Is there something otherworldly about Aidan Turner? Casting directors seem to think so; he made his name playing a vampire named Mitchell (in the BBC3 hit Being Human), hit the big time as a dwarf named Kili (in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy), and can currently be seen as a werewolf named Luke Garroway (in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, a new young-adult bloodsucking franchise that takes up its fangs where Twilight left off). If Turner is poised on the verge of interstellar fame — and the dark, brooding intensity he brings to his roles are inspiring a plethora of feverish fansites, along with wider acclaim — the 30-year-old is determined to play it down: “I’m just another jobbing actor, no more, no less,” he says.
Turner was born in Clondalkin, in West Dublin; he trained at Dublin’s Gaiety School of Acting and appeared in several theatre productions in Ireland and London (including Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, where he met his girlfriend, fellow actor Sarah Greene) before landing the role in Being Human, whose title could serve as his acting philosophy: “No matter how fantastic or far from your own experience a character’s circumstances might be, you’re always looking for the common thread of humanity in there.” For ARTICLE ,
Turner talks big breaks and big budgets, as well as playing pool, Breaking Bad, and keeping a down-to-earth head while his blood-sucking, sword-wielding, shape-shifting characters are losing theirs.
Stuart Husband: You’re in two of the biggest movie franchises around at the moment — does it feel like things are really stepping up a gear for you?
Aidan Turner: It does. These are big projects, you know? There are two more Hobbit films to come, and I’m shooting the next Mortal Instruments movie this autumn. The Hobbit took up a big chunk of my life — two and half solid years of shooting in New Zealand. It was amazing, being flown out to the other side of the world, being part of the Peter Jackson experience. I come from a fairly modest background — a lot of theatre in Ireland, some TV parts — and then I went straight into these massive juggernauts.
S.H. You seem to have skipped the in-between indie-movie apprenticeship phase that most actors go through…
A.T. Yeah. And I’m dying to get back to those, you know? Things seem to have happened so fast. I’ve gone from BBC shows where budgets are always an issue, to a Jackson set where money’s never mentioned unless someone’s saying “holy shit, how much do you think that cost?” As Kili, I’ve got my own Lego figure and I’m on a caramel latte cup in Germany. How did that happen?
S.H. But isn’t there a danger that, as an actor, you end up feeling like an expendable cog in a giant machine?
A.T. Not with Peter. He’s as great with the actors as he is with the sets and special effects — he’s totally involved in everything. You get a lot of time with him, talking through the scenes, and he’s always prepared to reset twenty horses and 150 extras and however many cameras in order for you to really nail your dialogue and performance. He knows a happy cast is a happy set.
S.H. Is it true that he cast you after seeing you in Being Human?
A.T. So he said. I mean, when I walked into the room to meet him, he was like, yeah, I love the show and Mitchell is a great character. That knocked me out. In my head I was thinking, has he just Wikipedia’d this? But getting to know Peter, I’ve realised that he’s so plugged-in. He’s a fanboy who knows his stuff”. So I knew that, auditioning for Peter, it was kind of my role to lose. It might have been misplaced confidence…
S.H. But you have to have a bit of that, right? Otherwise you’d never show up to any auditions…
A.T. I guess so. You have to be confident that you’ve got what it takes, but at the same time you need to realise that crazy gross ambition in itself isn’t always helpful. You have to be able to take a step back and know what you’re capable of and understand what the character requires. It’s a kind of game you have to play.
S.H. Did your role in The Mortal Instruments come about as a direct result of your being in The Hobbit?
A.T. Yeah, the director Harold Zwart apparently saw me at a press junket for The Hobbit and thought right that’s my Luke Garroway right there, the guy with the long hair and beard. Of course, when I went to meet him I’d cut my hair and was clean-shaven. But he kept the faith. There’s talk that the series might become as big as Twilight, and I thought about what that’s meant for the guys who were in that — the fan base exploding, every move you make dissected on Twitter, the lack of privacy, but at the same time the amazing opportunities it’s brought. There’s good and bad baggage. I see myself as a character actor, not a movie star. So I’d like to stay under the radar as much as I can.
S.H. You’ve played a vampire, a dwarf, and a werewolf…
A.T. The unholy trinity!
S.H. …what brings these kinds of roles your way?
A.T. I don’t know. I can’t wait to play a real person — it feels like it’s been years. We seem to be having a moment where fantasy is huge - look at the success of Game Of Thrones. But I try to look beyond the supernatural aspect and connect with these characters as people. They’re still vulnerable, they still have fear and anxiety and love to deal with, like everyone else. Although, as Luke, I also get to strap on some claws and have some ferocious fights. It’s the best of both worlds — I get to brood and I get to explode.
S.H. Are you getting recognised more now?
A.T. I’m in that nice phase — and I hope it stays that way — where you get a kind of double take where people think they know who you are but they’re not sure where from. It’s like they might have seen you on telly but you might also be an old school friend or something. I’m not in it for the fame because it makes the whole gig that much harder. So I’m into changing looks and genres and not being pinned down.
S.H. Any history of acting in your family?
A.T. None. I’m the break-out. Ours was an arts-friendly household; but, for me, acting was a kind of default career because I had no clue what to do when I left school. I remember walking by the Gaiety School in Temple Bar in Dublin and they were advertising a 6-week “Acting for Film” course. I thought, well, that looks like a laugh, and that’s all it was for me initially. I was really starting from scratch — I didn’t know how to read Shakespeare, any of that. It was so embarrassing, when I look back on it. But then the fun became challenging, then rewarding, then inspiring, you know, reading Brecht and Oscar Wilde and going to see plays.
S.H. But you were into films when you were younger, right?
A.T. Oh yeah. I’m not a movie buff by any means, but my first Saturday job, when I was 16, was at the UCI Cinema complex in Tallaght. I worked there as an usher, and on the concession stand. I’ve got this intense memory of the smell of stale popcorn in an empty theatre on a Monday morning. I was into Spielberg, and Irish directors like Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan, and now we’ve got a host of younger Irish writers and directors coming through.
S.H. But Is it still the case that you need to leave Ireland if you want to make it as an actor?
A.T. It just makes it easier. There’s only so much you can do in Ireland. London’s the natural escape, I suppose — it’s a massive centre of theatre and film-making, just 45 minutes away by plane, and there’s a big contingency of Irish actors based there right now, including me and my girlfriend, who just finished playing alongside Daniel Radcliffe in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan in the West End. There’s also Robbie Sheehan, who’s in The Mortal Instruments with me — we sometimes hang out. I’ve made a lot of friends in the business. I’ve been lucky, I guess — I’ve met very few douchebags up to this point.
S.H. Does it help that your girlfriend’s an actor too?
A.T. Yeah, it helps a lot in terms of support. And then, I’ve got a lot of other friends who are nothing to do with the business, which helps keep things in perspective. It’s not that I consider myself to have a big ego, though I’m sure that some people believe that being a dick comes with the territory. It’s just that you can get a bit consumed by the job, which can tip over into self-indulgence. You’ve got to remember that we’re not saving lives — it’s just entertainment. Actors can forget that sometimes amid all the ego-massaging. I’m aware of that and it’s something I’ve always fought against.
S.H. As films lose their cachet to great TV serials like Breaking Bad, Top Of The Lake and Southcliffe, isn’t it the case that actors no longer feel like they have to head to Los Angeles in order to be where the interesting, talked-about work is?
A.T. Yeah, telly’s growing ever stronger. In fact, a lot of films these days feel a bit thin and underdone compared to the amazing story arcs in something like Breaking Bad. There’s a multitude of different options for actors these days, from low-budget TV to mega-budget films, in a host of different countries. People are taking chances, and it’s an exciting time.
S.H. Do you still regard Dublin as home?
A.T. Yeah, I just came back after three months away and it was such a treat to feel that old sense of ease and calmness returning. I’m completely obsessed with pool, and actually have a pool hall that I’ve built out where my parents live, in a converted garage, with a tournament-sized table that I had flown over. It’s a proper man-cave. And a friend of mine just surprised me by getting Ken Doherty to come over — he’s an Irish former snooker world champion and a huge hero of mine. So l’m there, drinking some wine, and I see Ken walk in with his cue. I nearly lost it. That was one of the greatest moments of my life so far.
S.H. I heard you also like to hang out at a place called Lillie’s Bordello, which sounds interesting.
A.T. I actually used to work there. It’s a nightclub on Grafton Street, and I tended bar to support myself while I did my acting courses. I thought I was Tom Cruise in Cocktail, even though I couldn’t pull a pint when I started. It was probably the first real acting lesson I got - mix the Martinis, juggle the shakers, look the part of a mixologist, blag and blag and blag, and eventually you assume the role. I actually got really good.
S.H. Anyone you’d absolutely kill to work with?
A.T. Tons of people, and I’m always funny about naming them, because I don’t want to hex anything. But I’ll tell you what I did for my pool hall recently. I have an artist friend named Matthew Griffin, who’s brilliant, and I commissioned some poster-sized pieces from him, representations of my all-time favourite films, to hang on the walls. And they are: 1) Sexy Beast; 2) The Piano Teacher, because I’m a big fan of Michael Haneke; 3) Trainspotting, one of the movies that inspired me to become an actor; 4) Cocktail, just for posterity; and 5) The Big Lebowski — who isn’t a fan of that? But right now Bryan Cranston has become my favourite actor. To get to do what he’s done as Walter White in Breaking Bad? A dream. I didn’t know that kind of character journey was even possible. Maybe I’ll get to do something similar one day.
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