The 29-year-old Irish actor Keith McErlean plays the gay lead character in the Irish rom-com Goldfish Memory. Rich Cline spoke with him justbefore his opening night performance on stage in Portia Coughlan at Dublinís Abbey Theatre...
Rich: Goldfish Memory has been described as an Irish Love Actually. What was the set like?
Keith: It was great because the budget was so small, I think the cast actually outnumbered the crew! We had a lot of fun running around Dublin in a minibus picking up shots for 25 days. Since it was such a small film, there wasnít much pressure. Everyone was on good form. The character of Red was something new for me. I actually auditioned for the role of David, Redís love interest, played by Peter Gaynor. When you read a script you have all these ideas, and casting me as Red was definitely against type. I had just done this wacky comedy TV series, but this was completely new for me.
Rich: If the character was so unlike you, how did it feel to play him?
Keith: Well at least we didnít make him camp. The director believed that the characters could be anything we wanted to make them ó they are who they are ó so we decided to make Red a bit more middle of the road. So it wasnít a huge stretch for me. For the scenes where me and Peter get intimate, thinking about those was much worse that actually doing them. When theyíre filming itís so technical, making sure your elbow is in the right place, things like that.
Rich: How about shooting the gay scenes?
Keith: Well, one night we were in a less-than-desirable part of town shooting the scene where me and Peter kiss. Getting our heads round the scene was tricky since Peter and I are straight, and we were nervous about it. But there was this gang of kids standing not far away and we were sure they would start shouting. Itís what kids do in Dublin when they see a film set, and especially if they see two guys kissing. But the director, Liz Gill, explained to them what the scene was about and that we would be kissing, and they were brilliant! They just stood there and watched quietly. And of course I played another gay character subsequently in a movie I did in America.
Rich: Whatís that about?
Keith: It was called The Blackwater Lightship, made for American TV, and I played a guy with HIV. It was my first proper budget movie on a big set with an obscene amount of people ó a crew of 100! But it was an absolute pleasure to work with Angela Lansbury, Diane Weist and Gina McKee, whoís like a sister to me now. I never imagined that I would work with people like that!
Rich: How did you get into the business?
Keith: I did some acting in my teens but never considered it as a career. I went on to do a business and finance degree at university and that did it for me. I did not want to sit in an office and answer to the same boss for 30 years! I had played in a band for a long time, so after graduating I went on an arts course to create a musical show, which turned into a play because we were so bad at music. Then I went to drama school and Iíve been acting since age 24 in theatre, film and television.
Rich: Which do you prefer?
Keith: Film and theatre, definitely. Not TV, itís far too much exposure. After several years on Irish TV in Batchelorís Walk, everyone on the street knows you! They feel like they own a piece of you since youíve been in their living room for six years. But I could do film and theatre for 20 years and no one would know me. Also, thereís a certain hyper-reality to film and theatre, and also TV movies, that I like. But I donít have any regrets. The TV series I did was some of the best writing Iíve ever had to work with.
Rich: Is there anyone you really admire in the business?
Keith: Sean Penn. Heís the one actor who never seems to get it wrong. Consistently brilliant. I would love to be able to do work like that. Like him I try to take a different approach to each character. I never know what Iíll do until I get there.