20 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

Irish Film and Television Network




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Liam Cunningham gives insight into acting career at IFTA Casting Conversations series
01 Jul 2024 : Lucien Waugh-Daly
Liam Cunningham at IFTA Masterclass
The Irish Film & Television Academy presented an IFTA Masterclass with award-winning Irish actor Liam Cunningham on last week at the IFI.

Cunningham is best known for his roles in Game of Thrones, Hunger, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and this year’s Netflix blockbuster 3 Body Problem, with the event coming as part of IFTA’s ongoing Casting Conversations series.

Cunningham is a multiple IFTA winner, having been recognised for his roles in HBO’s epic fantasy Game of Thrones; and his performances in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, opposite Michael Fassbender, and in Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley, opposite Cillian Murphy. He is currently playing Thomas Wade in Netflix’s major international sci-fi series 3 Body Problem. He is also the winner of a BAFTA for his short film Pitch Black.

Cunningham has also worked with directors including Steven Spielberg on War Horse, John Michael McDonagh on The Guard, Neil Jordan on Breakfast On Pluto; and has co-starred alongside leading names including Denzel Washington, Liam Neeson, Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Emily Watson, Don Cheadle, Ryan Reynolds, Maria Bello, Gemma Arterton, Mark Strong, Gabriel Byrne, Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Fraser, and Michael Caine.

Casting director Maureen Hughes moderated the event, which began with Cunningham outlining his start in acting after his stint as an electrician. After his first film role, in Into the West, he starred in Alfonso Cuaron’s A Little Princess, which clashed with an opportunity to work with Ken Loach. Luckily, he was able to reunite with Loach a decade later for The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and he spoke of the joy of hearing “Óró sé do bheatha abhaile” played on the Cannes red carpet when it premiered and won the Palme D'Or.

Cunningham also highlighted the benefit of taking risks and “sticking to your guns” when choosing projects. He stubbornly negotiated to get out of filming obligations on The Mummy 3 to ensure he could take his now-iconic part opposite Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s Hunger.

Cunningham then told the story of how David Benioff and DB Weiss saw the most famous 22-minute scene in Hunger, saying: “That £5,000 job that nearly scuppered my entire career was the reason I got Game of Thrones. Sticking to your guns can really work out. It can also blow up in your face — but at least you have your dignity.”

“They had seen that, and you know how long the scenes in Game of Thrones are,” he joked. “They needed actors who were theatre trained, used to doing plays and tricky stuff. You couldn’t have a load of movie stars in there, they don’t know how to handle long scenes.”

Later, he recounted how Benioff and Weiss called him out of the blue to offer him a role in Netflix’s 3 Body Problem, which led him to drop out of another high profile TV project he was in talks for: “They said ‘You’re not doing it, you’re coming with us, alright?’ and I went ‘hold on a minute… this could be a week’s work, a day’s work, turns out it was 3 Body Problem. The character I’m playing was an American ex-CIA guy, and they made him this working-class Dublin f***er”.

He teased the second and third seasons of 3 Body Problem, which are currently in pre-production, and spoke of his strong commitment to being an ambassador for human rights and social justice internationally.

The event concluded with Cunningham being asked questions from attendees. Asked about when one should begin calling themselves a ‘full-time actor’, Cunningham replied: “Forget about the ‘full time’, if you’re taking a pen and thinking of an idea; or if you’re opening a play, you’re an actor, end of story.”

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