you are on a set filming a teaser for a movie musical about the life of Lionel Bart, he who is known for many things such as writing the book, the music and the lyrics for Oliver in the 1960's, plus many other musicals and pop music such as Living Doll, which was sung by Cliff Richard. I know that Lionel had a tough time shortly after the film of Oliver was released, so this musical is it based on his whole life, which would include his demise after substance and alcohol abuse or just the times when he was at his peak?
It looks at all of it; the genius; the drug fuelled hedonism, all the extraordinary highs and lows of his life and career. He certainly wasn't boring!
And what is it about this project and Lionel Bart that has drawn you to this film, was it a love for the stage and music or his life in general?
Honestly? My housemate, the actor Al Weaver was on board to play Lionel Bart and I met the director through him...The set designer of Oliver (Sean Kenny) happened to be an Irish guy in his thirties. It made sense to get involved. That's how it seems to happen for me these days; I get jobs through connections and coincidences.
Recent screen shows by yourself have included Fortitude and Constantine, and I am sure I saw you in The Fall. Can we expect you showing up in any further series of these?
The new series of Fortitude and The Fall are currently being written. I’m hoping I’ll be back for both. The future of Constantine is still up in the air...fingers crossed with this one. I live in London; Fortitude shoots in Iceland, The Fall in Belfast, and Constantine in Atlanta. Last year was a good travel year, who knows where I’ll be next year.
One thing I know about yourself is that you are an established Royal Shakespeare Company stage actor, so where does your heart lie, stage or screen, or do you just like to mix-it-up a bit?
I have to mix it up. If I only worked onscreen I would feel unfulfilled, if I only worked onstage and I’d go crazy. They’re very different mediums but they inform each other. I feel most at home onstage though.
Being part of the RSC, reading books must be something that has always appeared to you, have you read most of Shakespeare’s works, and would you say he was your favourite writer, or would you select someone else? And why?
He’s definitely my favourite. I’m not sure I would use the term 'writer'. His words were written to be spoken and heard. He wrote dramas, pieces of theatre. What does that make him - a dramatist? A playwright? Studying Shakespeare at school, I thought it was boring. Why doesn't he just use normal words? Why is it so difficult? I guess it made me feel stupid. It was performing Shakespeare in front of an audience that gave me this connection. It gives me a great feeling. I feel like he taught me how to be an actor.
I loved Fortitude, as you can tell from my interviews I seem to be interviewing a few of the cast right now, so Iceland then, where it was filmed, and I know you come from Belfast (which I know quite well as I lived near there once). So of the two, which is the best night out for you?
For Fortitude, we filmed in a small town called Egilsstaðir. It has a population of around 2000, so it wasn’t exactly the nightlife capital of Iceland. We would go for walks, play games in the hotel, or head over to the farm restaurant for a change from the hotel. It was a lovely place to spend some time, but there wasn’t much to do at nights.
Belfast is a great night out, it’s absolutely buzzing these days. It has the best pubs.
Not really a fair contest there....
If I could revert back to books, what is your favourite, and would you, or have you ever planned on writing a novel yourself at some point, if so, fact or fiction?
Something in between. Perhaps I would write a memoir that slipped in and out of reality. It would have drawings and poems and true stories.
My favourite book of recent years was Patti Smith's memoir ‘Just Kids’. What a beautiful piece of work. It felt so sad to turn the last page.
And why do you think that people should read more books, just anything that does not involve a screen (most of the time!), and what have you taken from books over the years?
People generally should do more of what they love, whether it’s cooking, playing music, rock climbing or reading. School nearly put me off books for life. Any time anyone tells me I should do anything or should love something, it spoils it. My favourite experiences all feel accidental, led by curiosity. These days I’m more interested in reading books that feel good, whatever that might be. I seem to read a lot of memoirs and books about the mind. I like reading books by Alan Watts; he's a hero of mine.
12 months from now, what would we have expected to have seen or heard you appear in/on?
I'll be playing John Proctor in The Crucible by Arthur Miller later in the year at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre. It’s an incredible play and one of the most challenging roles an actor can take on. I’ve had a bit of a break from theatre and I’m so excited to be getting back onstage with this play.
Waiting around on a film set can be quite a laborious thing for actors like yourself, so say for example when you filmed Defiance, and it looked bloody freezing, what did you do to escape boredom?
There is ‘SOOOO’ much hanging around. On Defiance there was a lot of time spent huddled around gas heaters in a tent in the forest. It got very cold. We would play games and drink tea and make cheese toasties...'Who's going to go on a toastie run?'
What advice could you offer to anyone considering acting as a career, whether that is stage or screen?
There’s so much to say really. I think if you’re just 'considering' it, then don't do it. You need to love it, to have to do it. Beyond that, make sure you learn your lines!
Does anything annoy you in life, if so, what? Or is life so good at the moment, that it would take an asteroid to land in your garden to spoil your day?
Property prices, monogamy, the prime minister, homophobia, ungenerousity, The X-Factor, bad acting, hangovers, over-thinking, insomnia, people on the tube, boring theatre, bad directors, stale milk, Robert Kilroy Silk, pressure to look good with my shirt off, critics, stressful people, getting stressed, most auditions, my hair, Boris Johnson, the evening standard, John Terry, bullies, advertising, forgetting people’s names, falling in love with people who live on the other side of the world
I’d love an asteroid to land in my garden!
Last question, if Jonjo O'Neill was an animal, what would it be and why?
A fire horse.
A cashier in a supermarket in LA told me I was a fire horse. He said 'fire is a powerful creative force but it can also be destructive, you must learn to harness it...also a horse, horses have a great need for freedom....that'll be twenty three dollars and forty-two cents please.' I don’t know how he knew.