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Movies & TV

13th May 2013

JOE meets King of the Travellers star John Connors

JOE catches up with star of Irish film King of the Travellers, John Connors.

Eoghan Doherty

After chatting to director Mark O’Connor a few weeks back to celebrate the release of Irish film King of the Travellers, JOE caught up with star of the film, John Connors.

By Eoghan Doherty

JOE: Congratulations on the release of the King of the Travellers John, you must be knackered at this stage after weeks of interviews?

John Connors: Yeah, it’s been really intense and is almost over now but it’s all been a brilliant experience.

JOE: We were chatting to (director and writer) Mark recently and he was saying it had been a difficult process to get the film off the ground initially…

JC: Yeah, I wasn’t involved in the earlier stages but I heard a lot about how it had been difficult to get it supported financially because people didn’t want to see a film about travellers, or so Mark had been told anyway. Thank God he persevered.

JOE: How important do you think it was that he did actually persevere in terms of revealing more of the Travellers lifestyle?

JC: Yeah, I think it was very important that he persevered and this is maybe the most important film ever made about Travellers. People talk about stereotypes being portrayed in film but this film was completely fictional. The hugely positive thing about the film was the Traveller involvement.

A lot of films about Travellers there was no Traveller involvement whatsoever, they had just made their version of what they thought the lives of Travellers were like.

Mark, for two years, was constantly around Travellers, asking questions and wrote the story with (veteran Traveller actor) Michael Collins. Realism was the main thing for Mark, his heart was really in the right place.

JOE: How has the film actually been received by Travellers, have many of them had a chance to go along and see the film?

JC: Most of the Travellers I spoke to loved it. The only ones that had any problems were a couple of Traveller organisations, the rest of them took it as a fictional film. At the end of the day, it’s not a documentary, it’s an entertaining drama. The movie has to be entertaining to make it work in the cinema and I think this is the most positive film yet made about Travellers.

JOE: That must be very rewarding to get that positive feedback from the Traveller community themselves…

JC: Big time, big time. The critics can think what they want but the most important thing to me is what the Travellers think of it and their responses have been brilliant so I’m delighted.

JOE: When we were talking to Mark he said that he had actually cast someone else in your part originally, but when you came in to audition you impressed so much that he decided to give you the lead instead. What was your story of joining the film?

JC: Basically I was doing acting classes in the Abbey School of Drama and I was kind of keeping it quiet. I just wanted to learn and I didn’t have a lot of confidence and so I didn’t want to go for auditions yet. Then I heard about a film where the director wanted to cast real Travellers, someone got me an audition for it so I went along. Being a real Traveller I knew I had an advantage.

I gave the audition and thought it went great and then I didn’t hear back from them for three or four weeks and of course, by this point I was mixing with a few actors and they said “Ah well, if you haven’t heard in that time then you’re not getting the part.” But eventually they got back to me and told me that they had a small part for me. I continued to rehearse with them over a couple of months and was eventually rehearsing alongside the  original lead and they decided to take me on as the lead and that kind of changed my life. The idea of a lead role in a film was mouth-watering to me, it was unbelievable.

JOE: Not a bad way to start by bagging yourself a lead role in what could possibly become one of the seminal Irish films about Travellers…

JC: I was overjoyed, couldn’t believe it, it’s a dream. Since then it’s kicked everything off completely. The film business is all about what you’ve done and what experience you’ve got so, in order for someone to trust you in a role all depends on what you’ve done before so this was really my foot in the door. I gave it everything I could, I gave it socks.

JOE: Would you worry about being typecast in future roles?

JC: I would be anxious to be honest because I don’t want to be typecast. The thing is, if a character is really good and really meaty then the last thing I’m worried about is it being a Traveller character. I want to know what else there is to the character before I say yes or no.
I did another film with Mark which we both wrote together which wasn’t a Traveller role and was probably my best performance to date and I’ve done a few films since where I haven’t been a Traveller.

JOE: And you had worked with Mark before on Stalker? Now you’ve worked together a few times does that essentially mean that you’re the De Niro to his Scorsese?

JC: [laughs] I don’t know! Peter Coonan has worked with him on all of his three films so far so he might be the De Niro and maybe I’m the Joe Pesci or something! It’s just great working with someone like him because he gives the actor so much freedom. That’s his number one thing – the actor’s have to feel free. He lets you try out anything you want and he’ll go with it as long as it’s coming from the heart so it’s brilliant to work with someone like that.

JOE: How was it working with Michael Collins? Does it inspire you to work alongside a Traveller who’s been in the acting industry for over 20 years now?

JC: I’m a big fan of his. Even me getting into acting at 23 was a bit tough because it’s not your typical thing to do if you’re a Traveller. Michael was the first to do it and he did it about 20 years ago so he really had a hard time with it. He persevered though because of his love for acting so he was definitely an inspiration. I thought “if Michael can do it then maybe I can do it.”
He was great on set, giving me a lot of advice and telling me the sort of stuff that you can’t learn in an acting class. He would walk me through the set and make me feel very comfortable and relaxed which is so key to acting. He was a huge help and I learnt a lot from him.

JOE: What about the actors who weren’t from a Travelling community, how did they gel with yourself and the rest of the cast?

JC: Absolutely brilliantly. Peter Coonan and myself hit it off straight away. Peter, again like Mark, was all about portraying his character in the most real possible sense and we became good friends. He came and stayed on my family’s site for a few weeks and really got into character and he’s just a really good person as well and we gelled perfectly.

JOE: You had said about a lot more doors opening up for you now and I know you’re lined up to take part in Series 4 of Love/Hate. What can you tell us about that or are you sworn to secrecy? Some lads are going to pull up outside your house and have a word with you if you say too much are they?

JC: Yeah exactly! Nah, I’ve been sworn to secrecy but I can tell you that it’s going to be very, very good and the best series yet.

JOE: Have you found since the film’s release that you’re being recognised a lot as a result? How’s that been?

JC: Yeah you’re right. It is weird being recognised alright. The other day I was at a bus stop and my car broke down so I had to take a bus. This bunch of girls, about 17 or 18 years old were looking over at me and I kept looking away. Then a bus pulls up with a big poster for the film with me in it and they said “oh my god you’re in “King of the Travellers” and started screaming. I was saying “please keep quiet” because other people started to look over at me like I’d three heads. They were asking for pictures and stuff and it was a bit surreal but it was fine. It was funny and a bit embarrassing but I didn’t mind it.

JOE: Well you’re obviously making a great name for yourself in Irish cinema but have you had a love for film since you were younger?

JC: My first memories are of watching films and my father was a great film lover so he introduced me to all the classics before he died. I would’ve been watching Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, all these great actors I was hooked on from an early age. To be honest with you I never really thought about acting because it’s such an unrealistic dream for anybody but particularly when you’re from the Travelling community like me and it’s the kind of thing you don’t say that you want to do because Travellers would laugh at you.

I came to a certain age though and I’d no other options in life and I still had that urge to want to do it so I just went and started doing classes and I didn’t care what people thought anymore. And thank god because since then I’ve been getting the recognition and Travellers have been coming up to me saying “fair play to you for what you’re doing and for breaking the mould.” It’s actually a real positive.
One of my goals is to change Traveller attitudes among themselves.

JOE: And you’re doing a mixture of the acting and the writing at the moment?

JC: Yeah I wrote Stalker with Mark and now I’ve written a feature that’s based on my own experiences that’s called “Cardboard Gangsters,” basically about wannabe gangsters. Its a film that I’ve written myself and I’m going to be shooting and directing it in the next few months.

JOE: Which directors would you look to in terms of really liking their style and influencing your own directing?

JC: Martin Scorsese

JOE: And of course Mark O’Connor…

JC: Mark would definitely be the huge Irish one. Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino and Mark O’Connor – they’d be my influence in the directing world. And in acting, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson. They’re the Gods of acting.

JOE: Yeah, all the classic leading men of Hollywood. Would you hope to venture over to LA yourself at some stage?

JC: Well I’m going to be acting forever, it’s what I love to do. Whether it’s here or in America, I don’t know. I’m gonna just keep making films and keep seeing what comes at me, keep creating.

JOE: Thanks for chatting to us today John, congratulations on the film and the best of luck with the acting in the future, it’s great to see up and coming Irish actors doing well for themselves.

JC: Lovely man, thanks very much.


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