Cork actor lands role in Fair City and dreams of Hollywood success like Cillian Murphy

The young man from Rathcormac says he used to watch the soap with his Nan, now he's secured a part in it
Cork actor lands role in Fair City and dreams of Hollywood success like Cillian Murphy

Cork man Stephen O’Leary as Zak in Fair City.

WHEN Stephen O’Leary was a student in the Gaiety School of Acting, his ambition was to meet fellow Cork actor, Cillian Murphy. And he did.

“Being a drama student from Cork, I had to meet Cillian. I am a huge fan,” says Stephen, of Rathcormac, who graduated in 2014. “He was signing autographs after his performance in Ballyturk at the Galway International Arts Festival a few years ago and he eventually came to me. The only thing I could think of to say was... ‘I’m from Cork too!’”

“Cillian said, ‘That’s cool, man!’ He was class. Hopefully if I ever meet him again or ever get to work with him, I’ll think of something more to say!

“He stays true to Ireland and to Cork ,even though he is famous and big in Hollywood,” says Stephen. 

"I would love to follow in his footsteps.” 

He could always tell Cillian he has landed a plum role as Zak Dillon on RTÉ soap Fair City?

“I could!” laughs Stephen, aged 27, whose first major TV role was in Smalltown with Pat Shortt on TV3.

Stephen has been part of the Gaiety panto for four years and met his girl-friend Lauren two years ago when they were side-by-side on stage.

Stephen says it’s “fantastic to be part of the Carrigstown gang. 

“Back home in Rathcormac, I used to watch it with my Nan who never missed an episode. She’d be delighted with me being on the soap!”

Stephen’s family is steeped in the theatre world. “It is in the blood. My mother, Valerie, is a drama teacher with the Montfords for more than 30 years. So growing up my sisters, Sally, Eva, Clare and Rose and brothers, Will and Peter, we all went to drama classes and are all used to the stage and hanging out in the theatre world. Clare, is currently in Les Mis in the West End.”

Growing up, Stephen played GAA with Bride Rovers and admits: “I was always battling between football and drama. Being a student at the Gaiety School of Acting improved my confidence to go out in the world and get work and go to auditions.

“Being on TV is a different energy compared to the stage,” adds Stephen. 

“The stage requires an over-the-top energy that feeds into a live audience. TV is more muted and toned down.”

He works with a voice coach to master accents.

“I often have to go from a cockney accent to a Scottish accent to a Dublin accent.” 

Living in Dublin now, he had no trouble picking up the northside Dublin accent for Fair City.

He got the audition to play Zak pretty easily.

“I answered a casting call and because of Covid restrictions, I couldn’t attend in person so I sent in a self-tape. I was asked for a second tape and quite quickly I got the call to say I had got the part. I was really excited.”

His character was living in Kildare with his aunt and came home to see his dad and his sisters.

Enter Vinny.

“Vinny is the love interest,” says Stephen. She has another agenda chatting up Zak, who is a charming and fun-loving young man.

“She’s involved in drugs and Zak is naive,” says the actor. “She wants Zak to work with her and do a drugs deal. He gets caught and is threatened to go through with the deal. He is roped in against his will. 

"The story-line is strong and it portrays how youngsters might get involved in the drugs world against their will, and how easily it can happen. Playing Zak is a great experience.”

It is intense on set.

“There is a massive team of script-writers, make-up artists and costume people involved in Fair City. The filming of each episode is time-managed. I get the script a week in advance and have a couple of days to look it over. All the actors are good friends with each other and we get on great.”

Stephen drove for his dad’s delivery company, Cork Express Pallets, for over a year during Covid. Now he gets recognised on the street. “Walking down Grafton Street one day, I was asked for my autograph, “it was the first time I was recognised. I was chuffed!”

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