Has Martin McCann Made It?

From the Artful Dodger to Titanic 'bad lad', the Belfast actor is back for the Takeover Festival

Martin McCann has come a long way since playing the Artful Dodger at school. The Belfast actor has been praised by Richard Attenborough, cast by Steven Spielberg, played U2 frontman Bono and acted alongside Tom Hanks and Daniel Radcliffe. Now he is to play Conor McCann (at least he won't get the name wrong) alongside Derek Jacobi and Neve Campbell in the forthcoming 12-part BBC mini-series, Titanic: Blood and Steel.

It's an impressive résumé for a 28 year old, yet a question about whether or not he has 'made it' makes McCann squirm. 'That phrase daunts me,' he admits. 'I think any actor that is working has made it. I have always had confidence in my abilities as an actor, but whether or not I've "made it"? I don't know.'

When it comes to praise, the actor is more comfortable talking about his work on the Titanic mini-series, directed by award-winning television and film director, Ciaran Donnelly. 'It's high end TV,' says McCann confidently, then laughs. 'Not that I'm biased or anything.'

Still, it has a lot of competition. The second Titanic anniversary – that of the sinking itself – is on the horizon, and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Not only has ITV commissioned a doubtless lavish mini-series from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, which will also be airing on ABC in the US, but James Cameron is re-releasing the blockbuster Titanic in 3D.

McCann, however, thinks that Titanic: Blood and Steel has something to offer that the others don't. It doesn't focus on the fate of the Great White Liner, for instance, but on what captured popular imagination at the time – the building of the unsinkable ship.

'When the Titanic was being built in Belfast there was a lot of politics, sectarianism and corruption around,' McCann explains. 'That's what we are interested in exploring.'

It is also something that McCann's character has direct experience of in the mini-series. A bit of a 'bad lad', Conor is cashiered out of the army and heads back home to Belfast. There he finds work on the Titanic – along with 3,000 other workmen from Belfast, the vast majority of whom were local Protestants – only to lose that job as well. 'I don't want to give too much away,' McCann adds. 'Lets just say that he is a bit of a rebel, and a Catholic.'

Killing Bono

McCann has spent the last four months working on Titanic: Blood and Steel in Serbia and Dublin. He will be back in Belfast on November 18 to take part in the Takeover Film Festival at Queen's Film Theatre. Run jointly by Cinemagic and QFT's Learning Programme, the Takeover Festival turns programming at the QFT over to an eclectic group of young people from different cultural backgrounds.

It is the sort of project that McCann is passionate about. He was involved in YouthAction NI's Rainbow Factory when he was younger, and continues to be the charity's patron today.

'It is so important to give young people somewhere to go and something to get involved in,' he says. 'It doesn't matter whether they are going to be actors or not. It is the taking part in something that matters. It really helped me out.'

McCann has put in the hard graft with regards to education through the arts. He reveals, for example, that when he was 18 he had a job for a year and half travelling around schools to promote theatre and education. He would be out of bed at four or five in the morning, bundled into a Fiat and driven to a school with children that might or might not take what he was doing seriously. 'It is difficult work,' he says. 'Very worthwhile, but gruelling.'

McCann will be returning to his educational roots during the Takeover Festival with an acting workshop for 14-20 year olds. 'It isn't a masterclass,' he says firmly. 'I don't like it when they call it that. I am a long way from knowing everything about the business. All I know for sure is how I got started, and that is what I am going to share.'

The Takeover Film Festival is at the Queen's Film Theatre from November 18 - 19. Visit the Cinemagic website for more information.