Billy Elliot at The Palace Theatre, Victoria
Musical theatre actor Killian Donnelly tells Shelley Marsden about his part in Billy Elliot the Musical and his striking resemblance to Michael Collins
Set in the North East of England during the historic 1984/85 miners strikes, Billy Elliot was the endearing story of one boy’s determination to realise his ambitions against the odds. Hopes of becoming a dancer were more than frowned upon within the tough, manly mining community and thus, he pursued his passion in private. The Oscar nominated film, which launched the career of Hollywood actor Jamie Bell in the lead, both tugged at the heartstrings and offered heartfelt laughs. The musical, which opened in London in March 2005 with music by Elton John, is a similar success story. Now handsome Meath actor Killian Donnelly, who has appeared in TV show The Tudors and recently wrapped production on Tom Hooper’s feature film version of Les Misérables, has joined the cast of Billy Elliot the Musical as the protagonist’s older brother, Tony, fresh from playing Raoul in another West End phenomenon, Phantom of the Opera…
Killian you seem excited about joining Billy Eliot, is it a favourite show of yours?
It was the first show I saw when I moved over to London six, seven years ago. An ex-girlfriend took me, said she knew I’d like it. But when you work in musicals, the last thing you want to do when you have a break from it all is go see a musical, so she had to literally drag me there. I adored it; it’s the first show I’ve watched that’s made me proper teary-eyed and I’ve genuinely enjoyed. It sounds clichéd when you join a show and say: ‘I’ve always wanted to play that role, it’s a dream come true.’ But I’ve never gone looking for roles to play. I’ve always been looked at by casting agents who’ve gone: ‘You’d make a great such-and-such’. I get a role then I go and research it. Tony was the first and only part I’d ever seen on stage and said, I want to play that part. I didn’t think I’d ever be close to doing it, because he has to dance a lot and I’m, er, more of a mover, I’m not the best dancer! But they said no, we can teach that and with a five-week rehearsal period you’ll get that no problem (I was like, really?!).
So you can finally realise that dream of wearing a tutu…
I can, that’s why I took the gig actually.
Tony’s relationship to Billy is a fiercely protective one, isn’t it?
I guess he’s mirroring what his dad did a few years back, because the year’s 1984, the miners’ strike. He’s a part of the local community, one of its leaders I suppose; very headstrong and full of heart. He’s the first to get out the door and get everyone gunned up which is what his dad was like years ago. But the last thing he needs right now is his younger brother saying: ‘I want to be a ballet dancer’
“But all that comes out of a love for the family. To anyone watching the show, he can come across as a hard, angry character but it’s the only way he can deal with his emotions. This is the most emotional part I’ve ever played.”
To read more see the December 22-29 edition of the Irish World