6 December 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network

Irish Film and Television Network




Features & Interviews

IFTA Q&A Series: Jason O’Mara discusses Acting
05 May 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Jason O'Mara
To mark the 20th 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. 

Jason O’Mara is nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Drama for Smother. O’Mara began his acting career in theatre, moving to London shortly after graduating from English and Drama studies in Trinity College Dublin. He went on to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and to perform opposite Ian Holm (Alien) in a production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.

He moved to the US in 2002, the same year he won an Irish Times Theatre Award for his performance in Neil LaBute’s play Bash in The Gate Theatre. O’Mara has since established his screen career in big budget television series such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Man in the High Castle. He has previously won the IFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the 2016 film The Siege of Jadotville

We sat down with O’Mara to discuss his experience of returning to Ireland to shoot a prestige drama series, the ever-increasing quality of Irish film and television, and his advice for aspiring actors.

IFTN: You have a background in theatre. How has this benefitted you as an actor in TV & Film?

JASON: “I think it's beneficial across the board. One of the ways it's most beneficial is that there's a sense of community and collaboration with theatre. I think that’s important to bring with you into film and television. Because it's not always that common. There's a lot of actors who haven't experienced that and tend to get quite insular. Their work tends to be kind of all about themselves, and they direct themselves, and they kind of show up with their performance.”

“So I think theatre is really important for that. To feel that sense of connection as a community, as a company. To rely on each other and trust each other.”

“It gives you muscularity as an actor that you can't really acquire otherwise. This ability to rely on your experience, your rehearsal, your craft, and your intuition through an entire journey with the character. An entire performance, if you're playing a lead role, it can be two, three, sometimes four hours on stage. There's nothing like that in film and television. I think for you to really get to know yourself as an actor, it's important to have experiences like that.”

“And also just this work ethic, you know, the idea of doing something eight times a week, even when you don’t feel like it, even on Wednesdays and Saturdays when you got to do two shows. It's good for you, for your discipline.”

“Even though I haven't done theatre in a while. I'm always looking for opportunities to do it again. I'm currently working on a solo theatre piece with the writer, Michael West. We've been collaborating on something for a while now. Can't say much about it, but that will probably be my next foray into theatre. So that's really great. That’ll be something that starts in Ireland and then will, hopefully, tour internationally.”

IFTN: Having established yourself in America in TV series like Agents in S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Man In The High Castle, what’s it been like to return to Ireland to shoot a prestige TV drama?

JASON: “You expect a sort of a step up or step down, but it really isn't. I think it used to be, maybe 20 years ago. Even in the UK, there would have been a difference between doing an episode of The Bill, and then going to do an episode of CSI or something.”

“I think the gap has closed. There isn't a massive difference now between American drama and British drama and Irish drama. We probably shot a little faster. But the standard was still similar.”

IFTN: Where do you think that change has come from? Is that technology? Industry?

JASON: “People have been talking about the golden age of television for a long time. Like 15 years. I think we've all been influenced by really good television. I think we know good television now when we see it, and we're all aspiring to that.”

“Also, I just think the world is getting smaller. Los Angeles isn't as far away as it was when I first came here. There are British and Irish actors and filmmakers visiting Los Angeles all the time. I just think there's a broader exchange of ideas, and it's just not as isolated anymore.

“There's probably a disparity in budget still, because there’s a disparity in audience size. But, Ireland is one of the few places where the audience is growing. Demographics are changing. We're becoming better at consuming things, for better or worse! I think that's kind of interesting. I think Ireland has a big future in terms of becoming a leader in terms of television and film. That’s quite an exciting thing.”

IFTN: What’s it been like shooting on location in Clare? How does that atmosphere affect the performance?

JASON: “It's so beautiful down there where we shoot Smother in Clare. I loved it. I had a house across the bay from the house in the show. So in the morning, I could see the house we'd be going to shoot in later. So that was kind of beautiful. And there was this incredible poetic fallacy with the weather and the storm, both inside the house and outside the house.”

“I couldn't really travel during the pandemic, so I couldn't come back and see my family. So I was able to be back in Ireland, back at home for the first time in years. Back with friends and collaborators who I hadn't seen for years. There was a time there during the pandemic, where it was like, ‘Are we ever gonna get on planes again?’ The plane was the only way I could get back home.”

“I was so grateful for that. To be in that part of the world, to be with such a talented group of cast and crew, and grateful for a really juicy part. It was the right project at the right time in the right place.”

IFTN: And speaking of that juicy role, what attracted you to the character of Paul Madigan?

JASON: “I did a play in the early 2000s in The Gate called Bash. It was a Neil LaBute play, Neil directed it. I was playing a character opposite Justine Mitchell, who’s also in Smother. I've known Justine a long time. The character… He was a bit annoying, but he was also kind of amusing and seemed like a nice guy, you know? Then as the play goes on you realise that, actually, there's something kind of wrong with him. He's a psychopath. That was the arc.”

“Paul Madigan is a similar kind of shape. It was a sort of a magic trick. I talked extensively with Daithí Keane and the producers about plotting out when we show the real Paul, because we had to hold back as long as possible and metre out in little tiny doses who he really was.”

“I think people had a pretty good idea fairly early that something was up with him, but I don't think they knew exactly what. So I enjoyed playing with that. A couple episodes later, you kind of think ‘Oh, actually maybe he's all right, maybe the others are the crazy ones’, then toward the end of his arc I could really take my foot off the brake and just go for it.”

IFTN: It’s the 20th anniversary of the IFTAs this year, so we’ve been reflecting on the growth of our industry and the increasing quality of Irish films. What are some of the Irish films you’ve been most impressed by recently?

JASON: “Oh, my gosh, that's a really good question. I'm trying to think of an interesting answer and not give the same ones! Obviously An Cailín Ciúin. Deeply moving and an incredible achievement. I moderated recently for Róise and Frank. It’s so charming. Oozes charm. I watched Holding recently. I really enjoyed that, and Conleth Hill’s performance.”

“Bad Sisters was great. Gosh, Sharon Horgan, she’s so clever. Legend. Incredible writer.”

IFTN: We’re often our own worst critics. What is your approach to constructive criticism and inward reflection?

JASON: “It’s the kind of thing you have to kind of keep working at, I think. You can have crises of confidence. You can have moments where you think ‘Jesus, can I get up there and do this again?’.”

“I just think it's really important to do your work, to do your preparation. I'm not one of those actors who can just kind of show up and wing it.”

“Sometimes things happen really fast in television, that goes for the states as well. You just have to be ready. Dervla Kirwan is just so good at being that number one. Setting the tone by showing up prepared and just crushing every scene. She is just relentless, because she’s ready for the next scene, and the one after, and the one after. Number one on a TV show… you're the hardest working person in show business.”

“It’s really about conviction. It's about really understanding a character. It's the character that you're bringing to work. I don’t want Jason anywhere near the camera! That separation is key. Otherwise I'll just be a self conscious mess, you know?”

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

JASON: “I was working with Harvey Keitel on the American version of Life on Mars. It was getting to the point where it was about to be shown on television. I was starting to get nervous about how it was going to be received, and how I was going to be received.”

“He grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and he said: Just. Do. Your work.”

“That's the best advice because everything else is just conjecture. Noise. Forget about social media. Forget about who's got the best agent. Forget about how many people are going to watch this. Just do your work.”

The 20th anniversary of the IFTA Awards Ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 7th.

IFTN Festive Q&A with director Luke McManus
Casting Directors share insights at Casting Conversations hosted by IFTA
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