Interview with Irish Actor Shaun Paul McGrath
Ladon Whitmire with TSLW Productions. Welcome to my live talk show. I’m a writer, producer and director. My guest this evening is Shaun Paul McGrath. He lives in London and he’s Irish. He’s an actor and a teacher amongst other things. I’m excited to meet him.
Ladon: Hi Shaun, welcome to the show. It’s so crazy, isn’t it, how social media works, I mean you are in London and I’m in Atlanta.
Shaun: Hi Ladon, It is 🙂 (Laugh) I’m higher up than London. I’m currently in Scotland UK, right now. [01:01 crosstalk]
Ladon: Well, as you know I’m in the south and to me 40 degrees is cold here. I love Chicago. I have friends that are in New York City, I think it’s snowing there, but it’s really cool in Chicago too. So, I was telling everyone a little bit about you and you used to be teacher.
Shaun: Well I still teach, for my sins, (laughing) but its teaching drama, so it’s all positive and good. I teach at high school level, then when I get time in between teaching and at holidays, I try and involve myself with as many different projects possible. Luckily, I’m doing more and more each time, actually doing too well this year. (Laughing) So maybe I’ll have to make the decision very soon as to what I may do, in terms of acting fulltime. Which is a good thing.
Ladon: Wonderful. It’s still admiring to hear you say that. Teaching is not easy, but not only do you teach, you also take some time, to do the thing that you really love, which is acting.
Shaun: Yeah, I think it helps to fill the void when not acting. On the positive side, when teaching you’re working at the skills involved with acting, analysing the mechanics, in terms of its communication. This helps reinforce your own skills in the process. More importantly, when you see that progression made by the pupils, from the start to the end, that journey they make, it’s just so motivating and gratifying.
Ladon: Wow, you’re awesome. You’re such an encourager. You know you really are. And your last movie? Was it with Mr. Werner Schumann? Tell us about him and that project.
Shaun: Yeah, Werner Schumann, a German Award Winning Film maker, and a very good friend. We really, had an excellent creative understanding working together on his feature, “The Widow’s Moon”. You could say that we had an association of the senses, in terms of what was right and magical after each take, which was mostly unspoken. He’s like my long lost brother now. We’re always in contact.
Ladon: Wow that’s a nice connection right there. And he has further projects that he is working on?.
Shaun: Yeah, he’s done really well. His last movie “Absolution” was shot in Berlin. His film was the first to feature the sport of chess boxing, in a movie scene, which was an excellent bold choice. He has a number of projects in discussion, I can’t wait to work with him again. We had a great close-knit team on “The widow’s Moon”, which helped create and maintain that family feeling, throughout the shoot. It was a pleasure working alongside the fantastic Hanni Bergesch, a wonderful actress and person, who brought her heart and soul to every scene. We had a great chemistry both on and off screen. Hanni produced a beautiful sensitive naturalistic performance that’s worthy of an award. So yeah, Werner was really happy with what we had produced, and what he had captured. He approached both of us after the first take, as he couldn’t wait to share what we were creating visually in terms of our on screen chemistry. From that moment, he said, he knew things were only to become even more magical. We had an excellent team around us, from Lebanon. Cinematographers’ Elias Trad and Koko Bouchakjian, who together, produced beautiful handheld poignant filming. An inspiring passionate team to work with. Werner, has got a great style, and way of working with actors. He’s really an actor’s director. He gives the actor room to spread their wings, but can just as easily clip the wings when needed! (Laughing) He exemplifies the world he creates to feed his fervour for capturing the truth in that particular moment.
Ladon: Beautiful. I don’t think acting is easy at all. It isn’t easy. I mean, what kind of advice would you give the viewers who are mostly actors and writers, what would you tell them?
Shaun: Never give up. I have been telling numerous people that this year is my year, and I never doubted that it wasn’t. So many things have fallen into place for me this year, but you can’t build a wall without a foundation, you must do the pre-work and get into projects and network etc. which I think I’ve told you about already. I believed it was going to happen, and as you start to see your pre-work paying off, as it gathers momentum more auditions come in, and the more you apply for, the more auditions you seem to be getting. It’s not about being cocky, as we say here in the UK, but it’s being positive, having a realistic attitude in terms of the input. Also make bold choices in an audition and commit to it, stand out amongst the others. We communicate much more than we think in the audition. So be remembered in your audition.
Ladon: So what is the latest project you are about to embark on?
Shaun: I can’t reveal the name of it, although the name has appeared on articles where I have not mentioned it! (Laughs) Its set in the 1940s, location is in the African jungle. Basically, it’s a British built detention prison camp who have imprisoned accused terrorists and freedom fighters, anyone, who may impose a threat to the British establishment is sent there. The detainees attempt to outsmart the guards by continually hatching escape plans, but for them it’s really an inescapable hell in the middle of a remote jungle. It’s loosely built upon a true story, which is then dramatized. I play the second officer in command and in charge of the camp. He’s an Irish character who suffers from PTSD. He’s the key player at keeping the prisoners’ in line using torture techniques’. So it’s a great role. It’s a 10 part series, with plans for a further two more series.
Ladon: Do you go through agents, Shaun or do you find your own thing? How do you go about it?
Shaun: I think it’s not helpful to leave everything up to an agent, unless you are at an elite Hollywood actor. (Laughing). I think all actors would benefit more by seeking work as well. That’s what networking is all about. This also includes online networking, making connections with directors, casting directors. Yes, I have a fantastic agency and manager, Alex Surer and Alison Buck who oversee the European market. If it wasn’t for Susan Ferris, God knows what I would be doing now. She gave me a great start by bringing me on-board, when I had decided to go in a different direction. Alex, and Alison are so supportive and protective. I think everyone should be proactive together, and if through networking you make a positive connection, pass the details on to your agent. Sometimes casting directors have a difficult job finding the right actors, or the director didn’t find anyone suited from that selection. So introduce yourself to as many casting directors as you can. Send them your profile, your reel, and invitation to a performance, if they are local to you. Maybe they might not be looking for your type in their current character breakdown, but down the line you may be suited to another project. If they like you or see potential in you, they will file you away.
Ladon: I think you were saying some wonderful things. You know what’s funny to me is that you got to be consistent. Agents are wonderful, but you got to be consistent with them. Keep emailing them to a point that they’re just sick of you. I think you need to and sometimes you have agents that are hungrier for money, and sometimes they care less. They tend to stick with one actor, and they forget about the other ones. I mean, it’s hard, but I do know several moms that found productions for their child. Some are now actually their own agent.
Shaun: I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s good to have an agent and equally good when you find your own work. In terms of projects that have higher budgets it’s good to have an agent. They can fight on many fronts in terms of the finer details, residuals etc. I know it’s not all about the money, but when you get into major productions, you need a well versed manager on your side. Below that, do you need an agent? Not really, if the film credit is more important and all you’re being offered is expenses, which is very popular nowadays, then agents are not needed. Once you start appearing on television or larger budget productions, you need someone to represent you at a legal level, as well as looking after the business that comes from it. I know you’d rather not work with agents Ladon. (Laughs)
Ladon: You know that? (Laugh) Not to be arrogant, but I’m not exactly starting out (Laugh) I have earned my rung on the ladder. I feel like when you’re starting, I think you should have an agent. Our agents in the states are really expensive, so they’re like stars. I do know some agents and I think they’re really cool and they really are. I have actor friends who say that their agents are not motivated to find them a job. They’re like, my agent hasn’t called me, and what am I doing wrong? And I feel so bad because I’m like, I don’t know. I think if an agent is not calling you, you should just call them, and also email them. You know, agents want to make money, but unfortunately, sometimes agents want to stick with one thing and that’s the money maker. They don’t want to deal with other actors that they have. It’s kind of sad, because I believe in everybody. I use so many people here in Atlanta that never acted before. And they’re amazing, I mean why not?
Shaun: Yeah, we can find talented people everywhere and at any age. Some of my past pupils have blown me away with their talents. It’s usually these people that go on to have a career in the industry, however short-lived it may be. The Ken Loach film “Sweet Sixteen”, cast a young unknown teenager straight from his school, Martin Compston. Who is now a household name in the UK. I think they now term such found talent as ‘street actors’, I think that’s the new term. (Laugh)
Ladon: I know what you’re saying. How wonderful is that? I love that. I love seeing new faces. I have a friend that used Morgan Freeman three times, because, not to be rude to Morgan, but Morgan is 83. Morgan is an amazing person, but it’s time for new people. Tom Cruise is wonderful. Cruise is making around 500 mil. Is he worth that much? I’m looking and I say, ‘Oh there he is again, okay great’. And I have to say one more thing about Netflix. I have no idea how they approve some of these horrid movies that I see. Some productions are so awful. I watched one today. There was one famous person in there, there are you so many talented young people out there that want to make movies, and they need to have a chance.
Shaun: I think Cruise has got the monopoly on the industry. In terms of his acting, I think his finest performance was in Collateral, I thought he was excellent playing a slightly older hitman. Greying hair with a slight weight gain. Definitely one of his best performances, in my opinion.
Ladon: You know, Cruise, he has a lot of confidence in himself. The confidence you guys need to have in the industry, not cocky. Cocky and confident is two different things. If you’re cocky, I would never work with you, but confidence, I love that. Kindness is number one, but I know that when I’m around people like John Travolta, he’s kind, but confident. He knows who he is. When we go and do an audition, we need to have the same confidence in ourselves.
Shaun: Yeah, confidence is the key. You’re very vulnerable when you audition. I’ve feel so much more vulnerable in comedy auditions.
Ladon: You’ve done comedy. You’re a stand up, a comedy stage hypnotist. Right?
Shaun: Yeah, Marc Savard, in Las Vegas, is one of your finest comedy hypnotists’. I made the transition from being a hypnotist into acting, many years ago. I actually found it easy. It wasn’t far from what I had been doing, in terms of learning lines and delivering a character persona. I was performing on stage from age 16, so I was well versed in playing that role. I still remember going on stage for the very first time, being really nervous. And you have to be nervous, as you know. Being so young I had a slightly high pitch adolescence voice. I remember trying to work on the stereotypical deep voice and register associated with the stage hypnotist at that time. (Laughing) The skills of being a hypnotist also helped in the cross over in being an actor. When I hypnotized people I would normally have invaded their personal zone to take control. I found this very helpful and similar in playing antagonistic acting roles. Having that authority and confidence, helped produced the desired result in most scenarios. It’s just about making the mental connections and believing in it. I teach Body language to my pupils concerning acting and communication. So it can all be taught and studied.
Ladon: Of course, yeah. It’s interesting to me because you’re still teaching. That’s wonderful, you’re kind of practicing too at the same time, and you’re telling them what to do. That’s a lot of work, that’s so cute. You know, in a way you’re teaching them new things and telling them what to do. What’s right and what could be done to make it better. It’s also training for you too, which is beautiful. How do you practice your lines, Shaun?
Shaun: I don’t like to overdo them, I’m not saying don’t learn them, it’s quite the opposite, but you need to try and ‘forget them’ so you have to seek the words, especially in emotive sensitive scenes. Of course if this doesn’t fit the character’s style or scene, then you have to make adjustments to this. Having your cue lines recorded and leaving a gap for your lines to be spoken, is also a great way to learn them, and to help get a sense of the rhythm of them into your head, as well as recording a read through of the script.
Ladon: I had an actor that would hide his lines behind the pillow between scenes, I mean that’s crazy. He did amazing though, a respected actor in his field. He made a lot of money.
Shaun: I think the sooner you get the script out of your hands, the better for everybody, otherwise you have a radio play. You need eye contact, it’s all in the eyes, especially at the important moments of communication. You’re also only as good as the other actor in the scene. If they’re not so good, you’re not so good. That’s why it’s important to have a chemistry with another actor or actress, all of this helps create that magic needed for the film. Werner Schumann, whilst directing “The Widow’s Moon” was constantly chasing the magic. You have to put yourself in the hands of the director, and trust them to capture the essence of you. They are watching you intently on a small monitor screen, waiting for that magical moment that communicates the desired effect, as an actor if you feel something honest communicate it. There’s no right or wrong at arriving at the truth, just different routes, which are all valid.
Ladon: Yeah because he wants the best. He wants the best from you. You have to be respectful. I had one person who filmed with me, I’m not going to give his name. He was such a funny guy. He’s really cute. But he was like, I’m not going to do this. I’m like, excuse me. So he was like [31:00 crosstalk] I mean, sometimes actors can be difficult, not all, but he’s really cool, I do like him. I liked him a long time ago and I thought he was super guy. I might tell you later who it is. Shaun you are such an awesome person. You’re going to come back again.
Shaun: Yes of course I will.
Ladon: Yes you do. Shaun, Vicky one of our viewers said, you are great. You’re a great person. They loved your Chit Chat with me. I really want you to come back the next time, we got to talk an hour next time.
Shaun: Thanks for having me Ladon.
Ladon: You’re awesome. We love your accent. Vicky was like, Oh my God, I love Shaun’s accent. You have a beautiful accent, gorgeous very rich.
Shaun: The Northern Irish accent allows itself an easy transfer to a Midwest States accent. So yeah. It’s easy for us.
Ladon: Can you give us an example of an American accent?
Shaun: Yeah. (Laugh) (Accent) Just a mid-American accent like this and everything just seems a lot easier to say, yeah. (Laugh) Exactly. [32:26 crosstalk]
Ladon: I can see you having that gorgeous, accent, it goes with you. You know what I mean? My American accent is nice, but I think it’s just so charming how you can pull it off. That’s actually is amazing. You stick out, and you are remembered. One day I hope we can work together, I’d love to meet you in person. Have a beautiful evening Shaun, you’re awesome. Thank you so very much for your time. The viewers loved you. And Tamara was saying you have a great accent too and personality.
Shaun: Thanks very much for having me Ladon. Take care.
Ladon: I’ll talk to you soon. Bye Shaun