My Cultural Life: Barry Cassin

The actor, director and now memoirist on his long career, his family and the one role he'd still love to play

Who/What/Where/Why/When is Barry Cassin?

Barry Cassin is a theatre actor and director with a career spanning the last 65 years. He has portrayed an enormous range of characters, from The Bishop in The Field to  Colonel Pickering in Pygmalion. He also found and championed the work of some of Ireland’s most celebrated playwrights and actors, including Aisling O’Sullivan. You can see him in Neil Jordan's upcoming vampire film Byzantium, starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan (based on Moira Buffini's Vampire Story, which was performed at the Lyric Theatre in 2011)

You recently published a memoir called I Never Had a Proper Job. Can you tell us a little
about it?

I Never Had a Proper Job is a candid theatrical memoir about my life as an actor, the difficult decision to forge a career, working at various theatres large and small, and the occasional hard graft of scraping a living at a time when actors were often derided by the public and feared by official Ireland. It is also about my parents, my marriage and my life.

When did you start acting and what was your first role?

My first performance was in the school operetta but I started acting professionally in the early 1940s, around 1942/1943. My first proper acting role was with a company called Equity Productions and I cannot remember what the play was!

What was your favourite role and why?

Playing the narrator in Under Milk Wood, an adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ BBC radio drama. I loved the piece of writing and enjoyed every of moment of speaking his beautiful language.

Since you have acted in both, would movies or TV be your favourite medium?

Neither! Theatre is my favourite medium. I am a theatre animal, I always was.

Your daughter Anne is a newscaster for RTE, but if she had wanted to go into acting
would you have supported her?

Of course. It’s a quick answer. Anne is in TV and my youngest is a farmer. I approve of all my children’s career choices.

Who was your favourite co-star?

Well, firstly, I never rated myself as a star! However, I’d have to say Anna Manahan, who I worked with more than once. She was so good and it was a pleasure to work with her.

What would be your dream role now?

I suppose I would enjoy playing Shakespeare’s King Lear. Nobody is going to ask me now, but I’ll go on dreaming!

What music do you listen to?

I listen to classical music but I consider myself musically illiterate.

Now that you've written one book, do you think you'll write another?

I may, I may. Who knows, who knows. I don’t think of myself as a writer. I’ve written a memoir but that feels different somehow. I don’t know, though, I may have something else up my sleeve!

I Never Had a Proper Job will be launched on June 12 at the Lyric Theatre as part of the Belfast Book Festival.