“Guatemala, Belize, Mexico – I got back yesterday,” Robert Sheehan says, pulling out his mobile phone for a picture show of his travels – from volcanoes to turtles, to branches of McDonald’s in the world’s outermost climes.
It’s an unintended gloat; Robert is more at home poking fun at himself. “It’s like Sean Connery told me,” he remembers – while leafing through the outfits hung up for him and trying to keep his head steady while his eyeliner is applied – “you should never be afraid of making a cunt of yourself,” before bursting into laughter. He laughs a lot. And when he speaks, he rocket launches every word, accentuating each point with the full stretch of his arms and a widening of his blue eyes.
The 24-year-old actor’s recent holiday was well earned; in the last four years he’s barely paused for breath. His BAFTA-nominated stint as plucky young superhero Nathan Young in Misfits – unquestionably the show’s main attraction – was succeeded by the lead part in Nick Hamm’s film adaptation of Killing Bono. Robert’s not one to shy away from a challenge. Playing a male prostitute in a television adaptation of David Peace’s Red Riding and gangster Darren Tracey in gritty Irish drama Love/Hate showed off his phenomenal spark and promise. This year, Robert really makes his mark. Firstly, as a delusional psychopath in BBC drama Accused, and then as a teenager having an affair with his best friend’s mum in BBC comedy Me and Mrs Jones.
So how was your trip?
I did a month around Central America with a friend, a solid month of debauchery. I’m detoxing now. No booze. I’m cleansing my poor body after the abuse I gave it. Mexico was fantastic. We went cave diving, cenote diving in Tulum, and then to this absolutely beautiful beach resort. We were just running around flirting and kissing ladies. It was all very mock-spiritual. Then we went to LA – unlike everywhere else, we booked the most luxuriant hotel. It was Oscar weekend and there were lots of parties happening. We saw an impromptu Russell Brand gig and got to meet him. He said, ‘We’ve met before haven’t we?’ and I said, ‘No mate, I think I would’ve remembered!’ Then he realised, ‘Ohh, you’re that actor from The Borrowers.’ He must have been sitting at home, slippers on, eating Quality Street at Christmas watching The Borrowers. A pleasant image; it’s what I was doing too. But now it’s back to work.
When did you first start acting?
I was about 14. I got a small part in a film called Song for a Raggy Boy about the abuse in a Catholic school in the 30s, and I just carried on from there. It’s a great profession. Acting makes a strong person of you, or a weird person, depending on the job you’re doing.
“IT’S LIKE SEAN CONNERY SAYS – YOU SHOULD NEVER BE AFRAID OF MAKING A CUNT OF YOURSELF.”
How can it make you weird?
You commit yourself to a certain personality for a large amount of time, and sometimes that can be someone very dark or completely outside of yourself. It’s hard to retreat from performance if you do it a lot. It has a considerable effect on your disposition towards people. I’m lucky enough to have people in my life that I can retreat to and say, ‘Hey, I want to be the person I am with you again.’ It’s good to have a tether in your life. I talk to my mum a lot. In Accused –Jimmy McGovern’s four-part series – I played a young man who loses his mother and becomes increasingly delusional and paranoid. I was in that character for four weeks and going back to my hotel room alone every night. I nearly went insane. That kind of lifestyle can just absolutely drive you close to the edge, if not over it.
It must have been a very different role for you to play, compared with your character Nathan Young in Misfits. Were you worried that you were getting typecast as the Irish playboy?
Nathan, my character in Misfits, was this big personality – funny, loud and kind of mad. After that, I needed something different. There are other actors who find contentment performing one type of personality, but I’m interested in exploring different characters, and heading in new directions. Misfits was interesting because they wrote the series after we’d been cast so they deliberately wrote to our strengths. It was impossible not to let our own personalities filter in because they were almost based on us. On set, we were encouraged to dick about and cause as much havoc as we possibly could. The parts came so naturally because we weren’t reined in.
“THE THING ABOUT A SEX SCENE IS THAT IT’S THE LEAST SEXY THING YOU’LL EVER DO IN YOUR LIFE.”
What were you like as a teenager? Were you anything like Nathan Young?
Well, I wasn’t allowed to get arrested. My dad was a policeman! He did nearly arrest me once, though. There was a big fight on one of the local housing estates. The police showed up and they started grabbing people. As I was running away, my dad whipped round and saw me, and shouted, ‘Robert!’ I went, ‘Aahh!’ and just ran off. I got a fair talking to later that day, I can tell you.
Read more of our exclusive interview in Issue Two of The Hunger, on sale now.