Back in Ireland for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival this week, Robert Sheehan is promoting his latest film The Road Within, and managed to get a quick chat in with him.
Playing a Tourette’s sufferer who leaves his treatment facility to scatter his mother’s ashes near the ocean, Sheehan is joined on his journey by OCD patient, Dev Patel, and the anorexic Zoe Kravitz.
Not exactly what you’d call your standard role, so there’s no better place to begin.
What drew you to the film, seeing as it’s not a particularly easy role to pull off?
Firstly, the script was just very, very good, and of course the character was so appealing. It’s interesting to find a protagonist who is really an outsider, looking in, yet still not the strong silent type.
With such a tough subject matter, how did you prepare for the role?
I had a good amount of time to prepare, and in that time I got to hang out with people who have Tourette’s. I had a key guy in LA, Jackson, and a key girl in London, Ruth. The first time I met Ruth was at a Tourette’s support group. I arrived a little late, she went ‘You must be Rob, are you here for the meeting?’ so I said nice to meet you, and she goes ‘fuck you, to be sure’ as she threw her middle fingers up at me. So I was learning things from the word go.
Is it tough to portray a character like this? To find the balance between making it entertaining for the audience, but not offending people who have the syndrome.
First and foremost it’s about doing an honest depiction of the syndrome. I was quite lucky because I had five months from the time I got the role to the time we started filming. In that time I did Tourette’s wrong for a long period of time, before I eventually started to do it right. I was really grateful for that period of time, because I didn’t go into it half-cocked, and mess it up.
So it was all about getting that right, then the dynamics of working with the other actors came after that.
It’s quite a small cast, and you got a chance to go toe to toe with everyone at some point. What was tougher, trying to act cool in front of Zoe Kravitz, or have arguments with Robert Patrick?
A lot of my energy was expended trying to seem cool in front of Zoe, she’s a very effortlessly cool person, so you have to raise your game(laughs). With Robert Patrick I was more like a little butler. ‘Do you need a drink, sir?'
Having moved to LA, we’re a lot less likely to see you on our TV screens over here, but having come from two major roles in Misfits and Love/Hate, are you happy to distance yourself from those characters now?
Kind of. Not in any regretful sort of way. There’s no remorse there at all, because they were both fantastic, but I suppose when you do something, and you feel like you’ve done it to that extent, the restless urge in me is to then go and do different stuff. My objective always is to go off and do different things.
That makes sense, because you’ve been doing quite varied roles in recent years, vampire films, an Italian film, and now playing a Tourette’s sufferer. Are you seeking out these ‘out-there’, or have they just come your way?
You have to sort of wait for stuff to come past your desk, you have to sort of wait until material makes itself available for you. It’s weirdly passive like that, but I’ve always been drawn towards the less generic roles. The stuff that seems honest is always more interesting, and variety is a big priority for me.
No matter what the genre or whatever it is, for me it’s about mixing it up, and the more mixes or shades I can achieve in my body of work, the better.
Speaking of films that mix it up, your next project, Moonwalkers, is about a CIA agent and a rock manager who help Stanley Kubrick fake the moon landings, can you tell us anything about that?
Now there’s a very different type of movie. Bizarre. Sometimes you think you know something, but the director, Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, put such a wonderfully unique stamp on the film, never before have I gone from material on the page, to seeing the final result, and going WOW. It’s such a departure from that script to what ended up on the screen.
We did all the stuff, but his sensibilities just sway across the film, changes it completely. The movie is nothing if not funny, and shocking. And pretty violent actually. I’ve never been more mystified by something, and that’s a great thing, I think.