Seamus O’Farrell, a comedic actor direct from Ireland, recently performed at the American Irish Historical Society in New York bringing the house down with his sharp wit and ubiquitously Irish sense of humor.
Christina Canty caught up with him to learn more about his journey so far.
So, Seamus, tell us about yourself and your life in Ireland. What is your village like? Is there anything or anyone you have particularly longed for while here in the States?
I’m from just outside a small village called Coalisland in Co. Tyrone, I grew up in the countryside its an ideal place because we lived close to the motorway and a few miles from a larger town Dungannon but also far enough away from everything so it was nice and peaceful in the countryside and we always had animals, dogs and Shetland ponies and cats and we had a goat for a while.
Living so far from home is hard, I do get homesick sometimes but I absolutely love living in America. I often think of how lucky I am to be able to facetime my family at any time, too. I think of the immigrants who have come before us and how when they left Ireland, most of them never even saw their family again.
What was life like growing up in the North of Ireland?
I remember growing up the troubles were still going on, so I have some very vivid memories of that such as police checkpoints and I remember the British army helicopter used to land in the field beside my house. I recall watching the news every day and seeing shootings and bombings regularly.
When I was in school one memory sticks out, which was when a bomb exploded at the Post office in the town center and we were playing in the playground a mile away at the time. I also remember when the IRA called a ceasefire… and then the optimism of when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Really, what had seemed impossible had suddenly become possible.
I understand that you were a postal carrier prior to your arrival in the US. What was that like?
When I was in college during the summer I got a job as a postman for the summer, I really enjoyed it. I was in a rural village where I walked one route, and then I did three driving routes. Sometimes a mailman is the only human interaction that perhaps an older person will get during the day, so I always made time to talk to people whilst delivering the mail.
I had one house which we called the Tea House, where the mailmen stopped for over 30 years and a lady made us breakfast and when the start time moved, she made us lunch.
In all, I think that was my favorite thing about it – the interaction with people. I met some lovely people and it taught me a great deal about human interaction in general and treating people right because you never know just how hard their life might be or how lonely they really feel.
It's not every day that you meet a postman turned actor. How did you decide to make the switch?
I had always wanted to move into acting. When I left university, I picked up where I left off and continued worked as a part-time postman for several years. I was offered a permanent position many times over my time there, but I always turned it down because I knew I could easily get comfortable and maybe give up on my dream.
Whilst being a part-time postman, it gave me the time to pursue acting. It was a few months after I graduated from University that I got my break after auditioning to join the Craic Theatre. I was cast in Brian Friel’s "Freedom of the City." To me, this was confirmation that I was on the right track and that it was what I wanted to do with my life.
What events in your past, if any, would you say shaped your approach to acting, and artistic expression in general?
In school I was always a joker, some might say I wasn’t the class clown – but the school clown! I remember when my drama teacher called me out of Maths class and told me “You have to do Drama!”
So when it came to select subjects to continue after 14, I knew that Drama was one. I just loved making people laugh and having the freedom to be creative.
Growing up, I always enjoyed sketch shows and comedies. My grandad was always a joker, and he lived until he was 95. I think that is the key to a long life!
So I understand that you came here as a student, is that correct? Tell us about your school.
I had a dear friend who had attended the summer intensive at the Maggie Flanigan Studio and he spoke very highly of the program. I had an offer to attend an acting school in Dublin, but when I spoke with the Executive Director at Maggie Flanigan, Charlie Sandlan, I knew that was the calling of my true Artistic home.
In 2016, I left Tyrone for New York and it was the best decision. The school really feels like a little community, as everyone knows everyone and coming from Ireland, I felt immediately at home.
And how has your experience at Maggie Flanigan been? What was it like returning to the classroom? Were there any ah-ha moments? What about discouraging moments? How did you overcome them?
I cannot speak highly enough of both the school and my time there. It is a superb place to learn your craft. The professors are patient and supportive, but they will also push you to your absolute limits. It completely changed me. I have grown so much from the person I was when I first walked into the school. It was exciting returning to the classroom, as I feel that as an actor you are always learning and it is important to be open to everything.
Frankly, I feel that I was pushed (in a good way,) and in turn, I pushed myself perhaps harder than I would have if I was at home.
New York is where everyone at the top of their respective industry comes, so the competition is there. It can be palpable at times, but you learn to stop fearing it and to actually feed off of it. I wanted to get the best training, and so I felt that it was really New York or bust! There were instances where things were difficult, and there were indeed setbacks, but that is life.
And after a setback, a week or two later, there would be a breakthrough and things would make sense. Truly, it really was a rollercoaster of a ride, but I am not complaining. I learned the most important thing is to remain grounded. Prior to my attendance at the Studio, I thought that I knew acting. But it turns out that I knew nothing!
What was the most surprising thing for you in terms of attending school and living life in NYC?
I had been to New York a few times before, but nothing could have prepared me for living in it. For a week or two after I moved in and tried to get settled, I felt a little overwhelmed at first. It was a big change and an adjustment for sure. But once I settled in, I just fell in love with the city, the energy, and everything about it!
I loved that in my Theatre History class we read the Glass Menagerie, and two days later I got to see it on Broadway. Those are just things that you cannot do back to back in other parts of the world.
New York has this reputation of being a rough city and people not being nice, but for me, that has proven to be a fallacy. I have met nothing but wonderful people who will always go out of there way to help and be kind.
School has opened an entirely new world to me – a new world of acting techniques, people, and creative collaboration. This experience, especially the school, has changed my life.
Today, I am a much better actor, I much more grounded and present, and I am a better listener. To avoid sounding overly dramatic, I do feel like my appreciation for life has been elevated, and I feel like a better overall human being. I am forever indebted to my teachers for my time at the Maggie Flanigan Studio.
So aside from school, I understand that you have participated in some very high caliber events, such as readings and standup at the Irish American Historical Society. Could you tell us a bit about these events? Any highlights that you were not expecting?
Well, I like to think that my stand-up comedy gig at the American Irish Historical Society in October 2017 sums up New York perfectly: how an opportunity is around every corner if you really look. I have also performed several readings at the American Irish Historical Society.
One that I particularly enjoyed was the Transformation through Creativity as part of the 1st Irish Origin Theatre Festival. The Transformation Through Creativity looked at the works that have come out of the conflict and post-conflict of the north, and the creatives who have used the arts to bring together the Nationalist and Unionist communities in Ireland. It was not only inspiring, but it also was an especially personal issue for me.
I am hoping to eventually become more creative and invest myself in future works that touch on that time in my life.
Do you have any upcoming projects on the horizon? Is there anything in particular that we should keep an eye out for?
I am currently writing a play, as I have just finished the first draft. It is a play about an Irishman who immigrates to the United States although it is set at the turn of the 20th century. They say write about what you know! Although it is not set in modern-day, its themes are quite relevant, as it explores the excitement of a new life. It also explores the loss of an old life and includes elements that explore the grief of loss and hope for the future.
Additionally, I am also working on a stand-up comedy show which I am hoping to take on tour in 2020. I am doing small sets at the moment workshopping material so, it is very exciting, every day.
What are you most grateful for, as related to this opportunity to join the acting realm in the States?
I love the fact that in New York you are constantly surrounded by creative people. I have gained so many dear friends who are doing great things. And to see so many people truly aspiring to reach their potential, well that in itself is extremely inspiring for me. New York, even though it is such a huge city, feels like a small community in some ways, especially within the acting community.
What are you most looking forward to for the future?
I am excited to take my standup on tour in 2020 and I am hopeful that I can get my play put up at some point next year. It will take a great deal of work, but that is the challenge and that is the true beauty of not just New York but the United States itself.
Anything is possible if you truly work at it. I definitely believe the American dream is still alive and well. I want to continue writing and creating my own content, and really focus in on comedy because that’s what I feel I do best!
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