RISING STAR: Chris Patrick Simpson
If you're going to name-drop follow Belfast actor Chris Patrick Simpson's example and make them big names
‘Professionally I go by Chris Patrick Simpson,’ the fair-haired lead of TV3's new crime drama The Guards stresses. The threat of luvviness is dispelled as he sits down on the sofa and explains: ‘There’s another bloke called Chris Simpson in Equity, so I had to use my middle name.’
It’s a moment characteristic of Simpson, whose love of acting is leavened with an innate practicality towards the mechanics of success. It might be something he inherited from his father, who, when he heard a famous actor was staying at the Hilton, dropped a letter in for him telling him about his son. That night Martin Sheen called their house.
‘He invited the whole family to a premiere he was doing,’ Simpson remembers. ‘And he took me to dinner. He was really supportive and offered me loads of advice.’
Simpson can name-drop some other impressive names in the British and International film scene including Geraldine McEwan, Peter Mullan and Daniel Day-Lewis.
‘I was in The Boxer with Daniel Day-Lewis,’ Simpson says. ‘I worked with him for about a week and got a real taste of what the business was like early on. Then my scene got cut out at the end.’
For an aspiring young actor that had to be gutting, especially since he cites Day-Lewis as one of the inspirations behind him wanting to become an actor in the first place: ‘It was the first time I’d heard a Northern Irish accent on the screen.' For Simpson one of his next jobs, which he credits as his big break, made up for the disappointment.
‘I was just out of drama school and working for Dubbeljoint,’ Simpson explains, ‘and one night the casting director for The Magdalene Sisters came up and asked me if I was interested.’
Simpson ended up playing Brendan in the controversial and uncompromising film and admits that afterwards he thought: ‘That’s it. People will be calling me up. Only for one reason or another, they didn’t.’
Not one to rest on his laurels Simpson decided to take his drama school principal’s words to heart and ‘go out and do it for himself.’ In his case ‘it’ was a play called The Wrong Man written by republican playwright Danny Morrison.
It was a bare-bones production put on by Simpson and some of his friends. Simpson admits that he hoped Morrison’s background would get them some publicity but he never expected The Wrong Man to turn out to be as successful as it was.
‘Loads of people came to review it and just really, really loved it,’ he remembers, still sounding a little awed. ‘It just took legs from there and went all around the UK and Ireland. At that point in my career that was a bit of an achievement.’
It also taught him a lesson he thinks is important for all jobbing actors out there – keep the brain ticking over creatively while looking for work during the down times.
‘It’s stood me in good stead,’ Simpson points out. ‘Since moving back from London I’ve done 50 Dead Men Walking and I’ve just finished filming The Guards for TV3.’
The Guards is a bit of an experiment for TV3 – a two part drama, shot in documentary style, focusing on the lives of three young gardaí in Dublin as they try to balance their careers, friendships and family lives. Simpson plays Malachy, the cynical ‘black sheep’ of the trio who may be starting to crack under the pressures of the job.
It might sound like The Bill, recently cancelled by ITV, relocated to Dublin but Simpson insists there is more to the programme.
‘It’s not just about the crimes,’ he says. ‘It’s very much about these three men and their friendship, how they cope with the things they see every day.’
It certainly has a better set than The Bill since it was filmed on location in Finglas Garda Station. Simpson believes that the set being solid concrete and brick gave the production a real sense of place that carries through to the screen.
Asked if being in a police station brought back any old memories Simpson denies all.
‘I never got into trouble,’ he laughs. ‘I was always a good lad.’