I first meet actor Eoin Macken on shoot at the scenic Grade II listed former church and gardens. With its water features and gothic stone walls, St Dunsten in the East is a serene open air oasis amongst the glass sky scrapers of London’s city centre. Based in L.A. but raised in the seaside town of Howth, just outside of Dublin, this softly spoken, intelligent Irish talent seems perfectly suited for this church hybrid.
Actor, director, producer, author and script writer, Eoin shares his knowledgeable and fascinating career path thus far, including his key role opposite Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Final Chapter, his much loved role of Sir Gwaine in the award-winning BBC and BBC America fantasy series Merlin, and his personal projects comprising of both films and novels.
You grew up in Howth in Dublin. How do you feel the film industry haschanged in Ireland, particularly in Dublin and Belfast, over the last ten years?
That’s an interesting one. I haven’t really worked much in Ireland in the last seven years, I have mainly worked in London and America. I think it has changed a lot because of the advent of big TV series: The Tudors, Game of Thrones and Vikings have obviously had a big influence. So I think it’s become a stronger and bigger industry than it used to be for sure. I also think in the last five years there has been an upsurge in a lot of really interesting Irish films. There has definitely been a change in the tenor of Irish film making and the country is moving toward a different style of cinema.
I believe one of your first fashion shows was at UCD (University College Dublin)- did you study there?
I did two fashion shows there! I studied Science. I was going to be a zoologist and then I segued into psychology to do a four-year Bachelor Psychology Science degree.
So how did you get into acting from there? Did you go to Drama school after that?
No, I went to New York and L.A. straight after I finished college and began studying Meisner acting with a private coach called Nina Murrano, who used to train under Stamford Meisner. And then I worked with a guy called Vincent Chase in L.A., who trained Shia LaBeouf.
What would you say you have learnt most from those two coaches?
To forget everything you know and just be as open, honest and observant as possible. The style they both taught me which I like to utilize, is about listening as an actor, being more aware. For me, I don’t always think it should always be about you, it’s about the stories, about the other person, so I like to look at it from that approach.
So when you are building up your roles, what methods do you use? How do you research your characters?
Meisner technique teaches you to always react. So if someone walks into a room, the conversation evolves from both of your reactions, and your emotions. For me, once you know the fundamental basics of your character, the acting comes from always being able to be in any situation with that character. So when you are actually on set it is how the other characters affect you and you react accordingly. It is a listening and reacting technique.
So tell me about your character and the plot of your current film Resident Evil: Final Chapter.
Resident Evil is about zombies and I play the character of Doc. What I find really interesting about it is Milla Jovovich’s character, Alice. In this movie you see the completion of the arc that they have created of her role over the six films. It is the end of the world and Alice has to get back into the hive and save humanity. On her way through she comes across a small group of survivors who are just about trying not to die! My character Doc is the defacto leader of this group. Ali Larter’s character, Clare Remfield, and I have a bit of a romance going on and they have to help Alice get into the hive to help save the world.
Do they save the world?
Ahhh I couldn’t tell you!
Did you play the game?
Yeah, I did play the game as a kid, it scared the shit out of me. Resident Evil was one of the very first games that used sound effects and it was really horrific because the sound would build up and then disappear and you would know that something was coming!
What camera did they use on set?
An Alexa. Len is a great DP. They shot it in 2D and converted it to 3D afterwards. From a scale point of view this movie fits in 3D but Paul Anderson [the director] shot in 2D because there is a very gritty feel to this movie with a lot of huge effects. Paul shot everything in Cape Town and Johannesburg in the most run down, wrecked buildings and we were always shooting in the cold at night time as Paul wanted it to feel very real. He wanted a lot of it to be quite intimate with a lot of fast paced frenetic activity to it. It’s a very aggressive film visually.
Is there a lot of handheld?
Yes, there is a lot of handheld stuff.
So two months in Cape Town and one month in Joburg- which one do you prefer?
I saw Cape Town more. It is beautiful. I got some time to look around, and my family came to visit at various points. We did lots of exploring, I had my phone robbed in townships, really touristy stuff!
So you started off in indie films such as Rise of the Bricks and Triple Bill, in 2005 and 2006. You have a blockbuster now. How would you compare the two?
I think they are pretty much the exact same. You have to start off in indie filming, it’s like everything, you have to learn your craft and make mistakes. I wouldn’t have been able to be on a bigger set if I hadn’t had the freedom to play with stuff; work on smaller sets; work with people I like. Indie filming is what I come from and what I do. I like making films and working with people I like. In Resident Evil, when it comes down to what you are doing it is essentially the same thing. It just happens to be 200 people watching instead of 12!
And more money on more fun locations?
Haha yes, if you mess up there are more people that are going to give out to you, more responsibility. But as a general concept, they are the same.
Speaking of indie films, you have written, produced, directed and starred in a lot of your own films, including Leopard. What was the inspiration behind this story of disconnect?
Well I wrote Leopard for Tom Hopper [Merlin co-star]. I have always done indie films so that when I am not working I can try and make things myself and learn. If you aren’t in acting class you can get out of sync so I wanted to explore different characters. I don’t only want to direct films or to act in films, I want to learn how to make cinema. With Leopard, Tom and I decided to do a film together. I was reading a lot of Steinbeck at the time and I wanted to make something in the same vein. It just sort of evolved from an idea about these two brothers. My mum had a place we could use down in Clare, in the country, so I set it there. And we just created these two characters. It is a dark, melancholic film.
Dreaming for You went to the L.A. film fest and the Galway Film Fest. Tell me about your experiences with this film.
Dreaming for You was made as a short and as a feature. It was the first short I have ever made and I made it in acting class in L.A. It is my favorite. Just before my Dad died I showed it to him and told him I wanted to be an actor. He watched it and didn’t talk to me about it for two days and I was thinking oh God he fucking hates it! But he came back to me and he had really thought about and understood what I was trying to get from it. We had a really interesting conversation about the moral dilemmas within. I felt he really gave me the moral support of ‘this is what I should be doing’. But this was the only film he got to watch and that is why I care about it the most.
And that is why you chose to expand it into a feature?
Yeah. I was living in New York with a friend of mine called Gerry Balfe Smyth who is photographer. I had loads of these great friends in acting class who wanted to get involved and we did it all in black and white. But the explanation of all those characters sort of bled in a bit to those in Leopard. That is how I learnt to write. Makings a mistake and then doing it right.
How long do these films take, from pipeline dreams to completion?
Leopard took a long time to get released. It only got released in America a few months ago and now it is getting released in China. We are sorting out Europe now. We actually finished that three years ago but because it is an Indie film it takes a long time to find the right sales people. But generally, if I have two months when I am not working I try to write stuff. I wrote The Inside, a horror film which had its world premier at Frightfest a couple of years ago, made it two weeks later, and it came out two months after that. I had friends available who wanted to be in the movie and I just made it.
How did you learn the skills for directing?
I studied cinematography for a year after I finished college, in Ballyfermot in Dublin. I went through a lot of camera instruction manuals! Then I DP’d (Director of Photography) for Terry McMahon on Charlie Casanova. The second was for Mark O’Conner. The reason I wanted to was because I like studying composition but also because I like working for other directors so I can see how they work with actors, what they want from actors and how they direct. And Terry is a genius. You should watch his movie Patrick’s Day, it’s phenomenal!
I will definitely watch it! Tell me about your books.
I always wanted to be a writer as a kid. I wrote one book about a year and a half ago, called Kingdom of Scars. It was the fist novel I had ever written. A fiction based vaguely from where I am from-a Stand by Me, coming of age story about a boy in Dublin. It covers his first time being with a girl, drinking, being bullied... the usual growing up things! That was nominated for an Irish book award.
I started writing another book called Hunter and the Grape which is coming out in September. It’s about a 19-year-old kid from Albuquerque who is trying to get to L.A. to meet this girl he thinks he is in love with. He goes on this weird, quirky journey, and ends up travelling with this girl called Star. She is very strange! He is running away from what happened to him in Albuquerque and they end up on this weird journey through Utah, Las Vegas and Arizona, before he actually gets to L.A.
Have you been on that route before?
I have done variations of it. Not that specific one. It is a strange, quirky, love story.
Would you ever like to make that into a film?
I would love to make that one into a film! Be a bit mental. The reason it is called Hunter and the Grape is because the girl he is travelling with called Star keeps changing her name to the last good thing that happened to her. So he changes from Cat to Hunter and she changes her name to Grape.
Where do you come up with these names?
No idea, they just come!
So you made a one-hour documentary on the fashion industry. Tell me a little about that and your modelling career.
It kind of happened from doing some college acting, and then doing UCD fashion show, and then some modelling. The modelling actually paid for me to go to America to get a visa, so I was actually able to study acting and then try and get some modelling jobs in the day. Modelling actually allowed me to become an actor and to survive. At least three or four times I was totally broke and then I would get a modelling job or commercial and it would save the day to the next while otherwise I would have been screwed!
I made a modelling documentary with someone called Carl Shaaban. We wanted to look at modelling from an actual fashion point of view, from the conception of an idea, through to the photograph, through to the finished project. We were talking to stylists, designers, photographers, and it was an excuse for me to chat and learn from them. It wasn’t essentially about modelling as such but more about the over all art and taking the picture.
Tell me about some future projects you have lined up?
Going back to do the next series of a show called the Night Shift. We start season four in a couple of weeks. I’m also directing an episode of that, which I am really excited about. Then the plan at the moment is to get financing for a book I adapted from a really great author called Rob Doyle called Here are the Young Men. Sort of a pulpy, Trainspotting, This is England type story.
Gritty, grimy, earthy?
Yah a bit messed up, Joy Division inspired sound track on social resonance. We are hoping to get financing to shoot that in September.
You have been to so many places. What is one of your favorite?
I thought Tunisia was beautiful. I did a low budget horror film there called Silence. I wanted to get a motorbike and just travel around.
How important do you think social media is for actors?
I don’t know that it should be important. I think it has an importance and from an Indie point of you view it definitely helps. But at the same time I wouldn’t want a certain amount of importance attached to social media for film making or acting. It helps interacting with fans, to raise awareness, and show your work but I don’t think that it should have too much of an impact. I think it should be more like a supplement.
Like fish oil?
Haha yes, social media is like fish oil. I like that.
What’s your favorite Netflix show at the moment?
Red Hot American Summer, It’s the funniest thing you have ever seen! I think you would like it. My buddy is the costume designer on it. It’s the funniest fucking show you will ever watch. And the movie is awesome too!
So, if you could go back to one plot that you have been involved in so far which one would you choose?
I think I would go back to Merlin. It was fun, and everyone on that show I am very close to. Some of my best friends are in the crew and cast.
In the next five years, what role would you aspire to be in?
Well I can’t say since we are now stuck in the plot of Merlin for the next fifty years.
If I was to give you a get out of jail free card?
Fucking hard questions. I need at least ten days.
You have ten seconds- I am going to judge you quite a lot on this!
I know you are!
I recently did a film in Canada about the Troubles, and that was one of the most interesting things I have done from a character viewpoint. So I would like to try and explore that. Do something with the Irish history. Living away does make me think about my heritage and where I am from. I think when you live at home you kind of take that for granted. I think at the moment the reason why everything is in turmoil is because there has been a slow degrading loss, from a social political point of view, of national or religious identity. And people don’t quite have the same sense of who they are. Before, people were told who they have to be and had to follow some sort of pattern. Now, because people are freer to think in a certain way it makes people uncomfortable sometimes. I think it’s interesting to explore when people are fighting to be understood and to be free. To have that sense of where you are from and for that to fit with everyone else around you in the world.
So exploring a sense of displacement and replacement?
Yes I think that is really interesting. People get afraid of losing that, and I think that is interesting to understand. People shouldn’t be afraid of that and should be able to keep hold of their cultural identity without it having a negative effect on other people.
How would you advise aspiring actors in the industry to get together, get messy and do their own things? Where do you start from?
I think it would be naïve not to do projects. People start from looking at a story, a character, and go from there. I think that when working in the arts, as an actor especially, it is important to understand everyone in cinema, from the directors, the cinematographers, to the composition. So you are aware of what is required of you. Especially nowadays with so much technology you don’t have an excuse not to make a film. You could just make it on your iPhone and put it on YouTube-it doesn’t have to be perfect. I grew up making my own projects with friends in Dublin or London and that was how I was able to play and make mistakes. When you are starting off you don’t often have that opportunity, you are often playing smaller characters or guest parts so you want to be able to give yourself the time to explore stuff. I think if you want to be an actor it is imperative on you to be able to give to people a show reel. As actors you have the opportunity to create work for yourself and you should do.
How important do you think it is to go to drama school and have that formal training?
I studied acting in a different way. That was probably why I felt the need to make my indie films because there was definitely a time, and I still do feel this, that if you haven’t gone to drama school you aren’t considered appropriate for certain things. Especially for theatre, that is very important. For me, I am making films, and that is how I learnt to act. If I had gone to drama school or film school for three years perhaps I would approach it in a different way. But I definitely think there is more than one way of applying.
Thank you so much, I think that was everything!
That was a lot of fun, thanks!
Eoin Macken can currently be seen in Resident Evil: Final Chapter out now in cinemas.