Twelve’s company

Shelley Marsden finds actor/director Nick Moran’s enthusiasm infectious as he tells her about his West End play, the trials and tribulations of movie-making and his Kerry roots…

“There are Morans everywhere”, says Nick Moran of his parent’s home county, Kerry. The last time the actor visited Dingle they were in the garage, the cake shop; they were the two cousins that take you out to see Fungi the dolphin, “for €45 euros. I’m like, what’s the dolphin’s cut, fellahs? They’re funny guys”.

Moran runs with several Irish friends in London, like Stevie Collins – who helped make a boxer out of skinny Homeland actor Rupert Friend for his hard-hitting film The Kid, fellow actor Con O’Neill and Robbie Keane.

“He’s hilarious, Robbie. Get him talking about Ireland and he goes into a rant: ‘It’s a different country, it’s not England. There’s a SEA, it’s a different piece of LAND, it has nothing to do with this place!”

The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star (he played Eddy the card sharp), or Scabior in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Part 2, Moran has appeared in New Blood with John Hurt, ITV’s Mr Selfridge and The Musketeer.

But right now, he is Juror #7 in a new production of court-room drama Twelve Angry Men at London’s Garrick Theatre, a classy, intelligent piece which has gone down so well it’s just been given an extended run, until March 15. Its stellar cast also includes Martin Shaw, Jeff Fahey and Robert Vaughn.

The show got a full house the other night, the first full house for the Garrick, maintains Moran, for the first time in ten years. Moran says it’s getting standing ovations every night and he’s chuffed to bits: “There’s nothing nicer than being in a hit success – and nothing worse than being in a turkey, right?”

When he was offered the job, it was a piece he was familiar with. The film version, starring Henry Fonda, is one of his favourite movies and one he remembers admiring alongside his fellow drama school students.

It began as a one-hour live theatre show in 1954 which Henry Fonda, whose acting career was somewhat on the wane, saw and loved. Two years later, Fonda approached its writer Reginald Rose and told him, if he could stretch it out another half hour, he’d bankroll it and make it into a feature film. You could say he invented the indie movie.

Moran explains enthusiastically: “They filmed it in the back-lot of Fox Studios, on a tiny set, in just ten days. It cost £100,000 which even back then was nothing. It’s a unique film and had a lot of groundbreaking aspects of filmmaking. It’s also one of the first films to be shot in real time. It’s two hours of people’s lives; it doesn’t cut to tomorrow. It’s everybody’s dad’s favourite movie. As we speak, someone somewhere is watching it.”

Moran plays ‘Juror 7’ (played by Jack Warden in the movie). It’s set in a court-room, but the actor doesn’t think its setting is that important for the drama of the piece: “It’s like any piece of classical theatre, or French absurdist or existentialist or whatever; it’s not necessarily about the facts. It’s about the human condition, everybody exploring themselves and their own shortcomings.

“That’s what makes people perceptive to the truth. Nobody has a name, they’re just numbers. Everybody starts off as a blank canvas, and as the play progresses, they confront their own fears and prejudices. That’s the drama.”

It still has something powerful to say about the law, though. When it was made, it depicted what went on the jury room in 1954, but what it says about truth and perceived truth, and the way spin works, is as relevant today in this age of phone-hacking scandals and debates about press freedom as it ever was.

Moran is in distinguished, all-male company in this play, but laughs when I suggest that makes for quite a bit of testosterone flying around and says they’re only a bunch of namby-pamby actors.  To be fair, he’s probably one of the youngest in the entire cast, there are no bare-knuckle boxers in there.

Working with older actors is a joy, he says. Recalling The Great Train Robbery, which he starred in just before Christmas with Jim Broadbent, James Fox and other ‘mature’ actors, he says they showed everyone how it was done. But more than that, they were refreshingly lacking in ego and the need to make their presence felt everywhere they went.

“Being in that kind of company is more whimsical and witty”, he says. “Twelve Angry Men’s a nice dynamic. We socialise but not in a stupid rock and roll way, the way you do when you’re in the West End in your twenties. This is a touch of shenanigans at work and a couple of pints of real ale in the pub across the street. Occasionally there’ll be a ‘night out’, but it doesn’t have that attention-seeking urgency that you get from a younger, all-male cast.”

When he starred in Four Nights in Knaresborough, he describes himself and his fellow young male cast as four strung-out blokes that thought they were rock stars. “Nah, this is cool. It’s anecdotal and fine wines, much more pleasant atmosphere to be in. You live longer.”

As well as acting, Moran has delved into directing, making two feature films to date. Both of them, Telstar and The Kid, were well made and critically acclaimed and clearly labours of love, but failed to make an impression at the box office.

The brilliantly realised Telstar, about Joe Meek, the troubled yet charismatic record producer who ran his empire from above a shop on the Holloway Road, stars Irish World award winner Con O’Neill, a pal of Moran’s from way back, and Kevin Spacey as the tragically unheeded voice of reason as Meek’s business partner Major Wilfred Banks.

Giving his friend Con the lead in his film was completing a circle that began in the late eighties, he explains: “I was Con’s understudy in another life, in 1989-90 when I joined Blood Brothers.  He was the coolest bloke I ever met. I remember going, ‘One day mate, I’m going to write a play for you!’ And I did.”

For the full interview, see this week’s Irish World. 


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