My Cultural Life: Aidan O'Neill

Playing George Best in a musical is a humbling experience for the Tipperary-born actor

You started out in amateur dramatics at age 15, but never studied acting professionally. Were there any actors that inspired you to keep following your dream of becoming a professional actor?

I’ve always thought that Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic. From My Left Foot through to In The Name of the Father to There Will Be Blood, he creates these solid, completely believable characters. You never feel like it's an act, you feel it’s a rock solid character up there on screen that you could reach out and punch. He’s a completely different man in every film. If I could ever be anywhere near him on stage or screen I’d die.

Another actor I really love is Brendan Gleeson. He’s a fantastic actor. Whatever part he has played, whether it’s the lead role or just a small part, he manages somehow to dominate the film.

Daniel Day-Lewis is known for his method acting. For his role in The Crucible he trained to become a carpenter to get into the character. Do you approach a role in the same way?

Definitely not but for Dancing Shoes. I read as much about George Best’s life as I could. I was quoted in a paper as saying I’d stay away from anything like that but it’s completely untrue. I’ve read bios, watched documentaries, even footage of him on YouTube. You’d be crazy to avoid all that. And I grew up always knowing who he was because my dad was a massive fan. I have to find out as much as I can about the person I have to portray.

George Best is a sporting icon, especially in Belfast. Are you anxious about playing the part before a Belfast audience?

Completely. I can't let myself think too much about that because it makes me nervous. It’s an honour that I’ve been given the opportunity to portray Best and that people have trusted me with this huge responsibility. There was a large competition with auditions in London, Dublin and Belfast, so it was very humbling to win the role.

If you could invite any cultural figures, past or present, round for dinner, who would they be and why?

I want to say Seamus Heaney or Brian Friel, but truly I’m not very cultured! I like my comedy so I’d invite Lee Evans. If you’ve ever seen him in interviews he’s a very calm and intelligent man. Maybe after a few beers he might get a bit mad, but I would too.

I would invite Shane MacGowan because I’m a huge fan, and his music is always playing in my house. And Shane Meadows also, just so I can hand him my CV. A Room for Romeo Brass and This is England are fantastic films.

What is the best piece of acting advice you’ve been given?

‘Go on stage with a full bladder. It gives your performance a real energy.’ That pearl comes from Paddy Jenkins who plays Dickie Best in Dancing Shoes. I’ve known Paddy for about four years now and I think I remind him of himself when he was younger. I respect him a lot as an actor and often ask his opinion. This advice is actually very helpful.

But if I were to give any advice of my own to any up and coming young actors trying their luck I would say that when you’re offered a few weeks work take it, because it’s back to the grind after that until the next job. Acting isn’t glamorous. It’s a tough, tough game and you’re out of work more often than not. It’s not a career for everyone.

Dancing Shoes, by Marie Jones and Martin Lynch, music and lyrics by Pat Gribben and JJ Gilmour, runs from July 28 to August 14 at the Grand Opera House.

Brendan Deeds