Conor MacNeill: We just transported Ireland to Broadway!

Diarmuid Noyes, Matthew McElhinney, Mark Ryder, Conor MacNeill (L – R) in Five Minutes of Heaven

After his participation Monday night at Glusckman Ireland House in Origin Theater’s Mondays of May for the dramatic reading of Jim Nolan’s play Brighton, Conor MacNeill (currently appearing in The Cripple of Inishmaan on Broadway) stopped for a quick chat.

In 2010 he acted in Five Minutes of Heaven, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s taut, compelling film about modern day Belfast and the possibilities for peace and reconciliation, which were played out so wonderfully by the leads, James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson.

I was curious how MacNeill found Oliver Hischbiegel as a director. Turns out, he seems to have had a very positive experience.  “That’s one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever done. At the start of the film it’s just us four boys and we all had to share a trailer together so we became best friends over the week.”

The quartet had an interesting experience one day while shooting.  MacNeill recalled:  “We were in the car coming down and we shot the scene and he came running over toward the car, and we said “Uh oh, we’re gonna’ get a note; he’s gonna’ give us some direction.” We rolled down the window and he said ‘Are you having fun?’ And we said ‘Yeah’ and he said ‘So am I!’ and he ran away. He created this brilliant atmosphere. I think he’s a genius.”

Conor alone

Given that MacNeill is from Belfast himself, I wondered what his initial reaction to the script had been.  “I read it and said ‘I’m making sure, no matter what, I’m in this’ because it was such an important comment on how we deal with peace and reconciliation and about the fact that we’ve a lot of hurt people still living and not been properly dealt with, and hurt breeds more anger until you deal with that hurt or that pain, that’s what I think anyway. I thought it’s the first thing I read that touched on that, even suggested that these people are living normal lives and also victims of circumstances. It’s hard to fathom when the person is a victim of circumstance killing people, but if you grow up in a certain area and everybody else is doing something and that’s what happens to you… I just find it really fascinating that they touched on that. It thrilled me. I thought ‘Oh my God, somebody’s speaking about this so openly and also non-judgementally, just laying it out for people to judge for themselves. That’s why I loved it.’”

Of the finished product, MacNeill was similarly pleased.  He said “There was a real truthfulness to it.  And, as brilliant as he is, Guy Hibbert’s writing is stunning. Whenever you read a Guy Hibbert script, you’re just like ‘Oh my God, he writes with such detail, it’s beautiful!’ And he’s English as well, yet it’s like he grew up there!”

Turning back to his current work, playing Bartley McCormick in The Cripple of Inishmaan, I asked the 25-year-old how he’s enjoying his first Broadway experience and his time in New York.  “Oh, amazing! Having so much fun and we’re all really good friends. I’ve said this in like, a million interviews, but we all love each other and we’re having the best fun, we really are. It’s such a fun show.”

Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill in The Cripple of Inishmaan

And it seems the Inishmaan crowd are having a great time mixing it up with the other Irish actors in town performing in various plays. A weekend or so back, they all landed up together in the same place in the Village.

MacNeill says; “My friend Robbie Sheehan, who’s an actor, was over from Ireland, and Janet (Moran) and Peter (Daly) and all that Swing/Beowulf lot, the company members were there, Chris (O’Dowd) was there from Mice and Men, Peter McDonald and Hugh O’Connor were over with their movie The Stag at Tribeca, and we walked into a bar and we were like “What?? We just transported Ireland to Broadway!”

After his run on Broadway, MacNeill moves on to a very personal work. “I have a film I wrote that I just found out last week is going into production with a really exciting production company. We’ve no set dates, but in my mind, that’s what I’m going onto next. I’ve never wrote anything before so the fact that people I greatly admire are saying ‘This is great, we’re gonna’ do this.’ and the fact that it’s being made is greatly exciting. It’s thrilling!”

You can catch Conor MacNeill in The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Cort Theater where it runs for a limited 14-week engagement.


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