Rock solid beginnings
Wexford's red rock star Nic Furlong tells Padraig Byrne about meeting the great Al Pacino, the challenges of playing a TV bad guy, and how his career kick-started on a day out in Dublin with his mother
Actor Nic Furlong is by definition a real melting pot of influences. A Wexfordman, living in Enniscorthy, he is of Sicilian heritage on his mother's side and spent his formative years in Spain where he went to school and grew up speaking the language. While the Red Rock star is a proud Wexfordman and attended the CBS secondary school in Wexford town, he also has his sights set on making it abroad, setting his next step out as breaking the UK.
With his Red Rock role, Nic has managed to drive himself into the consciousness of the Irish acting world, being an actor hasn't necessarily been a life-long dream for him. As can often happen in life, the guiding hand of his mother Margaret, from Corish Park in Wexford town, had a great influence on his current trajectory.
'As a kid I did a lot of impressions and that kind of thing, but I never really expressed too much of an interest in becoming an actor,' he said. 'It was only when I was in my late 20s I started to get into it seriously. My mam always told me I should be an actor. I was in Dublin with her one day and they happened to be having an open day in the Gaiety School of Acting. She told me, 'just go in there and do it and give it a try'. I did and I got a call back and I ended up spending two years with them there.'
Constantly striving to better his craft, Nic was taken under the wings of two of the great acting coaches at the Bowe Street Academy who were able to provide him with invaluable advice. Gerry Grennell has worked with the likes of Marlon Brando and Heath Ledger (while undertaking his legendary portrayal of The Joker), while Stephen Bridgewater can count Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro among the people he's worked with. With a new found confidence, Nic set about capturing a major role on Irish TV.
'I just knew I had to get on Irish TV, that was the next step,' he said. 'Whether it was the likes of 'Love/Hate' or 'Red Rock', I just knew I needed to get a good role under my belt. 'Love/Hate' was actually coming to an end by this stage, so with the help of Maureen Hughes, I submitted a tape to the casting director of TV3. Two days later I got a call back and I auditioned for the role.'
Nic faced stiff competition for the role of Tony Doyle, with a lot of interest in the role, however, now he's made the part his own and is settling into the role of 'TV bad guy'.
'He is a bit of a b**tard,' Nic laughed. 'I feel good about the role though. It's a tough character to play. He's a bad man and initially, I couldn't relate to him in any way, so that was difficult.'
Tony is central to season three of Red Rock after his partner goes missing. With plenty of twists and turns along the way, it emerges that Doyle has an alibi. However, it's not one that clears him in any way as it emerges that he abused an under-age girl.
'It was very difficult to play something like that,' Nic says. 'You get your scripts daily so you don't know what's going to be thrown at you. Everyone thought Tony was guilty. I thought I'd done it myself until I got the script. Then the confession that he had gotten into the bed drunk with this girl...that scene took five hours to film because I kept breaking down. I wasn't expecting it at all and it's such a difficult subject. It got a great reception though and Red Rock managed to win an IFTA afterwards. I think that storyline was probably a big part of it.'
With Red Rock now airing on the BBC, Nic is hoping that it will drive his career on that little bit further and perhaps make some waves in the UK for him.
While he very much enjoys TV work, he is also hoping to branch out more into feature films, having been bitten by the bug. Among his movie credits to date are Demon Hunter and a new comedy which scooped an award at the Dun Laoghaire Film Festival - 'Thank You Come Again' - a hilarious caper focusing on the smuggling of blood diamonds in sex toys.
Due for official release later this year, it was a major departure from Red Rock and Tony Doyle for Nic.
'It was great fun,' he said. 'I play a smart-arse detective alongside of Thomas Collins from Love/Hate. It is completely different acting in a comedy. It's all about timing really isn't it?'
In terms of inspiration for pursuing a career in film, it doesn't come much better than receiving encouragement from one of the best in the business - Mr Al Pacino, who as it turns out is well versed in Wexford history!
'My agent contacted me and told me that Al Pacino was in town to do talk,' Nic explained. 'She knew I was a massive fan and when I arrived I found out she had gotten me VIP access so I got to meet the man and chat with him. He's a great guy. I pitched an idea at him for a film I'm working on called "Turning 13" and he told me not to tell anyone about it and to just go with it! That meant a lot. Then I gave him a pikeman statue as a gift and I was going to explain about the history behind it, but he knew it all! He said he knew a good bit about Irish history and knew all about the pikemen.'
As well as working on "Turning 13", Nic is also putting the finishing touches to a play called "Like Love" which is set in Enniscorthy and which he hopes to see Enniscorthy Drama Group stage in the near future. Apart from that, he is also hoping to pass on some of the knowledge he's attained from legendary figures in the business to the next generation of Wexford actors with a series of acting classes.
'The classes are for people aged 16 and older,' he explained. 'Basically I'll be talking about methods that I've found have worked for me as well as some of the stuff I would've learned over the years. I'm looking forward to getting started with that and hopefully helping other people on their journeys.'
As far as the future is concerned, Nic aims to take things one step at a time. With Red Rock now airing in the UK and season four set to have even more screen-time for the reprehensible Tony Doyle, his stock is rising.
'I've never been in this for fame or anything like that,' he said. 'I do it because I love it. If I could gain recognition from acting in my own country, that would mean so much to me. The support that I receive from people in the street is amazing. There was one occasion though, in a shopping centre in Dublin when a woman came up to me and shouted "Would you not leave that Aoife Burke alone!!" I had to explain to her that it's just TV and I'm not really Tony Doyle! People have been great though and that means the world to me.'
Nic takes a refreshing approach to his career. While his craft is very important to him, he's not going to force anything. 'I think part of the reason I've gotten where I am is that I don't take things too seriously. '
'I'm serious about acting, but I go in, I do my job and I leave knowing that I've done my best. I don't over-think things, because I think if you do that it will consume you.'
At the moment I'm just taking things one step at a time and I'm fortunate in that things are really working out for me so far.'
For more information on Nic and what he's up to, as well as information on his upcoming acting classes, visit his newly launched website at www.nicfurlong.ie.