Sneaking around for a Hollywood break

Wednesday, 7th August, 2013 5:08pm

Sneaking around for a Hollywood break

Arva actor Richie Stephens

Paul Neilan

In the last words of a post-phone interview email exchange, Arva actor Richie Stephens says “I do. Have two. A .38 revolver and a .22 automatic. If you’re ever out here I’ll take ya to the range.”
You’ve probably figured out the question, which was asked as a throwaway joke.
To explain. Richie’s in Los Angeles, breaking into Hollywood and is already one of the leads in an upcoming independent film, appropriately titled ‘Selling Dreams’.
The 31-year-old has been in the US since 2004, there’s no trace of an American accent, mind, but there isn’t really much of a Cavan one either.
“I have a touch of a Cork accent because I was working with the Cork lads out here for years, on the sites with lads from West Cork for six or seven years,” he says.

“They were breaking my balls when I got home for Christmas there - the only Cavanman to go to America and come home with a Cork accent...”
An underage footballer with Gowna, Richie, the eldest of three, was educated in St Patrick’s College and NUI Maynooth, where he received a BA in history and sociology.

The gregarious six-foot-plus actor-cum-writer was working in carpentry on sites in the States until an accident saw him break his back. Yes. Break. His. Back. (The Celt just about stays away from cheap 'big break' puns.)

“Yeah, the accident was two years ago up in San Francisco. Before it happened, I was quite happy being a carpenter, so, I probably wouldn’t have gotten back into acting if it hadn’t happened. It happened on a construction site, where a beam fell on me.

"I wasn’t hospitalised long from it, but have had four procedures on it in the last couple of years. It’s still not right, though, and gives me pain - the doctor says I will need to have a fusion done on it in the next few years, too. I don’t think it’ll ever be right because they had to take out half of one of my discs that got broken. It was up on my nerve and affecting my bladder so it had to be taken out,” he says, chanelling Christian Bale.

Return to acting
Richie started acting at the age of 10 with Belturbet teacher Claire McDermott and continued into his early teens.
Before returning to acting, he worked in a variety of jobs including: sales, video stores, car wash, phone companies and the fateful carpentry.
The return to acting, though, came via modelling.

Director Weston Simpson discovered him on a modelling website and asked him to play the role of a German hitman in a short film; ‘Credence’.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you do have that look about you,” he told Stephens.

In his first few months as a professional, he has appeared in five movies and four tv shows, among many, many other projects. In his first year, he has already worked with Kevin Durand (look him up, you'll know the face), Tia Carrere (“lovely, down to earth”), Eric Roberts (“gentleman”), Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill guy), Octavia Spencer (2011 Oscar Winner for The Help) and Michael B Jordan (The Wire), to name a few.

“I’ve been doing it for the last year and I’ve been lucky to get a lot of good jobs. I started off in San Francisco and then moved down to LA about six months ago.”

“My casting is sneaky, moody bad guy, that’s what I’ve been landed with so far... when you’re a new actor you usually get 'cast'. Just, for example, one girl I know, her casting is ‘jilted girl’. That’s it.
“So, basically, she throws drinks on fellas day after day, that kinda shite... when you start out it’s like that, you’re defined, but with a bit of success you can branch out.
"My line is ‘sneaky, moody bad guy’ for the time being, though. I must look sneaky enough - a lot of those true-crime, docu-drama stuff on television have that underworld element to them, someone’s always after dying... [Richie lists off underworld roles] But I played a cop!.. there’s a huge amount of crime productions going on.

“I was in this Japanese show a couple of weeks ago, ‘The World’s Astonishing News’. I did three episodes of that, it’s one of the top shows over there but it’s filmed over here in The Bay. What they do is they do a re-enactment of big news stories around the world.

“One of them that I was in was about a girl who fell in love with her father... I played the father as a younger guy. It was something where they were separated from her birth and met up when she was older. I didn’t have to do anything inappropriate, though, there were two versions of the dad - the younger version and another buck who looks like an older version of me and he had to do the shapey stuff,” he says with a devilish chortle.

Fruitvale Station
“I got a small part there in Fruitvale Station, uncredited, it’s coming out shortly, but it’s about a guy who was killed by the cops a couple of years ago, it was big news and a true story and then there’s a heap of other stuff and the roles have gotten bigger as I go along.”
Fruitvale Station debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for US dramatic film. From not-so-small beginnings...

The accent
“I was always good at mimicking, my agent has me down as British, there aren’t that many Irish parts - there are for British accents.
“I talk differently with the Americans, though. When you move out here, for example, they say "Waaaa-aaaat?', and I find myself saying that: ‘Waaaa-aaaat? Waaaa-aaaat?’ They say that constantly. I kinda change the way I talk around them.

“I have to turn on the American accent when I’m working, though. I’ve got to be American as soon as I step out the door.
“Most of the time I pretend to be American. I put on the accent in the car going to the audition, casting call, whatever. You see, there’s so many people going for each role and they want to get that number down - they want to eliminate as many as they can and it could be for any reason.

"So, if you come in and say ‘Hi, how are you’ in your Irish accent, they’ll be looking at you and they are judging how you say the words. So, I can’t give them a reason to reject [me]. I don’t tell them I’m Irish until I’ve gotten it. I get into character from when I leave the house.”

Landing roles
“Next job is tomorrow, is a webisode, low-budget but I’m playing a Russian, it’s called Doggy Date. A comedy for internet and I’m kinda, kinda just a Russian guy, actually... ‘Meh, Rashan is goot’.
“The way I got that job was I went to a table reading and the Russian lad didn’t or couldn’t show up so I was standing in for him and they wrote me a part.
“You do table reads if someone is trying to get a project off the ground and if they like you they give you a part. One of my buddies... he’s after getting funding for it with Dolph Lundgren. Some other famous doll got the lead but she’s one of the newer ones, I don’t know her."

LA life
“If you want to take it seriously you have to move to LA. It’s a given. Most people I know move here to do well.
“In LA, everyone and their dog is an actor. The coffee shops are full of actors and the taxi drivers and shops etc etc there are so many productions; big, small, good, bad, Christian... you name it. If you live in LA there’s celebs all over the place and you meet them fairly regularly."

The Celt has to ask.

"I’ve met Ozzy Osbourne and his drummer, Billy, a few times and they are gentlemen. Really nice people - they just went on tour this week so I probably won’t see them again for a while.
“Actors have to keep up the training and I’m in acting class with Jorge Garcia [Hurley] from Lost and a few people from Mad Men. I’m friends with a couple of rappers from this film ‘Selling Dreams’ I’ve been working on. J Dandridge and Greg G-Nut Brown (from 187 Fac) are my co-stars and they would be well known over here on the West Coast.
“But I had my network up north and it’s kinda like starting again here but the good thing is that there’s not that many Irish here - so I’m a bit of a novelty. I’ve met one in six months.”

Message home
Next up is Smugglers, a show to be aired on National Geographic and then there’s the December release of Selling Dreams, a feature-length movie from writer-director Pharaoh Powell and Richie’s still working on a script for an as yet unnamed real-life UK gangster but remembers his roots.

“I just want to thank everybody for the support I get a lot of well-wishing from home and a few people come from home, and a big hello to Claire McDermott, a great teacher and a lovely woman and I hope you’re doing well!
“We used to go up to the Piker’s Lodge for her speech and drama classes. I think my first role was a chimney sweep in Mary Poppins for Claire, then something in Rumpelstiltskin, I think, the lead! So that’s how I got started, with Claire’s classes.”

Yeah, but is he enjoying it?
“I can see the Hollywood sign from where I’m standing in my apartment now,” he says, with what sounds like a smile.
“I miss my family and friends from home most, though, and, of course, Cavan because it’s where I grew up.
“Miss the food a lot, too," he adds, sounding somewhat surprised.

"Irish food is my favourite. You can get Irish breakfasts out here but they aren’t the same.
“There’s a lot work behind the scenes but, yeah... as for enjoying it, oh, yeah!”

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