16 June 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Barry Ward on Acting
31 Jul 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Actor Barry Ward.
With the nominations for the IFTA Awards announced, we continue to shine a spotlight on 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.

We spoke with actor Barry Ward who received his third IFTA nomination, this time in Best Actor in a Lead Role – Film, for his portrayal of Martin Martin in Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s hilarious comedy-horror Extra Ordinary. Ward was previously nominated for his performances in Stephen Burke’s Maze (2017) and RTÉ flagship drama Rebellion (2016), as well as being nominated for the Screen Ireland-supported IFTA Rising Star Award in 2016.

More recently, Ward has enjoyed a number of establishing roles in UK and international shows starting with Netflix’s hit original drama The End of the F***ing World in 2017. Since then, the Irish actor has been significantly in demand starring in a host of show both at home and abroad including Stuart Carolan’s Taken Down (2018), BBC’s The Capture (2018), Sky Original Series’ Britannia (2018) and Save Me (2018), and Netflix Original Series’ White Lines (2020). Ward also recently starred in The Cured creator, David Freyne’s semi-autobiographical comedy Dating Amber (2020), which released on Amazon Prime Video over Lockdown.

What do you look out for in a script?

“The prose (descriptions of character/setting/action) is always the first thing that strikes me in a script. If this is good/interesting/succinct then I'll keep reading. I can tell from prose style very early in the script whether or not I'll like what follows.

“Then comes the dialogue- is it credible? Expositional? Can I see myself saying it? If stylised is it consistent? Can I make it better? If these two factors - prose and dialogue - are strong then I'll follow any character on any journey. So I guess for me it's about the telling of the story more than the story itself.

“Of course it is vital the characters and plights and whereabouts within the script are all of interest, but I find if the telling of the tale is strong then whatever the details it's going to work: it can be about a man in a city phone-booth for 90 minutes, or a young girl on the plains of Nebraska.”

How do you prepare for auditions, and what advice would you give to younger actors?

“How I prepare for auditions changes all the time. Unchanging is reading the script, and then studying scenes in more detail. More often than not, as time is generally short, I go with my instincts and make choices quickly. In recent years, I've started setting up a camera and lights. I find it helps to replicate the audition room as much as possible. I film a couple of takes, watch it back and try again. Then I try the opposite. It can help to change your objectives just to mix it up and make it interesting; if only for yourself. Sometimes it helps to try the other person's lines in the scene. Rehearsing alone can be terribly boring so I usually try and amuse myself by doing crap accents and turning the most serious scenes into comedies and making comic scenes sad.”

What attracted you to the role of Martin Martin in Extra Ordinary?

“I found the character instantly likeable, relatable, and sympathetic. It also got more and more challenging as the script unfolded. When I met Team D.A.D.D.Y (writers/directors) to discuss the role and script before taping for it, I discovered they played in the band, Warlords of Pez - then I knew I had to be in their movie.”

How did you approach playing your character in this film, and how much rehearsal was involved?

“My approach to playing Martin Martin, as with every character I play, involved trying to crack into his emotional state before the script begins. When we meet him on page 1: who is he? what was his life like up that point?, and immediately before the film starts? I saw a man grieving the death of his wife; a man in mourning. From there you can start to chart the emotional journey, which happens over the length of the script: Pick out the highest & lowest points on this journey; join the dots. I had to do similar work/prep for the characters, which possess Martin Martin too... Bonnie, and even Rose's dad.

“I also visualise similar existing characters to get ideas as how to play someone, or not to as the case may be. So for this, I thought Ned Flanders and William H Macy in Fargo were good references. As with every job, I read books and watch movies to help me get into it... I read Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters and John Williams' Stoner; watched Poltergeist, Being John Malkovich, and Raising Arizona. Oh and I spent way more time than anyone should need trying to strum Only A Woman on guitar. I even took a singing lesson...!

“Rehearsals, if I recall correctly, were really only a couple of days. I think D.A.D.D.Y had such a clear vision that hair & make-up and costume decisions were all made with minimum of fuss. We had a read-through and looked at a couple of individual scenes, then had half a day trying out different vomits to test for colour and consistency.”

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

“Every director works differently. I do like to collaborate, of course. I like playing a part in the decision making re: hair & make-up and costume. That whole process before filming begins is a vital part of creating any character. I also like to improv so usually propose some ideas on that front before filming begins. You're either encouraged or put back in your box. Prepare for both.”

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

“It was an extraordinarily happy set to work on. And this comes from top down. The directors were sound, funny and easy going; the producers and Production Company very present and supportive. The crew, some of whom I knew, are a cool bunch and everyone worked extremely hard on what was a very technically tricky job. There was a brilliant camraderie on set and everyone contributed creatively to bring it all together. We had lots of day-players and cameos in the cast who all came in and joined the fun and brought brilliant energy to it all. It just felt like everybody involved loved the project and so did everything with joy and enthusiasm.

“A favourite moment? One instance stands out as being equally relieving and funny. When Bonnie first appeared I was wracked with doubts - would anyone buy this? Is it at all credible? Does it just look daft? Will people find it funny? Does the accent work? etc. etc. After the first take, the crew chuckled a little (not entirely convincingly) but just then Donal, our focus puller, leaned out from behind the camera and in his beautiful thick Louth accent said: 'You sound just like me mother!'”

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

“My first paid role as an actor was playing John Paul Spencer in Family, a BBC mini-series written by Roddy Doyle and directed by Michael Winterbottom. I was 13 when cast. We filmed for 12 weeks and before those auditions, the thought of acting had never crossed my mind. I didn't know acting was a thing.

“The only acting 'lesson' I ever took was in the back of the car on the way to film my first scene when an assistant director asked me: 'Do you know your lines? You must learn the scene you're doing and be familiar with the scenes directly before and after.' This has stuck with me for 27 years because in one form or another, this is the basis of all books on acting.”

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

“Numerous directors and actors have inspired and influenced me over the years, but perhaps none so much directly as Ken Loach and Cillian Murphy.

“Ken Loach changed my life twice. The first time, at 13, when I saw Kes; it had a profound effect on me. I distinctly recall thinking 'there is someone in the world who makes movies about people like me.' The second time was twenty years later when I met him at castings for Jimmy's Hall. 

“In 1998 myself and Cillian Murphy were cast in a feature film, Sunburn, a first for us both. Up until that point I was unsure about pursuing acting as a career, I remained unconvinced as to its feasibility and even desirability. He convinced me otherwise with his talent and energy and work-ethic, which were utterly infectious. They continue to be so.”

What international performance by an actor has blown you away?

“Romain Duris in The Beat That My Heart Skipped; Anamaria Marinca in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; Marion Cotillard in Le Vie En Rose; Jeremie Renier, L'Enfant; Frederick Lau, Victoria. Everything William Defoe does.”

What Irish Actor/s have you been most impressed by in recent times?

“There are a lot of great actors coming out of Ireland these days, more than ever before. While I'm not familiar with all their work, I do like what I've seen, and greatly admire the careers, of Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar and Helen Behan.

“Cillian Murphy is never less than excellent and in Thomas Shelby has found the perfect character to match his talents. Tom Vaughn Lawlor continues to do strong and interesting work. I love everything Brendan, Domhnaill, and Briain Gleeson do. They're phenomenally talented.”

Is there an Irish film over the last few years that has really impressed you?

“The most impressive Irish film for me lately, perhaps ever, is Hunger. Enda Walsh's script is one of the strongest I've ever read and Steve McQueen's vision is so distinct that it added up to a movie I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for, for a very long time. It felt so singular and fresh, the details so fine - A stunning piece of work; an obvious career-maker for whoever was lucky enough to land the role of Bobby Sands. Michael Fassbender smashed it.”

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

“I would absolutely love to work with the following for the following reasons: Coen Brothers for the cartoon quality of their characters; Michael Haneke for the truth; David Lynch for exploring subconscious depths; Werner Herzog for conscious heights; Ken Loach (again) and the Dardennes for their message; Gasper Noe and Lars Von Trier just for the hell of it; Claire Denis forever.”

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

“Very recently my sister Tracy imparted this sage advice: 'After your audition write down three things you felt went well and three you felt didn't. Then move on.' I find this not only saves lots of time wasting, but also offers 3 things for you to work on before the next audition. It forces you to look forward. Simple but effective.

“When filming, there's a beauty in shooting lots of scenes every day as you can't dwell too much on what you got wrong as you're headfirst into the next one. This momentum is a good thing. I feel far less pressure on set than in auditions. 

After each shoot, I have the usual 'will this be terrible and am I never going to work again?' Sleepless nights - I'm sure lots of actors have, but over time I've learned that the films, and your performances in them, are never as good or bad as your biggest hopes and worst fears are. I'm good at not dwelling these days. Being a philosophy graduate helps no end.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career thus far that you would share with young aspiring Actors?

“Best advice... (Never ever heeded by me)... From Nike, and latterly Michael Fassbender - Just do it. If you wanna act or make films - just do it.

“However limited your resources are. Get a scene and try and learn it, then perform it. If not a scene, then a book, or a newspaper article; anything will do. If you've a camera record it; Watch it back; Do it again. You are now acting and film-making. This can only make you better at it.”

How have you channelled your creativity during lockdown?

“During lockdown, I've had less time on my hands than I'm used to. I have, however, fulfilled a lifelong ambition by writing songs. I am very lucky to live nearby a musician whose music I love, Seamus Fogarty. We are working together on a track(s) for an upcoming film I'm due to make, Sunlight, as part of the POV scheme.”

Click here to read more of our interview series.

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