Some fans bristled at Rory's early stereotypical Irish storylines in Glee, but his character soon found his feet.
Will he stay or will he go? That’s the question fans of Glee are asking about the fate of young Rory Flanagan, the teenage heartthrob played by Derry’s own Damian McGinty. From his days in a bespoke kilt in the Celtic Thunder group to his winning spot on The Glee Project last summer that led to a starring role on the hit show, McGinty tells Cahir O'Doherty about his spectacular year and his rising hopes for the road ahead.
In show business there’s not much room for sentimentality when the cameras have stopped rolling. Just ask Derry’s own Damian McGinty, 19, who plays young Irish exchange student Rory Flanagan on Fox TV hit Glee.
Neither he nor any of the other actors on the show like Lea Michele, who plays Rachel, and Naya Rivera, who plays Santana, know what will happen to their characters at the end of each season. In fact the truth is that most of the time they don’t even know what will happen to them from script to script.
So McGinty’s fans -- and there are tens of thousands of them -- have been feverishly speculating all over the Internet about his ultimate fate from the day he was first cast on the show, as has the young Derry-born performer himself, naturally.
Originally slated to appear seven times in the show’s third season, McGinty proved such a popular hit with the fans that his character appeared throughout the rest of the season.
“I find out – we all find out at the end of June – whether I’ll be on Glee next year, so it’s a bit of a waiting game,” McGinty told the Irish Voice during a recent interview in New York.
Like every other actor on the show he’ll probably be the last to know. But either way he agrees that it’s been a chance of a lifetime and such a boost to his rapidly rising career that he can afford to be philosophical about what comes next.
“If it happens great, if it doesn’t I’ll get back out there and there’ll be something else,” McGinty confesses.
You can see that if he gets the call up he wouldn’t exactly say no, but McGinty has a new level of confidence that comes from having been through the Hollywood system and thrived in it. It’s pretty clear he badly wants to stay on though.
“It’s been a long, strenuous year and a half but it’s been worth every second. I think it’s been an incredible journey and I’ve learned a lot. I’m just continually growing as an artist and a performer,” he says.
“I’m learning a lot from the other actors on Glee. You know I was scheduled for seven episodes but I ended up doing 17.”
It’s a tribute to McGinty’s talent that he ended up winning the popularity stakes with the show’s producers, who include its Irish American creator Ryan Murphy, and because of it he ended up seeing his role on Glee expand from week to week.
But some critics weren’t too kind about the parade of Irish stereotypes that the show’s writers trafficked in when they introduced McGinty’s character.
Rory Flanagan first appeared in an episode called “Pot O’ Gold” as an Irish foreign exchange student living with Brittany (Heather Morris), who believes he is a leprechaun.
We also saw Rory constantly pushed around and insulted by the jocks at McKinley High for everything from his accent to his clothes. That’s why his first song on the show was his rendition of the classic Kermit the Frog song “Bein' Green.”
It’s not easy being Irish or green on this show, but McGinty has weathered the criticism and managed it. Now he just has to show us all he’s got staying power.
“That’s all you can do,” McGinty agrees. “That’s the thing about this business, it’s always uncertain. But you know what, us people in the business are weird because we love the uncertainty, that’s what we thrive on – so bring it on.”
He’s up to the challenge. Keep in mind that winning a lead role on the top show for young people in the U.S. has never happened for a kid from Derry before.
Remember too that McGinty got there as a result of his own talent, first tying for top place on The Glee Project and then winning a golden ticket to a whole new level of stardom. Many people helped him, but he did the heavy lifting himself.
When you meet McGinty it’s not hard to see why they liked him so much. In person he’s approachable and friendly, and what you see is pretty much what you get in a way that’s much more 19-year-old Derry lad than Hollywood star.
McGinty first arrived on these shores back in 2007 at the age of 14, when he was the youngest kilt-wearing member of the Irish traditional band Celtic Thunder. Hand picked for their voices and for their rugged Irish good looks, McGinty was soft-featured boy among the burly men, the Donny Osmond of the band, with a cute smile to warm any mother’s heart. (They even had him sing Osmond’s signature tune “Puppy Love,” to the delight of the band’s biggest fans).
It was a heady introduction to the U.S. for a boy who at the time was still in high school, after all. I can remember seeing Celtic Thunder for the first time as they walked up Fifth Avenue near the Apple Store in 2007, dressed in their stylish grey kilts.
They were just about to break the American charts. You could tell they were going places but they still carried themselves like typical Irish lads, nothing flashy about them, just friendly and ready for a laugh. Now McGinty has reached the top of the heap, and he’s ready for a little vacation.
“I am indeed,” he agrees. “I’m going home to Derry on Saturday and I have to say I’m really excited. It’s my first visit home this year. I’ve only spent two or three weeks in Derry in the last two and a half or three years, to tell you the truth.”
Other Irish actors and performers will want to know how he did it, but there’s no magic formula. McGinty has three items in his recipe for success and they’re tried and tested.
“I think it’s three things,” he says. “A lot is luck, talent and determination. Determination is huge. Talent can go a long way, but if you’re focused and determined then luck comes with that.
“You don’t get luck for free. You have to earn to earn your luck. I’m a huge believer in that so yeah, I think if you want it, fight for it.”
That luck, determination and talent won him a part on Glee, which in turn has spawned an industry of number one albums and summer tours. For McGinty it’s the trip of a lifetime, but the show’s punishing year round schedule can feel like a mountain to climb too. So now it’s time to chill.
Back in Derry, he took time out to have dinner with his family and friends and reconnect with Derry life. Then, in the only way that people under 30 express happiness these days, he took to Twitter to post the following: “Great night out with family and friends. Nothing like it. It really is the simple things.”
With an attitude like that McGinty move forward and do well no matter where or how he ends up.
Damian McGinty's rendition of 'Home' for 'Glee':