28 September 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor on Acting
24 Jun 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor in Rialto.
With the IFTA Awards Viewing Season in full swing, we showcase 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 what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and on-set collaboration; what inspires them; what current trends and techniques they like, and dislike in the industry.

For decades, actors have been one of Ireland’s greatest exports internationally. We caught up with one of Ireland’s finest, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, who recently gave one of the performances of the year in Mark O’Halloran’s Rialto, directed by Peter Mackie Burns. A two-time IFTA winner, Vaughan-Lawlor's recent credits include Starz and BBC drama Dublin Murders alongside Sarah Greene and Killian Scott, as well as the role of Ebony Maw in the highest-grossing films in international box office history: Marvel’s Avenger: Infinity War and Avengers Endgame. His recent Irish titles include David Freyne’s The Cured, Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s Citizen Lane, Stephen Bourke’s Maze, and Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture.

What do you look out for in a script?

“Ideally a film that is going to be challenging and is trying to say something important. Likewise with a part, one that is going to test you and push you out of your comfort zone to a place you haven’t been before. That’s the ideal.”

What attracted you to the role of Colm in Rialto?

“I read the script in one sitting on a train. It was one of those scripts that demands you keep reading; that you can’t put away until you see where it is going. What I loved about the part was the opportunity to explore two totally different sides of this one man: his domestic and work life, and then this whole other part of himself he has never experienced before. A man striving desperately to try and make sense of his life; to find out who he really is. That’s a big challenge and a wonderful opportunity for any actor.”

How do you like to work with Directors, and do you like to have a collaborative process?

“With any really good director, I think you have to listen and trust their judgement. I want to be able to try things and to have the director be honest with me and tell me what is and isn’t working, and find how we can get closer to realising the deepest truth of a scene. It should always be a collaboration. Also, I want to work with a director who treats everyone on set with respect.”

Tell me about your experience on the set of Rialto, and your favourite moment during this production?

“We shot the film in June of 2018 during a heatwave. I had lots of layers on and uncomfortable shoes and it felt right to be sweaty and feel unclean in the part. He’s a man who hates himself, his body, what comes out of his mouth, so sweaty summer days really helped. There is a scene where he goes up to the top of a crane thinking he might throw himself off.

“It was one of those big cranes on the docks that are used to transfer containers on and off ships. It was fully operational while we were shooting. Half the crew was terrified of being up there, the other half didn’t mind. I was fine up there filming but when I came down I felt like I might throw up. It was pretty high.”

You also starred as Ebony Maw in the final two instalments of the Marvel franchise: Avengers: Infinity War & Avengers: Endgame. Can you tell me about that experience and working on such a massive project?

“It was a lot of fun. My research involved watching all of the Marvel films and reading lots of comics. I spent a week before the shoot with Terry Notary who is one of the world’s top motion-capture artists, working on finding the physicality of the character. The scale of the shoot was astonishing but the Russo brothers and all of the Marvel family were incredibly welcoming and warm.

My only concern on that whole job was giving anything away. I was too paranoid to leave my script in my hotel room on days off. I don’t think I ever had it out of my possession when I wasn’t on set. You just don’t want to be the actor whose name is emblazoned on a set of Marvel sides that ends up on the internet.”

What was your first paid role as an actor, and what were the key things you learned from doing that role?

“My first day on a set was with John Boorman in The Tiger’s Tale. I played Brendan Gleeson’s lawyer. I had one scene at the very start in my car speaking to Brendan on the phone. When it came to shooting I got into the backseat of this big car. Boorman stuck his head in the window and said: ‘what the fuck are you doing, get in the front you’re driving!” I was too nervous to tell him I couldn’t drive. Thankfully the car was supposed to be stuck in traffic so I got away with it.’” 

What Filmmaker or Actor has influenced or inspired you the most? 

“My dad brought me up showing me great film actors, the likes of Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Brando, Robert Shaw, Gene Hackman, De Nero, all of those titans. They and their films were huge influences on me growing up. More recently it has been incredible to see films at festivals from all over the world with stunning performances that often, unfortunately, don’t reach our screens.”

What international performance by an actor has blown you away?

“Juliet Binoche in Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In was funny, sexy, and heartbreaking. It was unshowy and so elegantly crafted. I really loved Jared Harris in Chernobyl. I rewatched The Master recently. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams are all pretty stunning in it.”

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

“Internationally: Andrea Arnold, Joanna Hogg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Lars Von Trier, and Michael Haneke. They are all great artists, risk-takers, and make incredible films.

“In Ireland: Lenny Abrahamson, Mark O’Rowe, Saoirse Ronan, Mark O’Halloran, Aisling Walsh, Stephen Burke, Conor McPherson, Michael Fassbender, to name just a few.”

We often are our own worst critics. What is your approach to constructive criticism and inward reflection?

“Javier Bardem said: ‘I don’t buy success and I don’t buy failure, I only buy commitment.’ I think that is such great advice. You have to try and develop an independent sense of your own integrity. If you work hard and are committed and feel like you have given fully of yourself then that is all you can do, after that everything else is pretty much out of your control.”

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