ON St Patrick’s Day, New York-based Corkonian actor, Cillian O’Sullivan, says he’s “going to find myself a big green glittery suit and tie to wear to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in California.” And why not?
Cillian, 29, will be at the premiere screening of a film he stars in called Misty Button. The feature film, which also stars Shaun Kennedy, originally from Mallow, is a dark comedy.
It follows two men who, after being asked to place a $10,000 bet on a racehorse, make the fatal mistake of pocketing — and drinking — the money. This turns into a crisis when Misty Button comes in at 35-1. The film, about Irish immigrants living in the Bronx, proves that just because the bet is a long shot, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Gambling is illegal in New York so the lads, who are down on their luck, go to a bar to place the bet, “under the table”. It turns out that the man who gave the hapless duo the ten grand is a gangster. “It goes from there, a terrible day for the pair,” says Cillian.
He has seen a cut of the low budget film and says it looks incredible.
“We filmed a whole feature film in eight days which is absolutely insane. I was a lead in a BBC series, 6 Degrees, for a few years. That was shot at a quick pace. We had six weeks to shoot six episodes. But to do a feature in eight days is very quick. We shot it around New York city, in the lower eastside and Woodlawn in the Bronx which is like a slice of Ireland.”
The writer/director, Seanie Sugrue, is a Kerry man who, says Cillian, is, without doubt, an “undiscovered genius”.
He added: “There are few people in the world at the absolute pinnacle of the film industry that can write dialogue the way Seanie can.”
Born in New York to Cork parents, Cillian feels at home in both the Big Apple and Cork. His parents moved from Cork to Manhattan in the 1980s.
“My mother’s family went to New York back in the day. She was born in New York and was about two when they moved back. So my mother had her American citizenship. When she and my father got married, my father was in the army and he did a stint in the Lebanon. When he got back from there, they moved to New York for opportunities.
“My mother worked as a recruitment specialist and my father was doing all sorts of things, from being a plumber to working his way up into business.”
As a tiny tot, Cillian could do impersonations and was brought to auditions Off-Broadway. He got the role of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol and his love affair with performing was ignited.
At the age of nine, he moved back to Ireland. His uncle (his mother’s brother) was ill with cancer. Cillian’s mother became a carer to Sean McCarthaigh, who was a gaelgoir and founded the Knockadoon Irish college.
Cillian has worked for TG4, having insisted on learning Irish.
“I really didn’t like that I was exempt from the Irish language. I didn’t have to study Irish because I had lived in America. I love Ireland and my heritage so I actively wanted to learn the language. I became fluent in Irish.”
In his late teens, living in Cork, Cillian, with the help of an agent, went for a lot of auditions and succeeded in getting a few roles.
“But I was still very young, 17 or 18, and I liked to have a good time. I didn’t realise how much work it takes to be a real actor. Things were falling into my lap.
“I did a couple of short films and a few theatre jobs. I was about 21 when I got the lead in 6 Degrees. And I got an Irish language programme, Seacht, on TG4.”
Looking back, Cillian says that it’s only in the last two years that he grew up and decided that if acting is what he really wants to do, he will have to put a lot of work into it. He moved back to New York 18 months ago.
“I have to be hyper-focused. Not because I want to be a movie star or make a million dollars. It’s because I absolutely adore the process of acting and how it makes me feel and how I can potentially make other people feel.
“If I have to, I’ll work anywhere so long as I’m getting paid and sometimes even not. I just have to work really hard if I want to give myself the opportunity to make the most money I can, doing what I love. I have my citizenship and there are more opportunities here than in Ireland. But every time you go to an audition, you couldn’t even try to guess what the odds are of booking the role.”
Cillian plays Bobby Storey in Maze which will have its American cinematic release later this month. He was also in Taken Down, the RTÉ crime drama series which focused on immigrants in Ireland.
While Cillian planned to train as an actor at RADA or the Gaiety School of Acting, work got in the way. “I’ve really learned on the job and I’m still learning. What drama school would have given me much earlier on was looking at a script and seeing what it’s actually saying. I had to learn that by doing it in my own time. I did go to the Cork School of Music for a drama course there. I got a couple of certificates and won the Feis Maitiu. I did a lot of drama in school at Colaiste an Phiarsaigh in Glanmire.”
The next job that Cillian hopes to do is a film called Thorn of Tralee, another dark comedy by Seanie Sugrue which will be shot in Ireland. But in the meantime, he is set to make a splash in his Patrick’s Day suit...