It is a truth universally acknowledged that 1) when writing about Pride and Prejudice you have to open with a variation on that famous opening line and 2) that Sam O’Mahony, who is currently playing Mr. Darcy in the Gate Theatre’s production of Jane Austen’s beloved classic, is more than handsome enough to take on the inimitable role of the ultimate romantic hero. Yesterday we sat down in the elegant environs of the Gate with Sam to talk about Darcy.
Why did you want to play Darcy? It came as a bit of a surprise actually. I was brought in for another part and within a couple of minutes they asked me to prepare for Darcy a few hours later. About two days later they offered me the part. It was a complete surprise actually, out of the blue, not that I wouldn’t have loved the idea of playing Darcy. It was the best Christmas present they could have offered me.
Did you feel at all intimidated about playing literature’s most attractive man? If I thought about it like that I would be intimidated but you just can’t do that. You think about it as any other part and that is: he’s a guy, he does this, this happens to him. When you start thinking about the character as a sex symbol you will have serious issues. It’s impossible. I mean people have perceptions of Mr Darcy – I actually didn’t know anything about Mr. Darcy before. I knew Colin Firth had played him. I had never read the book, had never seen the tv series. I’m a guy in his late twenties. However now having read it I absolutely love it. But from the male point of view, when you read that book, he’s not Mr. Sexy. You think he’s a good man, a strong man who’s got huge flaws that he has to overcome by the end.
Why does this story of Lizzie and Mr. Darcy remain so popular, two hundred years after it was first published? I think certainly because of the Lizzie Bennet aspect. She’s probably the strongest female character in literature. I mean she is phenomenal. The whole story, it’s her story. Yes, there is a love story between her and Mr. Darcy but it is the story of Elizabeth Bennett. Every bit in that book, she’s strong, she stands up to authority, she stands up to men, she does it her way. That is the strength, much more so than the romance.
In Pride and Prejudice the initial misunderstanding springs from Elizabeth overhearing Mr. Darcy describing her as “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Have you ever found yourself creating an awful first impression like that? I don’t think I’ve ever been so misinterpreted – but in that scene I don’t think he is dissing her looks. I think he’s bored at a party and saying anything to get out of the party. He is that person who’s standing in the corner, there because of his friend and he doesn’t want to be there. “What about that girl over there?” And he’s says “Nah.” That is all he’s saying! It’s really interesting because a guy’s perspective and girl’s perspective on this would be so different and that is the essence of the whole book. Girls would think he’s dissing, and guys are like no, he just wants to go out for a smoke.
You trained in London and worked predominantly there before moving back to Ireland in 2011 for a role in Fair City – would you like to return to London or stay working in Ireland? I never really left London. As an actor when you’re young you have to, in many ways, keep one foot in each island. I’m lucky enough to have representation and a home over there. And Ireland has been amazing to me. I want to work here. We produce great things. It’s home and performing on stage at the Gate has been a dream come true. I’ve wanted this since I was a kid. But there is stuff happening in London that is incredible too and you have be smart about it, you have to pick your projects well, if you can.
How does life after Darcy look for you? Earlier this year I was filming a television series called Roy with Simon Delaney and that is going to go out on the BBC in the next couple of months. It couldn’t be further from Mr Darcy. And then there are a few little projects that I can’t really talk about yet, early days and that. I’m also directing a couple of things, a few short films.
And your dream role? I would love to play Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Or Orlando in As You Like It, the more comedic plays. With Beatrice and Benedick there is a similar dynamic to that of Pride and Prejudice, two people struggling against each other and eventually letting go of things and allowing themselves to be together.
Pride and Prejudice runs in the Gate Theatre until January 18th. For more information see here.
Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun