Irishman in London, Rory Fleck Byrne has just portrayed Prince Williams in the critically acclaimed West End play King Charles III. Now he steps behind the camera to produce his first film Bodies.
There has been a lot of talk recently about there being an ‘elite class’ and hierarchy in the entertainment industry that allows some to move up while others remain behind no matter talent. From your experience is this true?
It’s a hard question to answer as it’s very subjective – depending on the actor, the role, the piece. But It isn’t something I have had direct contact with. The class question can pose numerous problems and it’s not necessarily as simple as ‘posh’ actors having it easier – everyone is liable to being victimised by a limited view. I think it’s important to support and nurture talent regardless of class. If the common consensus is only posh can play posh and working class can play working class then I think we’ve strayed from what it really means to be an actor. Saying that I also think it’s of strong importance to promote a balanced view of the world – so to be creating theatre and film which explores a whole range of human experience rather than just a group of men who went to oxford. What can be an issue is when class trumps talent and a more diverse view of the world. Personally I think it’s far more interesting to cast someone who is completely different to the character they’re playing – it happens all the time, but a lot of the time we don’t know because the acting is so darn good. That’s exciting!
You have just played Prince William in the West End. With this class question in mind, how did you prepare?
It’s funny as I remember in my first meeting with the casting director I was certain there were more suitable actors out there to play him – I was listing actors I knew who were more ‘of that background’ as I’m not and wasn’t sure if I could really connect to it. When I left the meeting I thought ‘Rory what are you saying? This is a great opportunity to act! To be someone else.’. I turned around. I had changed my mind. Thankfully the casting director had seen something in me so I hadn’t actually talked myself out of a job and I met the director Rupert Goold a couple of weeks later and got the job. I’ve learned a lot from that experience. To prepare for the part I watched videos of him on YouTube but because Mike Bartlett’s text was so good I decided to run with that and to avoid doing an impression – that can be dangerous. Rupert offered me this great image of him in a sportscar – it’s like he knows the power he has and is always revving the engine but waiting for the right moment to take action. That really worked for me.
How does it feel to be play a crowned king on stage? Do you think the monarchy is still relevant today or it’s an outdated system that clashes with democracy?
I’m not going to lie – part of the reason I was so excited to do this role was because of that – it awakened the 5 year old in me that loves dressing up. So yeah, it felt awesome to be crowned king every night. I remember thinking no matter how the show had gone that moment was always special. Towards the end of the run I had loads of my family in the audience with my mum and granny in one of the royal boxes that was practically on the stage with us. my granny had perfected her ‘royal wave’ and there was something about having my family there, and us being Irish, and me being crowned king of England – I’ll never forget it. Maybe I’ll use it in the future when I’m feeling down, as a pick me up – ‘Rory, remember when you were king’
In a Hamlet-like moment, your character meets the ghost of Princess Diana, his mother. Do you believe in ghosts? Or are they projections of our psyche?
Hmmm. I guess I believe in energy being left behind when someone dies – I wouldn’t necessarily say ‘ghosts’ but I do think it’s an energy thing. However I was aware when working on the play that that moment with Diana was very much a projection of Williams subconscious. A way of his gut telling his conscious mind what he really wanted. It’s a dramatic device. I do believe in us creating our own reality, In seeing what we choose to see so yes that moment was very real. The premise of the Quiet Ones was on a similar vein – do ghosts exist or are they a manifestations of our own negative energy. I found that question very exciting. My character however didn’t know what he believed in, he was involved in the experiment for the fun. As he got deeper into it , this thing they were creating was very real and terrifying. And whatever it was, whether real or a projection, he wanted out!
You have just produced a short film. What is it about?
Set in my hometown of Kilkenny in Ireland, Bodies is about the co-dependant relationship between two funeral directors as they struggle to stay connected to life. It shines a light on what it means to be alive when you are surrounded by death in a literal and metaphorical sense. It’s both a heart warmer and a heart breaker. And funny. I’m really proud of it. My creative partner B Welby-Delimere started writing the script 2 years ago after we had finished our first short film together Untitled Blues and asked me if I’d work on it with her. I jumped at the chance and we haven’t stopped. We are currently submitting it to international film festivals and developing It into a feature which we hope to shoot in the next 12 months. We want to keep momentum rolling.
On a scale from 1 to 10 how Irish are you?
It varies. Aome days I feel totally Irish and other days not Irish at all. I guess that comes down to environment, stick me in Dublin and my accent is thicker and I’m a full On Celt but in London I guess I’ve become more flexible to change. I love that about life – all the possibilities of where we can go. Right now Ireland is my root, London is my home and the world is my oyster!