With ‘Dracula Untold’ now screening, we get the lowdown on Diarmaid Murtagh’s overnight success and what it’s like working with the big shots
He was an overnight success that streamed onto our movie screens earlier this year, and now Diarmaid Murtagh is looking to take his career to new heights as he stars in the major Hollywood film ‘Dracula Untold’. Playing Dumitru, a loyal friend to the infamous Dracula, played by Luke Evans, the film is the first big-budget Dracula film in over 14 years and has caused overwhelming excitement amongst both fans and critics.
Born in Ireland, Murtagh spent much of his early career on stage and in many English and Irish TV productions, but has since taken his career to the big screen, starring in productions such as ‘Monuments Men’ and ‘Good People’ and with his latest role in ‘Dracula Untold’ to add to his accomplishments, here at Wonderland we talk to Diarmaid about his current success, inspirations and the new vampire epic.
So tell us, when did you realise you wanted to be an actor?
I first realised, or should I say absolutely decided, I wanted to be an actor whilst on a student summer Visa to Chicago in the Summer of 2003. I had just finished a Business degree in Ireland. I knew I didn’t want to do that and had been an active member of the drama society on campus which sowed the seeds. However it was whilst I was in Chicago and seeing the incredible productions in theatres like the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Shakespeare on the Lake and the Second City Comedy Club that the idea became fully formed to me. The joy of the artists on stage, the fulfilment. I knew it was what I wanted for myself too.
Did you ever imagine you’d be as successful as you are now?
I’m an extremely positive person and once I apply myself to something I’m pretty much relentless in seeing it through, so from that side of my personality I suppose I always believed in myself in this career. But so much of becoming a successful actor isn’t down to you. The decision of whether you get a job or not and are thus deemed “successful” is a decision that lies with others. The actors’ role in all this equation is to be ready to take advantage of any opportunities when they do arrive. I’ve always tried to be the most prepared, but ‘on-it’ guy walking into the room. A lot of the time it doesn’t work out, but then sometimes it does. And here we are.
Well it certainly did for you. Who are the actors whose careers you sought to emulate as you began your own?
I’m an enormous fan of Liam Neeson, always have been. He’s an immense actor but also from what I hear (I’ve never met him) a wonderful man also. In my teens, when I wasn’t even interested in acting, I still remember seeing his performances in ‘Schindlers List’ and ‘Michael Collins’ and I was blown away by what he achieved on screening those films. Ultimately though it’s impossible to emulate any one actor’s pathway. You can just take encouragement and heart from their personal journeys to where they’ve gotten, but then apply yourself to telling your own
How does it feel to be involved in a film that adds a new chapter to the pop-culture phenomenon that is the character of “Dracula”?
I’m very proud of our take on this ever popular theme that is vampires and ‘Dracula’ himself. It’s just a huge expansive legend that has taken many guises over the last 100 years or so, but ours is right at the coal face of how it all started. Set in the mysterious and mystical backdrop of Transylvania at that time whilst the very real, and historically accurate, threat of the might of the Turkish army looms large just over the next mountain top. It’s great to have been part of telling part of that story.
You worked on the film with Charles Dance. He’s a legend, did you learn anything from him on set?
Absolutely. I’ve been blessed to work with some enormous box office names in the last eighteen months but for me I always find myself studying and observing the senior guys a lot. The gents that have been doing this for years and have such ownership and assuredness in their performances. Bill Murray (Monuments Men), Tom Wilkinson, (Good People) or more recently Charles Dance. Charles has such grace and poise in how he prepares, and then subsequently delivers his roles. There is a sure-footedness, but also a wonderful mischief, to many of his performances – particularly as Master Vampire in Dracula Untold. He can also make a barking dog scurry whimpering out of a make-up trailer simply by growling back at him. True story, I’ve seen it.
Yeah you’ve worked with some of the most famous names in the world: George Clooney and Cate Blanchett to name but two. Do you ever feel star-struck walking onto set?
I don’t really. For me there is great re-assurance and validation in that when you arrive on set, you’re the guy they chose. The choices you made be it in an audition or whether previous work – you’re here now so do your job. When I first met George it was on set right before we shot on a very busy and hectic day. There was a great energy and focus about the day so you get swept up in that and play your part to keep it all running smoothly and keep the boss happy, AKA George Clooney in that case.
So having done TV, movies and performed on stage, which is your favourite medium?
I learned an immense amount from my time on stage early in my career. It was just what I needed, right when I needed it. Right now I feel like screen is where I’d like to focus myself. The whole process just excites me and leaves me wanting more. I will go back to stage at some point, but for now I’m enjoying the opportunities that are coming my way.
Your success has come pretty quickly, it seems like in the last year you’ve gone from doing TV shows in Ireland to having roles in major Hollywood pictures. To what do you attribute this steep rise?
Haha, my brother likes to call that the “seven year overnight success”. I left drama school then, and believe me there have been a lot of lean and hard times in between. Support from friends and family has been crucial. That said, yes, since around the beginning of last year things turned a bit I suppose. There is no one element to which I could contribute the rapid turnaround though if I had to say something I would say I have become infinitely more at ease in the audition room and have learned to enjoy the quieter in between times, which can be hard. I moved to London in Spring 2012 after opportunities in Dublin had become harder to come by, and all of that was hard to take – it took a toll on me. So I came to London with a general acceptance of things. I stopped over thinking auditions or waiting for the phone to ring. I let myself be free to just thoroughly enjoy my audition experience, to enjoy presenting my interpretation of how I saw this character engaging in this scene, and shared that with the people in the room. Once it was over then, I would leave the room and genuinely barely ever think about it again. It was done. Let it go.
How have your family and friends back in Ireland taken your newfound success?
They’re really happy for me, because they know how much hard workand tough times have led up to a point like this. All along they’ve seenevery bit of TV work as it came along, but en mass they’ve all come tothe various stage productions which has always meant a lot. At the end ofthe day though when you’re back with your close family and friends,nothing ever really changes which is just how it should be.
Working so much you must be away from home a lot. Do you miss Ireland when you’re away, or do you see yourself settling down somewhere like LA?
I’m always away from home, and there are times I miss it for sure. This summer I spent a lot of time in Romania shooting ‘Sons of Liberty’ and half way through there really was a point I just wanted to walk around my hometown. It passes though. I truly love what I do. My friends and family know that, and I love be part of projects that they’ll enjoy watching and to make the proud. I’ve come a long way from where I started but honestly these days, it actually just feels like the very beginning of a long road. I like following the work right now, so wherever that is fine by me. London is ‘home’, maybe LA someday, just not just yet.
You’ve managed to play an extraordinary range of characters thus far in your career: is variety something that you prioritise when choosing your roles?
Variety is very important for sure. So far I’ve played a number of historical period characters, but each with very difference backgrounds and purpose. The physical transformation is also something I really enjoy. I think when you’re choosing a role it’s important that it challenges you in a new way that what you’ve done before.
Who is your favourite character that you’ve played?
My favourite character I think thus far would be Dumitru in Dracula Untold. He’s a bit different to all the characters around him but has a very clear purpose along with a great loyalty to those around him.
In Monuments Men you were directed by George Clooney. Did you find it helpful being directed by someone who understands what it’s like to be in front of the camera as well as behind it?
Without a doubt. It separates him from a lot of other directors. He has that know-how both sides of the lens which is a huge asset to any film maker but in addition he as a person is very articulate on top of that. He’s succinct in what it is exactly he’s after in any given scene, or moment. He passes that along, and everything moves forward really quickly as a result. The set of Monuments Men is possibly the smoothest I’ve ever worked on. The actors are of course in great hands with George, but also his crew are like an extension of his next thought. Once he’s just about done on a shot already the wheels are in motion to quickly set up the next one. Very fluid and slick.
Could you ever see yourself going down a similar path and getting involved in directing or producing?
I would love to at some point. Maybe in 3 or 4 years, or whenever the right opportunity came along. More recently I have become more engaged behind the camera with producers and directors to get a grasp of the process from their viewpoint. Trying to gain some insights there. So at some point I think for sure I’ll end up in a producer capacity but now my focus is very much on acting.
That’s understandable. Lastly, hat does the future hold for you?
Hopefully some interesting professional challenges and opportunities as well as personal adventures. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.
So are we!