'I was painting the railings below the cinema as people were going in to see me in a feature film' - Shane Casey on his acting career

Cork actor Shane Casey has had a long road an apprentice painter to his star turn as hardman Billy Murphy in The Young Offenders. He speaks with Roisin Burke about leaving school early and his life as an actor.
'I was painting the railings below the cinema as people were going in to see me in a feature film' - Shane Casey on his acting career
Shane Casey in Wet Paint which runs at the Cork Opera House from March 20 to 23.

From a chance encounter at college to a make or break decision, the road to success for Shane Casey was paved with luck and cobbled with resilience.

The 38-year-old Cork actor who is best known for playing The Young Offenders character Billy Murphy, left school at the age of 16 to take up an apprenticeship as a painter/decorator but returned to education at the age of 21, to follow his passion in theatre.

“I had done theatre in school, Marian Wyatt used to call around once a week and I think it was 50p for an acting class, instead of religion or something and she spotted me in the classes of Scoil Chriost Ri and said ‘Why don’t you come along to my acting class on Friday nights?’ 

“I think the first time she asked me I didn’t bother going I thought it was nonsense and she doesn’t have any real interest and then it turned out that she actually gave me a scholarship to her own drama school ‘Stage Centre.’ So when Shane returned to acting, with life experience and a thirst for the arts, he said it was a turning point.

“Marian Wyatt was the main link for me. She was the head of CSN at the time. I decided to give it a go and my life turned around. There I was in a room of lovely people, getting to act for four or five hours a day.” 

After graduating from CSN, Shane got a part in The Wind That Shakes The Barley with Cillian Murphy and The Billy Murphy actor retold the tale of how, a year after he finished studying the theatre at CSN, he formed a friendship with Hilary Rose who plays Conor’s mother Mairead in The Young Offenders as she was studying at the college.

“I got a part in the Wind that Shakes the Barley and I thought ‘Here I am, this is great’ and we were travelling up and down from West Cork so I had gone back to help out in one of the CSN shows.

“They put two shows on that year, I was in one play and Hilary was in the other.” 

Shane Casey as Cork 'headcase' Billy Murphy in the bus episode of The Young Offenders. Photographer: Miki Barlok
Shane Casey as Cork 'headcase' Billy Murphy in the bus episode of The Young Offenders. Photographer: Miki Barlok

Shane explained how he and Hilary became a dynamic acting duo on the Republic of Telly and also came to take on the role of the misunderstood criminal Billy Murphy in the hit TV show and movie The Young Offenders.

“I had worked with Hillary in CSN so Hillary knew me and that’s kind of how I ended up meeting Peter Foott (The Young Offenders writer and director) actually. I would have done plays such as Disco Pigs that Peter would have seen over the years and they asked me to do the Republic of Telly with them.

“Hillary had a character called Handy Sandie and I played Handy Sandie’s boyfriend for a while and that is how Peter got to know me.” Then at the age of 33, Shane had moved to Dublin with his then-girlfriend when he got a call from Peter to play the part of Billy Murphy in The Young Offenders movie.

“He got on to me and said would you be interested in taking a role in this. It was the week I had moved to Dublin with my then girlfriend. We had filled the car with stuff and were sharing an apartment with people from Venezuela and Peter was asking me to come back to Cork to do this film, practically for free.” Shane said his girlfriend, who is now his fiance, was not taken with the idea.

“My girlfriend at the time, she is my fiance now, was saying ‘Are you mad going back to Cork now, wouldn’t you prioritise getting a job here?’ and for whatever reason I had a phone conversation with Peter and I realised he had a bit more of a backbone and a bit more of a bite than I had thought previously and I said ‘No this guy is going to get this done and he is going to get it made and I am going to go to war with him. I'm gonna fall in behind him.’” 

Shane said even after he became Billy Murphy, success did not happen overnight.

“For a very long time I was in Dublin working as a painter and decorator, and it just so happened, one day there was a very very large poster and I believe my name was on the poster outside the Cinema in Santry and there I was painting the railings below the cinema as people were going in to see me in a feature film.

“I was very aware of the irony that here I am, painting the railings and above me, there is a poster with a film that I was in.” 

Then the final episode of The Young Offenders series one came out and Billy said things began to change.

“The Thursday morning that the bus episode came on, I was working on site and I haven’t been back on a building site since.

Shane Casey as Pig and Samantha Heaney as Runt in Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh at the Everyman in 2008.
Shane Casey as Pig and Samantha Heaney as Runt in Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh at the Everyman in 2008.

“I had painters ringing me after the final episode of series one went out and that I had worked with for years, tough, working-class but honest men, turning around to me and saying ‘I hope you never had to paint again'."

“I said ‘I don’t know if that is necessarily going to be the case but thanks for the best wishes!’” 

Shane said he realises he had been very lucky with the character he was given by Peter. “Billy is like an impact substitute. Every now and again there is a player that they might bring on with 10-15 minutes to go and I'm very much aware that when Billy turns up something big happens.”

The actor said while he realises the show is not the answer to cancer, he believes it is helping to bring families together.

“I have a perspective on things, but I know a lot of teenagers and families sit down to watch the show together and I think with everything that is going on at the moment, that can only be a good thing.

“Trying to get a teenager off their phone, is a very very hard thing to do and to get them to sit down and watch a TV show, and to hear from teenagers and parents alike that they have sat down and watched the show together, I think that is a brilliant thing.” 

Chatting about other projects he is involved in, Shane said the return of his show Wet Paint in the Cork Opera House was very exciting following previous runs in the Cork Arts Theatre and The Everyman.

“I try to make accessible art and Wet Paint is a play that I could put on for my parents, the men that I worked with and also might be something that teenagers might be interested in.

Shane said the idea for Wet Paint came to him one day when he was sitting at home, bored.

“I'm quite good at improvisation, so I starting making up this monologue from a character called Tony who has a wife who works in Brown Thomas and they are going to The Late Late Show and there is a famous character on it that he had pretended he knew.

Shane Casey with Shane Falvey and Mark O'Shaughnessy in a 2011 production of Wet Paint. Picture: Darragh Kane
Shane Casey with Shane Falvey and Mark O'Shaughnessy in a 2011 production of Wet Paint. Picture: Darragh Kane

So I had this monologue that I was just sitting on for a while and then I thought of other characters on the building site and so on.

“I think with painting you have an awful lot of time to think because you could be on your own a lot of the time. I could be talking to myself or singing to myself on a building site, If you have company it is good but it is amazing where your imagination can go.” 

Wet Paint is in the Cork Opera House from March 20-23.

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