Spaniard harbours an acting dream in Cavan

Fernando Corral tells the Celt of his starring role in an Irish short film about a Spanish Armada captain shipwrecked on the Sligo coast and fighting for survival

It’s not just the heat that’s making Fernando Corral feel right at home in Cavan. The Alicante native only dropped anchor in Ireland, along with his wife and two young children, last October and yet he’s now the lead in an impressive short film charting the amazing story of Captain Francisco de Cuéllar.

While the 30-minute drama was made to showcase Sligo and Leitrim’s tragic and thrilling connection to the Spanish Armada, the story has piqued the interest of audiences beyond our Wild Atlantic Way. When the Celt arrives at the Corrals’ Ardkeen home, a now beardless Fernando estimates that we’re publication number ten to write about it. Spanish giants ABC gave Fernando his first feature interview in a national daily, while El Pais did a spread on the film ‘Armada 1588: Shipwreck & Survival’.

Fernando admits to having only a cursory knowledge of the Armada before his involvement in the film project.

“In Spain the Armada is a big thing - but we don’t really talk much about it, because, well I think it’s because we lost,” he surmises, sitting at his kitchen table. “So you learn a little bit and that’s it, you don’t really touch it much.”

What little the Spanish do learn of the famed Armada does not extend to the derring-do adventures of Captain Francisco de Cuéllar, the hero of the film played by Fernando.

Captain de Cuéllar commanded one of the 130 ships to launch a doomed attack to overthrow the Protestant realm of Queen Elizabeth I. Repelled by the English, the Spanish survivors had no option but to sail north. Captain Francisco de Cuéllar was among a flotilla which attempted to return home, heading north around Scotland, and back south via the Atlantic Ocean along the Irish coast.

The ships with which de Cuéllar journeyed sank during a mammoth storm near the desolate Streedagh Beach and the survivors, according to the film, were at the mercy of English troops. Over 1,000 Spaniards died - most by drowning, the rest by the sword or noose. In the ensuing chaos, de Cuéllar was amongst a small number to escape. Fortunately he penned a full account, both of the shipwrecks and the subsequent months he spent desperately trying to avoid the pursuing English army.

“No, no, no. I didn’t know anything about Francisco de Cuéllar,” Fernando recalls. “We were here last Summer and saw the Spanish Point sign, and I thought - what the hell is that?”

“When we came here in October to live, a month and a half later I saw the casting [call] and then I read the Francisco de Cuéllar story and it was like, Oh my God, they are looking for an actor, a Spanish man - great here I am,” he says laughing at the stroke of serendipity.

“I thought this has got to be for me - a captain in more or less 40s, and I thought how many Spanish people are going to be here? I thought this is my chance I’m going to go for it.”

Micheál Ó Domhnaill was one of the producers to cast Fernando. Speaking by phone, he confirms Fernando did indeed go for it from the very first audition.

“He came in and basically he tore up the script in terms that he made it very difficult for anybody else to have that level of energy he showed.”

Fernando sought to channel the emotion of the fate that befell his compatriots at Streedagh.

“I went to that beach right before the second audition, and I just sat there for an hour, thinking about what happened, imagine the fights and everything,” he says, touching his forearm to suggest goosebumps.

Agonising end

The route that brought Fernando to Cavan Town was a circuitous one too.

“I’ve been acting for 20 years. You start as a hobby because you always want to be an actor and then you realise how difficult it is, and how difficult it is to get money. So at some point I thought, okay what do I like to do as well? I thought I like to help people - let’s go for the police.”

He worked as a Policia Local in the small town of Onil in Alicante, but continued acting in his spare time, and became known as ‘the acting policeman’. His police career of six years came to an agonising end when he fell whilst attending a call out to a farm fire back in 2014.

“I broke my knee and went through three surgeries,” he says of the “tough time”.

“I had to quit. I thought okay, this is my moment - what am I going to do? I’m going to do what I really want to do - acting.”

Think of a place for an aspiring actor to relocate - Hollywood, New York, London, or considering Fernando’s background, Madrid or Mexico seem obvious choices. Okay, now add to that list Cavan Town.

“It’s a place where I have everything,” he says, surprisingly convincingly. “Dublin is only one and a half hours from here, the other coast is one hour and something. It’s a quiet place, my children are able to learn English properly - why not?

“My wife got a job offer here in Cavan too so it was just perfect - we thought, let’s go.”

Fernando as Captain Francisco de Cuéllar

Fernando aims to establish himself in the Irish film industry, noting a few big hit shows that have been filmed here, Vikings, Game of Thrones.

“Even Braveheart was filmed here and we all thought it was filmed in Scotland. I even went to Scotland just because of the movie, and was like,” he pulls a puzzled face, “this is not really what I thought... it’s nice as well,” he’s quick to add.

Returning to opportunities in Ireland, he accepts it’ll be a challenge.

“I know I’m a foreigner and I’m always going to be a foreigner, but I think I can have a place as well in this industry somehow and I really want to try, I really want to go for it.”

Does he see himself living in Cavan long term?

“Well for the moment, I’m not even thinking about coming back to Spain,” he insists.

Special

While Fernando is enthused by how the film turned out, he had initially been non-plussed by the prospect of acting in a ‘short film’.

“When I saw the audition it said short film, and I thought,” he exhales in disappointment. “But I thought okay I had just arrived, it’s better to know people, to meet people. It’s a start.

“When I spoke to the director he said, ‘I don’t want to do just a short film, I want to do something special - I want people to go into the museum and when they leave I want them to think I want more of that!’”

To bring that wow-factor, two Spanish CGI specialists were recruited to compose the scenes featuring the ancient ships, the battle scenes and to recreate to exact dimensions historic buildings which are now just ruins on the landscapes. And the director was as good as his word when it came to filming, as the crew did everything they could to ensure the project’s success in just five days of shooting in February.

“I felt like this was something special. And it was,” reflects Fernando. “Even the luck we had with the weather conditions, because we needed special weather conditions each day. It was like a miracle. The day on the beach that we needed a big storm,” he says emitting a gasp of disbelief, “we had the biggest storm I’ve ever seen in my life.

“It was so cold - it was icecubes from the sky, rain, snow, wind - everything at the same time. And I was freezing to the bone. And I was enjoying it, because I knew this was something special and when I saw the trailer for the first time then I knew okay this is going to be something good.”

The Celt notes that you could easily make a full length feature film out of de Cuéllar’s life. For example, even before they reach Ireland on that arduous escape route, the captain had been court martialled, sentenced to death and reprieved. Fernando agrees that the story merits more room to breathe, suggesting it could easily be a number of series.

“Maybe with a little bit of money from whoever, we would have done it. But that’s the money they had, and it was only five days I think, which was a shame because we had it.”

Armada 1588: Shipwreck & Survival has just been released online for download, but producer Micheal has loftier aspirations.

“The next phase then is we want to enter it into film festivals, and then maybe procure a broadcast deal - that’s what the dream would be - to have this broadcast here in Ireland and in Spain, so that you’re reaching a bigger audience again.

“It holds up pretty well in terms of what you would expect to see broadcast, it’s of the quality, so we would be optimistic,” says Micheal, who’ll be familiar to many as presenter of TG4’s live GAA coverage.

Given the press coverage he has received, Fernando says he can see Armada opening future doors for him.

“Definitely - this is already helping me so much. I’ve been in touch with some people in Mexico and in LA, just because of this film.”

Inspiration

He says that Captain de Cuéllar’s struggles to overcome adversity has become an inspiration in his own life.

“Think about it,” he says lighting up. “He’s a Spanish captain, he’s coming to invade England, and with so many people they didn’t even know how to swim. Over half died on the way coming here and he keeps going for it. And when he arrives, he struggles so much on the beach, he sees so many people dying, English killing them all, and he thinks okay I’m going to survive here somehow and he spends seven months suffering and struggling in this country - with some bits of luck which is important as well - but still struggling.

“So in a way I put that experience to my life, and I say: okay you’ve been fighting for your dream for 20 years. At some point you thought - okay I might give up - but you didn’t and right now suddenly I just have this bit of luck and I have this opportunity for many people to see me and I want to keep going for it - I have to survive the way he did.

“This is what I have learned from him, if you are strong - in your heart and your mind and have an idea and go for it with all your strength you might get it - at least try. You might get it.”

To check out the short film Armada 1588: Shipwreck & Survival, log onto SpanishArmadaIreland.com

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