Former Shameless actor Gerard Kearns to star in Shrewsbury theatre show
He shot to fame in TV’s Shameless as the son of feckless drunk Frank Gallagher.
Gerard Kearns played Ian Gallagher and was of the original characters in the popular show. He’d already carved out his name in Holby City and Heartbeat and soon found himself lining up in Doctors and Foyle’s War, among others.
And yet Gerard has never left behind his theatrical roots and on Thursday and Friday will feature at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn in a play about Irish history. To Have To Shoot An Irishman is a new play with songs by Lizzie Nunnery.
It is set on Easter morning, 1916. Gunshots ring out in the Dublin streets and in her suburban sitting-room Hanna prepares for revolution. While Frank walks through the crowds calling for peace, 18-year-old William fearfully reports to the barracks for duty, determined to serve the British army with honour. But can honour survive the chaos of conflict, and once unleashed can violence ever be contained?
Gerard jumped at the chance to appear. “It was just the quality of the script that got me,” he says. “I read it and I loved it.”
The play focuses on Irish history and the events that unfolded. “It’s a different take on the Easter Rising. The themes of peace and unity are strong throughout. And with Brexit and the dispute with the Irish border, it seems to be more relevant than ever – even though it’s set more than a hundred years ago.
“People from my generation are aware of the so-called troubles, when Northern Ireland was a war zone. But if I’m perfectly honest, I had little understanding of that time even though my granddad was from Dublin. But I’ve learned a lot about the history of Ireland by doing this job.”
Acting is one of the least stable professions in the arts, though 34-year-old Gerard has seldom been out of work since his stint as Ian Gallagher. He favours intellectually-engaging roles and has previously starred in the film The Mark of Cain, for Film4 Productions, based on British soldiers’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners. It premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in February 2007. The opportunity to originate a role in To Have To Shoot An Irishman was too good to turn down.
“It’s a job as well and it pays the bill but for me it’s always about the script. This play has all the factors you’d look for. It’s creatively stimulating and as an actor, you’re only ever as good as the characters you’re playing.
“It’s all about playing as a team. In this play, I really like my character and find him very inspiring. His convictions and his beliefs are spot on. He was a rebel against the rebels.2 He understood and sympathised with The Cause but didn’t think guns would achieve what they wanted to. He thought it was naïve to imagine that putting a bullet in another man’s head would ever solve anything. And I think that’s what attracted me to the piece.”
Gerard was born up in Mossley, near Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester. He was educated in Oldham at St Augustine’s Catholic School, and later studied at Ashton Sixth Form College in Ashton-under-Lyne. He is a supporter of Manchester City FC and always knew he wanted to act, despite the highs and lows of the profession.
From the age of 13, he started working towards turning pro. He did drama classes in Manchester and took bit parts whenever he could. “I did extra work for about three years. Then Shameless came up and I was right for the job and got a London agent. There’s so much stuff out of your hands as an actor in some ways, unless you write it. You just have to hope that the right jobs come along.”
“Acting isn’t just a job. The ups and downs and careers of actors are hard. But culture is really important and so you accept that things aren’t always going to be important. Culture was the first thing the Nazis wanted to take from the Jews. It’s important to us all. And acting teaches me to read more and not to judge.”
His career has taken him across theatre, TV and film, with movie roles including The Mark of Cain, Looking for Eric, Honeymooner, The Rise and Trespass Against Us.
“I think I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to do film, TV and theatre. I was having this conversation last night with the casting director and my agent. I feel theatre informs your work. You come off a theatre job and you really can take that practice and skills to the camera. You get a lot more from theatre at times because there’s instant feedback from the audience. But TV and film are great for getting out a story and a message out there. You can get characters across to a broader audience with music and atmosphere and effects.”
Shameless remains a huge plus on his CV. The British comedy-drama was shot on the fictional Chatsworth Coucnil Estate and accorded critical acclaim by various sections of the British media, including The Sun newspaper and Newsnight Review on BBC Two. It won a BAFTA and a further award at the British Comedy Awards before being adapted for American TV.
“With jobs like Shameless, you realise what the shows mean to people. When you’re recognised people aren’t really interested in you as a person, they’re interested in the character and what the show meant to them. That’s the responsibility that you carry. The public might have sat with the family or have been going through a difficult time. So you have a duty and responsibility.”