Ah, King Lear version 2. It made for a fun conversation starter whenever I met another actor in the July-August period.
“I’m in two different versions of King Lear, playing the same character, rehearsing out of the same building…”
I did the same audition for both too. I’d just been cast in the Thirteenth Floor version when I saw a casting call up for another adaptation of King Lear. A televised version featuring certain scenes from the play, intended as an educational video for Leaving Cert students. I went to myself “well, I already know the monologue” and did my same Albany audition, sending the tape off and pretty sure that I wasn’t going to get it. Sure enough, I got an email saying thanks for auditioning but they wouldn’t be bringing me in.
Literally a couple of days after The Fisherman, I got another email saying that I was now being offered the role of Cornwall. This was also during the one week I’d ended up as Edgar in the Thirteenth Floor version. When they tested us out again that weekend and I was offered Cornwall again, me being cast in this was a major factor to agreeing. Same part, so very few differences in lines right?
For some reason my anxieties really kicked into overload for this one. The night before the first rehearsal, I was a real bucket of nerves. Despite the fact that it was only a rehearsal, I knew where the venue was and I didn’t have to perform microscopic brain surgery. I came in just as they were finishing another scene and they were taking a break – so I got to meet everyone. Paul the director was an enthusiastic man with a great vision – excitedly saying that they’d built a throne for Lear to sit on, actual stocks for Kent to be put in and there were talks of a drone shot for when Lear was commanding the winds. Eoghan the producer was a friendly wrestling fan – so many minutes were spent geeking out over the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras. Julia the production assistant was a fun, spunky girl who seemed prepared for everything; every rehearsal and shoot day was greeted with sandwiches and bottles of water. I didn’t get to speak to Peter the DOP and Brendan the sound guy too much, but they seemed like lovely people too.
We had a Shakespeare expert called Liam Halligan on board, there to coach us on how to say the lines and properly flesh out the characters. Myself and Aoife, who was playing Regan, came in at the same time and he instructed us on how to make our zany husband and wife less like caricatures and more like menacing villains.
“Don’t think of them as villains or baddies. These are real people with real desires. Think of what Lear is doing to them. They think they’re perfectly right to do what they do. Just bear that in mind…”
For my first scene, I opened with a big long monologue that I didn’t have in the other version. I was playing it on loop on the train up to rehearsal, trying to cram it all in. When I first read it, I did it pretty much like a pantomime villain (just short of saying “behind thou he doth stand!”) but Liam’s coaching really helped me out and is probably some of the best direction I’ve ever received. Aoife was a complete sweetheart and herself, me, Paul and Julia spent one lunch break geeking out over films. We showed her a clip from Jupiter Ascending and her reaction was “is this meant to be a comedy?”
Will was on duty again, this time as King Lear himself. He’d found out he’d been cast while we were rehearsing The Fisherman and he was originally going to play Gloucester, but by the time I came on board had been upgraded to the lead. Watching his first scene – where he curses Goneril and Regan for taking away his knights – gave me a few chills. Despite having pages of monologues to memorise, he was off book during every rehearsal. The real darkhorse of the cast was a gentleman called Eoghan Collins, who was playing Kent. A tall imposing Cork man, he gave such an impressive reading during the rehearsal that I nearly forgot who was meant to be intimidating whom. I jokingly stood up on a chair to be able to hug him on the last day of shooting. There was a third Eoin in the cast, this one playing Gloucester. And I was frequently called Eoin by mistake as well, making it a foursome.
I got to meet most of the other cast members on the second rehearsal day, which consisted of the first scene and the eye gouging. Madi O’Carroll who played Goneril was a bubble of quirk and fun; they’d even pre-empted her for me by saying “she’s a big, crazy girl with red hair, you won’t be able to miss her”. Shane who played Edmund amusingly had no lines at all in the three scenes we shared – so there were many jokes made about how he was going to memorise all those lines. Stephen O’Leary who played Oswald was another standout in the cast. I personally loved his rendition of the slimy servant’s monologue; he gave me some great stuff to feed off. I didn’t get to speak to Tom Duffy (The Fool) or Juliette Crosbie (Cordelia) much but they seemed like fun people. I didn’t meet Brian, who played Albany until the last day of shooting. The exchange went something like this.
Bobby: “You’re playing my favourite character, so don’t fuck it up now.”
Brian: “Well I’ve already shot most of my scenes so…”
As a fun fact, his name is pronounced the Irish way (bree-an) but I called him by the wrong name a couple of times, until I overheard someone else say it properly. Then when I walked to the bus with him and exchanged details, he said “bye Billy” – I thought it would be impolite to correct him. Eoin also says that he was called Brian a couple of times as well.
My first day of shooting was at Larch Hill gardens in Kilcock (yes, that’s the actual place name). I actually missed my train by literally a minute – it pulling out just as I got onto the platform. But I made it into the city in time to catch the bus. Eoin, Eoghan, Aoife and Des (who played Edgar) got on in succession. With very few people travelling to Kilcock at 9 in the morning, we were able to pretend it was a private bus just for us. Myself and Eoin thoroughly irritated the others with our early morning singing; he from the Hercules soundtrack and me the odd choice of “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag”.
Des had his scenes shot first, so the rest of us ran lines in the picturesque gardens, where the pigs and cows were our audience. We didn’t have to deal with rabid fans – but rather rabid chickens. Every other take was interrupted by them squawking in the background. I have a distinct memory of Aoife trying to fend them off after they stepped over her lines one time too many. The stocks scene was next on the agenda. We did my close-ups first and I also had to contend with the sun getting in my eyes – while also trying to intimidate a guy twice my size. But Eoghan was fantastic as he had been in rehearsal, and I was really happy with how the scene turned out. Poor Stephen though; I nearly corpsed twice during his big monologue. Sorry mate, blame my hunger.
After lunch, the big scene of Goneril and Regan casting Lear out into the storm was next. I had to contend with a massive stomach ache, so luckily I only had four lines. This was probably the trickiest of the lot – and we found it the same way in the other version too. There’s a lot of back and forth between the sisters and Lear, and the levels just go up and down constantly. Naturally a lot of coverage was needed, but Will and the girls nailed it. I especially loved Aoife’s delivery of “and in good time you gave it”. Shane had no lines to remember (of course) so he spent his time admiring a peacock that had found its way onto the roof.
I wasn’t needed until the second-last day of filming on the Friday. Filmed entirely in the black box at the bottom of the Teacher’s Club, we shot the first scene with everyone. We finally got to see the throne that Paul had been bigging up to us, as well as a cool map they had made to represent the kingdom that was being divided. Don’t ask me why, but I brought my prop gun to the set to entertain people. It did the trick and everyone had a play with it. A fun moment came when Juliette – talking about how her costume made her look like a medieval priest – walked in, I said “would you feel better if you pulled this out of your skirt?”, she replied “oh my god, yes!”, ran forward and grabbed it. But of course that wasn’t the big part of the day.
The day ended with the eye scene. During rehearsal for that, Paul took me aside to ask how I felt about gross things. They had gone to a butcher’s and got a bag full of pig’s eyes to use as props. Coupling that with the darkness of the room, Eoin being tied up in a chair, and Aoife and I circling him…it felt like a scene out of 24 and we loved it. I can’t really describe how fun this was to film, even if I was worrying that I would have to hold pig entrails in a few minutes. Julia was the one who had to drop the eye in a coffee cup full of fake blood to get it ready. The planned shot was that the camera would go behind Eoin’s head, we’d cut and then bring the eye in, to make it look like one continuous take. I had just assumed I would hold the eye in front of his face, but I ended up putting my hand right on his eye socket. Fake blood went all over his face and hair, and the poor guy thought my wet hand was the eye itself. I was also instructed to give my hand a little pop by Peter as I pulled it away from Eoin’s head. Then I stepped on it. I was wearing Will’s shoes though, and wiped them repeatedly when it was over. I always love it when a shoot day ends on a high note, and stamping on pig’s eyeballs is pretty hard to top.