BOM Questionnaire: Emmett Scanlan
Killer questions for the Irish actor Emmett Scanlan, currently in 'Butterfly' and 'Women on the Verge' Warning: becoming friends with this guy may expose you to some expert pranks.
What can we see you in next?
Right now I’m in ‘Lore’ which is an Amazon Prime series. I play William Burke, Scotland’s most infamous serial killer, then there’s the incredible Sharon Horgan and her new show called ‘Women On The Verge’. I play a right dickhead in that one. And finally, the beautiful ‘Butterfly’ for ITV. Which is a family drama about the fractured, acrimonious relationship between parents played by myself and Anna Friel and their division of opinion on how best to raise their child (Callum Booth) who is identifying as a girl. A child who believes, who knows, who feels with all of his being, all of his fibre, that he is trapped in the wrong body. That he is a she. It’s penned beautifully by BAFTA winning writer Tony Marchant.
What was your first ever performance like?
My first performance was a school musical, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’. Still remember my lines from that. My first TV performance was in a show that got absolutely slated in Ireland. It was called ‘THE BIG BOW WOW’. Don’t get me wrong It was a great experience, I met some great people, but I was fucking shocking in that. There’s nothing like a bit of nationwide humiliation to keep one’s feet firmly on the ground. That’s something no acting school can teach you… I promised myself I’d never be that shit again. Now I’ve broken that promise from time to time, but the times of shitness are becoming less and less.
What’s the best line you’ve ever delivered?
“I do” when I got married to my beautiful wife 3 years ago.
What do you love about acting?
I call it the Peter Pan syndrome. When I was a child I would play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, I’d live inside my imagination where I was the hero, I was the villain, where I was anything I wanted to be… acting is figuring out how to do all that and get paid for it. Peter Pan syndrome means never growing up. It means constantly finding the magic in things and it’s a beautiful place to be
Who’s the funniest person you’ve ever worked with?
No idea. I have a good laugh with most people. The most recent was, I think, the lovely Yasmine Akram on ‘Women On The Verge’. We corpsed a good few times, killing every scene we were in. Also, director Anthony Byrne. I did Butterfly with him. And I’m shooting his new show right now. That fucker makes me laugh all the time. Such a dry sense of humour, I love him.
Do you learn your lines or tape them to furniture?
I know my stuff so well that it becomes unimportant. Magic is found not only in the lines, but in-between the lines. So if you can have the material and homework done before you step on set, you allow yourself to go to places not scripted. I don’t mean make up the lines I mean living in-between them. I try not to have any pre-conceived notion of what to play or how to play. I want to be effected in the moment. And you can only do that if you know your shit. You allow yourself to play, to dance. Friel was a great partner when it came to that. In fact I’ve been blessed with some amazing dancing partners.
How well behaved are you behind the scenes?
I invest my life into work that will outlast it, so that time is very important to me. All I ever want is to play with a group of like-minded people to tell the best story we can….so I want to say I’m professional. But I also know I’m a ‘messer’, always up for a laugh. To be honest a lot of the time you need it. Especially when it’s dark material. In saying that I can also get intense. Really depends on the situation. I try to lose myself in whatever I’m doing, whether that’s in the scenes or in-between the scenes…
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading bout 7 or 8 books right now. There is nothing impressive about that. All that means is I have ADHD. I read my books like I turn the channels on my TV. And I rest on whatever cover my personality is peacock-ing at the time…I’m on a plane to Belfast now to start a new project. I’ve got ‘A New Earth’ in my hand luggage. And it’s utterly sublime. And a couple more books in the belly of the plane.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
From as long as I can remember I wanted to be an actor. Or Wolverine.
How did you get to where you are today?
By hitting the cold unforgiving floor of rock bottom but making sure I landed on my back knowing that as long as I could look up, I could get up…. I live in a place of no resistance now. Mostly 😉
Was there a film or TV show that changed everything for you?
My favourite movie of all time is ‘Rocky’. I remember as a kid watching it over and over again. I remember shadowboxing behind my couch in tandem to Stallone. I remember thinking I wanted to be a hero. Or maybe I wanted to be an actor. I’m not sure what came first but I know which one I became. As I got older that fire to perform never left. I looked up to Stallone and his story. I wanted to tell my own. Stallone inspired me. He inspired a kid on the other side of the world, a kid he will probably never know or meet to pursue a career in acting. That movie experience helped shape my life and as a result my choices. I remember thinking what a cool job that is, to inspire, to entertain, to make a difference. We’re not saving lives but if we’re lucky we may get to touch a few…That’s why I got into this game. Somewhere along the way I fell into a self-obsessed world of hedonism and forgot the reasons I was doing this. But now I’m back, and I feel infinitely better as a result.
What do you think of the UK in 2018?
That’s a loaded question. Where to start? It’s my home. I love the UK. In 2010 you guys took me into your country, invited me into your homes. I’ve been given opportunity after opportunity. I love the people. Apart from NYC, there’s no other place I’d rather live.
What do you think is the future of acting?
It better not be CGI or I’m fucked.
Is gender just a construct?
Let me tell you one of the first things I learnt when I took on ‘Butterfly’. Gender is who we identify as. Sex is who we are based on the biological parts we are born with. I used to think someone’s gender and someone’s sex were the same thing. I used to think in terms of a binary system. Male/female. Boy/girl. And sometimes I still do, cause that’s what I was taught and conditioned to think. I didn’t know there were people out there that didn’t think like that, feel like that. Did you know that there are over 70 variants of gender when you want to set up a Facebook page? I didn’t. I couldn’t begin to tell you what they are but I know they exist. And to be honest I don’t give a fuck if there’s 70 or 700, so long as you are coming from a place of love and not hate then I see you.
What’s your best acting performance so far?
I stopped watching myself in 2013, so no idea what I’m like now. But back in the day it would have to be ‘Charlie Casanova’. I loved that movie. And the experience changed my life. Hardly anyone would cast me in Ireland, in most cases I couldn’t even get in the room, in some cases rightly so. Then Terry McMahon gave me my first ever lead. Which in turn led to my first ever acting award and a Rising Star IFTA nomination. Which in turn lead to me booking in the UK. The rest as they say is history. I love Terry. And will be forever indebted to him for taking a shot on me.
Last meal you had?
Indian. My favourite food. There’s a restaurant called Koconut Grove in Chester. They make everything vegan for us… The food is fantastic.
Drink of choice?
Water. I’m like my mum that way. A close second is wine. Red. New Zealand probably.
Favourite place to relax?
In the company of my daughter. We laugh so much. Always together, laughing. Also my sister, we cry laughing. Literally. My wife, again it’s the same. And the queen bee, my mum. She’s some character. The most impersonated of our family. On both sides. So to answer your question: In the company of women that make me laugh is my favourite place to be.
Who would you like to act with?
Stallone. How poetic would that be?
My parents are my heroes. If I’m half the person they are I’d still be undeserving of the title.
What are the three greatest films of all time?
I’ve no idea how to answer that. I could maybe do it by genre. For example, animation? Probably ‘Wreck it Ralph’, Sci-fi? ‘Predator’, the first one, comedy? ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ always gets me… here’s the thing, the list will be different tomorrow…it depends on how I feel.
Where would you hold your 100th birthday party?
Unless we change the way we live and the way we treat each other and animals we won’t make it to my 100th. If by some miracle we do I’d spend it in NYC. Cause it’s my favourite place on the world. And I’d spend it with my family.
Are you in love?
Of course. Deeply.
What is your worst habit?
Don’t think I have one. Let me ask the Mrs. She’s good at highlighting the things I do that annoy her…
Claire: When you lose things and blame everyone but yourself – and by the way you lose the same things over and over and they are always in your pocket.
What was the last thing you really regretted?
I regretted something 13 years ago and nothing since. But that’s a talk for another day, another time. Maybe.
What makes you cry?
Cruelty makes me cry. To children, to animals. It makes me so angry. I feel helpless. It’s why I’m a vegan. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, right?
Who is your role model?
Not sure I’ve got one. There’s plenty of people I look up to and admire though. Basically I just try to be better than I was yesterday.
Are you nice?
I endeavour to be…
Name one thing you do that annoys other people and you can’t understand why.
I honestly can’t think of any… Let me ask one of my best mates that question
Bosco: Annoying habits? Are we writing a book or is this just an article…okay, well if I have to pick one it has to be his fascination with playing tricks on his friends and the extreme lengths he’ll go to for its punch line.
One time I went over to visit for a relaxing weekend. He’s married now, so those frightening scary nights out are a thing of the past. Kind of. I knew a guy who after living with him for a little bit had to check himself into rehab. But like I said, he’s married now…
So I thought, what’s the worst that can happen? He said he signed us up for yoga and healthy living, but after I land I find out he signed us up at the last minute for a Tough Mudder assault course. He put himself through that with no training just so he could laugh at me falling over myself in pain. One time he told me he was going to his niece’s kid’s fancy dress party, all the adults had to dress up. I told him I didn’t have a costume and he pulls out this really tight onesie Riddler outfit. It was ridiculous looking. But he was wearing a pirate hat and wig. He even got his wife wearing a wig, so I thought ok. I walk into this rented hall full of adults, a room full of English strangers, dressed up as a fucking leprechaun. No one else was dressed up. Not even the kids. I wouldn’t mind this as a one off but it’s all the time…and he’s as committed to the joke as he is to all his roles
Do you think masculinity is changing?
From my dad to me, sure. He was a lot harder. Had to be. But even who he was then to who he is now, that idea of masculinity has changed. Same goes for me. I think we’re a lot more open and sensitive. At least that’s the world I live in, and love in. A spiritual place. I was mental back in the day. I still have that deep darkness inside of me, but I’m a lot more open to be vulnerable these days.
Give us one killer acting tip.
Secret to acting is don’t get caught doing it. Be vulnerable. Be afraid and do it anyway. Embrace it. Bear hug the shit out of it…. If you can do that, you can do anything.
Butterfly, a three-part mini-series, started on ITV this week and the first episode is available on ITV Hub.
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