Michael James Ford chats to Maretta Dillon about the role of ‘Frank’ in Educating Rita.
Educating Rita has enjoyed success both as a stage play and, of course, a film – one which was actually shot in Dublin! Michael James Ford takes on the now very familiar role of ‘Frank’ in a production set this time in Belfast in 1980. The show will embark on an island wide tour in March.
This is your second time playing ‘Frank’ in Educating Rita. Is there something about the character and the play that appeals to you?
Very much so, he’s a complicated character, he’s a guy who’s lost his way; I find the complexity of the character very interesting. He’s a guy that was at one time an aspiring poet; at one time he also had a passion for teaching. But his career as a poet never really took off so he’s become very disillusioned and he’s descended into self-loathing and alcoholism. What is really interesting for me as an actor is the journey when he meets Rita and he rediscovers his mojo a bit and rediscovers his love for teaching and for literature.
This production is set in Belfast rather than in the original Liverpool of the early 1980s. Do you find that this brings a new dimension?
I think it definitely brings new things because the new location brings a more complex hinterland. Frank hasn’t just turned his back on the academic world that he’s now come to hate, there is the world outside which is a threatening one with all kinds of violence happening. We use radio broadcasts to set that in context – the hunger strikes are imminent – and this just fuels Frank’s sense of isolation.
Do you enjoy the rehearsal process or are you always waiting for the performance element to kick in?
Obviously, the most exciting thing is when you are up in front of an audience but it’s been great to come back to the play to re investigate it and to discover lots of new things.
Was acting your first and only choice as a career or did you drift into it?
It was something I really wanted to do but I was a bit afraid of it. I was putting off the dread moment. I did an academic drama course and then I did a post grad in Trinity in the 80s. It was a very exciting time for people in Trinity Players and people who were really serious about the theatre. So I got into it through that.
Does acting get easier as you get older or is it always a challenge?
I think it’s always a challenge, I wouldn’t say it gets easier at all. I think as you get older and more experienced you are kind of harder on yourself. You have a more complete understanding of what you are trying to achieve so you go into the detail much more. You know what works but there are aspects of it that get harder; even something as basic as the lines. It definitely doesn’t get easier but it possibly gets more fulfilling.
You’ve worked on stage, screen and TV. What’s your favourite?
Film and TV can be very exciting but there’s not the same thrill as theatre. Theatre would definitely be my favourite thing, the connection with an audience, it’s fantastic. Educating Rita really is a great play, it’s very exciting because you feel the response not just to the laughter but when the emotional moments happen, you feel that connection.
How do you deal with the ‘resting periods’. What do you do to take a break from acting?
To be honest, I really just keep going because I have a number of small shows that I can always do. I worked a lot with Bewley’s Café Theatre. I did a couple of things there last year, so I tend to keep looking, to keep going.
Have you any advice for those contemplating the acting profession as a career? Or words of encouragement?
One piece of advice is to develop a love of the literature. I would say just read, read as much as you can. Life is short, one of the great things about theatre is that it brings you into so many periods of time, into so many worlds, so my advice would be to explore, to keep yourself energised and motivated through that process even if you are not working.
Educating Rita plays at Lyric, Belfast, Feb 4-25 / Market Place, Armagh, Feb 28 – Mar 1 / An Tain, Dundalk, Mar 3 & 4 / Theatre Royal, Waterford Mar 8 & 9 / LimeTree, Limerick, Mar 15 & 16 / Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, March 21- 25 / Everyman, Cork – Mar 28 – Apr 1.
Michael James Ford as Frank with Kerri Quinn as Rita.