it. I don’t actually find it that difficult to watch the stuff I’ve done, actually. I know the story, at the very least, will be interesting. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have signed up.’

One of the big difference between your 20 years in theatre and your five years making movies and TV is the travel. How is the nomadic life treating you? A great big adventure, or have you had your fill of faceless hotel rooms and airport sandwiches?

‘God, I travelled so many air-miles in the last 14 months, it’s incredible. I’m not going to complain though - it’s great being flown around, and put up in beautiful hotels - but you start to appreciate family and friends, because you can phone them up, let them know where you are in the world. Because you do feel like a drifter. But, I’ve got to say, we went over to Pasadena, in LA, to promote ‘Fortitude’, and the American distributor put us up in the Lynam Hotel - and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. It was just extraordinary. And then the ‘Vikings’ cast were there as well, and we had a party with them. It was just brilliant. I can’t believe they pay me to do this!’

‘The downside though is travelling all the time. It all becomes a blur, and so you just try and throw yourself into a book, take yourself out of the endless limbo.’

As with 98% of UK’s acting fraternity, you made your screen debut in ‘Casualty’ in 1991, playing Rick Tomlinson. Would you have had a strong ambition back then, or were you just happy to be working?

‘Just happy to be working. I never had any kind of goal, and I never got into acting to be famous. But that’s just... To do that is just unhealthy. The reason I got into it was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, basically. Early on, I wanted to be a writer, and an artist, and I fell into acting in secondary school. It was an accident. And it’s kind of been haphazard for those first 20 years. It was only in the last five years that I’ve stood up and decided, yeah, I want to do film, I want to do TV. And luckily, it paid off.’

You were born in Portadown, but I don’t know if you grew up there. Was there a particular inspiration to become an artist, a writer...?

‘I was born in Portadown but I lived in Armagh for three years, and then moved to Lisburn, where I grew up. I didn’t know what I wanted. I dabbled with lots of things, and it was my English teacher, Philip Moore, who encouraged me to audition for this school play, The Plough And The Stars, and I got the lead part. Within a year, I was in RADA, you know, so it all happened very quickly. Maybe too quickly.’

You seem to be pretty healthy and happy in your career now. So, do you have a goal now? Do you have hopes to direct, to produce?

‘Good Vibrations was a gift. I don’t think I could have done ‘Fortitude’ without ‘Good Vibrations’.

Do you get to bump into Terri Hooley much on your travels, the man with the never-ending supply of good vibrations?

‘I haven’t seen him for a few months, because I’ve been ‘Fortitude’, and doing the press for it, but I do text him every couple of months, have a chat every now and then. He’s not well at the moment - he’s in hospital. So, yeah, beautiful man, and I’m always happy to hear his voice.’

‘Fortitude’ hits Sky Atlantic on January 29th at 9pm.

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