Lights, camera, action for hurler Shane McNaughton
Shane McNaughton is pursuing a career as an actor. Yet before he heads Stateside, he is determined not to fluff his lines in St Patrick's Day's club hurling showpiece writes Brendan Crossan
SHANE McNaughton presses three on the elevator in Queen’s Students Union.
His stomach is churning. For a brief moment he wonders what on earth he’s doing here, auditioning for a part in a play.
The play was called Say You’ll Remember Me. It ran for three nights in The Mac in January: “That was my first-ever audition,” he says.
“I actually pressed the button and then I walked away and came back to the lift. I was absolutely s****ing myself. So I got into the lift, there were other people there. It was at that point your ego takes over and you’re thinking: ‘I hope nobody sees me here.’
“You’re just very vulnerable. I didn’t know what to expect at all. They gave me a scene to run through. The director was leaning back and there were two other people.
“There were three more auditions for it and I was just as nervous for each of them. You’re living completely outside of your comfort zone. But there’s a great feeling about that. It lets you know you’re alive, that you’re scared. I like living that way - good things can happen.”
Good things did happen. McNaughton got the part: “That was the first big role I did,” he says.
Interview: Cushendall stars Neil McManus and Shane McNaughton
“My name was James Wentworth and he was an Oxford student. The play was about a group of students living on the Malone Road. I was the love interest of the main character. There were about 15 or 20 in the play. I’d quite a lot of lines. It was from the Belfast author Gareth Russell. The book has become quite popular.”
Before the curtain went up in The Mac for the first night, McNaughton was petrified: “I remember when everyone was getting dressed, you knew then it was real. And you could hear the audience coming in,” he said.
McNaughton suffered another elevator moment: “I thought: ‘I’m not going out there'.
“It actually crossed my mind: ‘I could just leave here and never have to see these people again. I could just go back to Cushendall.’ I remember thinking that. I couldn’t think of the audience. I just didn’t look at them, I pretended they weren’t there. After the first night I was grand. It was the final night when I started to really enjoy it.”
Laughing, he says: “I knew my lines by then!”
McNaughton also secured a “very small part” on the eagerly-awaited third series of ‘The Fall’ alongside Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson. He plays a doctor and spent a week on set. He could still end up on the cutting room floor by the time the third series airs, or he might feature for 15 seconds.
“I’m not sure what they will show. They do 10 hours a day and show 15 minutes.”
It’s a Friday afternoon in Belfast. We meet in the Coffee Den in Union Street. We both order omelette. It took a while, but McNaughton wears his jet-black beard in a way that finally suits him.
Prior to us meeting he was in the Black Box for Love Season where drama students construct a lunch-time piece: “If you told me there was something on round the corner in half an hour I’d go and watch it,” he said.
“I’m a very curious person. I like being around people and seeing different things.”
It’s exactly 20 days until McNaughton takes his place on the Ruairi Og, Cushendall team to face Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling final at Croke Park.
On St Patrick’s Day, he will experience an entirely different kind of adrenaline rush: “It’s a different type of nerves because you’re on your own on stage. I suppose with hurling you’re with your whole team and you can handle anything because you’re that well trained and equipped to handle it.
“If you have a bad game other boys can help you out, whereas with acting you’re on your own. If you forget your lines…I’ve muddled up a few lines but I got back very quickly. Sure, no-one knows what you’re meant to say anyway!”
He adds: “If you’ve a bit of talent in hurling, it’s easy to nurture that because of the people around you.
“But with acting you’re vulnerable and you don’t know if you’re any good at it. It’s the same as hurling in some respects: just go at it the same way I did with hurling – train hard, work on the things that you’re not good at, and just see where it takes me.
“I don’t really think too far ahead. I know that it’s something I want to do and I’m taking the steps to do it. I know some people close to me are thinking that I’m 27, coming 28 and that maybe I should get a job and mortgage. But that’s not really how I live my life. It’s the old quote: ‘It’s never too late to be what you could have been’.”
McNaughton has always loved films and curious about how they were made. He’s a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and is currently reading Robert De Niro’s book: “The more I read about De Niro, the more I like him,” McNaughton says.
“He was doing everything. He was an absolute work horse. I’ve actively gone out and pursued things. I went to places where actors and directors would hang out. I took a course in Belfast - it’s the only one I could find - and I started networking and talking to actors and seeing what was happening. I joined Facebook sites and started auditioning for things. I know this won’t happen all the time, but anything I’ve auditioned for I’ve got.”
Philip Crawford, Artistic Director at the Lyric Theatre, has been “very generous with his time” and has given McNaughton “a lot of good advice” about making his way in the acting world.
And his team-mates have helped too. During their hour-long treks from Belfast to Cushendall for training, they read him his lines: “When I was quite young, at the end of fifth year, when you’re deciding whether to go to university, acting was one of the options I had and the reason I didn’t pursue it was I would’ve had to go to London or abroad, to do it right.
“At that time I was immersed in hurling. That was my number one passion. Hurling took over for about 10 years then.”
McNaughton has no regrets about choosing hurling over pursuing an acting career. The 27-year-old balks at even the vague notion that hurling has in some way held him back from his acting dream.
“No, certainly not. Hurling is one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I don’t mean that in just a sporting way; it shapes you as a person and the people you get to meet.
“Most of my best friends are people I’ve met through hurling. So there’s not one bit of me regrets it. You only get one life and that’s the way I chose to live the first part of it. Whatever comes next I hope is just as good as the hurling. If I make the same kind of friends and have the same kind of experiences I’ll be very happy.”
The best feeling he’s ever had on a hurling pitch was February 6 2016 in Navan. After years of trying and failing, the Ruairi Ogs beat Galway champions Sarsfield’s to reach their first-ever All-Ireland final.
“It’s because you’re going through this with your best friends and your family… It’s like any experience you have: it’s only as great as the people you share it with.
“The match itself kind of flew by. Because we were up by 12 points you were waiting for that final whistle. I remember I couldn’t speak after the game. I was looking for my Da [Terence]. I mind saying years ago that if I achieved something I’d want to see my Da’s face at the final whistle, say, if Cushendall ever won an All-Ireland.”
His father, currently training the Ruairi Og seniors, is one of the most recognisable figures in hurling. He won an Allstar in 1991 but never played in an All-Ireland final with his club.
Leaning back on his chair, McNaughton reflects: “Do you know, the older you get the more you appreciate things – just as something as simple as spending time with your family.
“The time that my Da put into us - me, [Arron] Graffin, [Neil] McManus, Paddy McGill – he drove us about since we were about eight years of age, drove us to Belfast for matches…
“He coached us right the way up. When you sit back and see the effort that he’s put in, you can only respect that. Some people are maybe cautious and don’t like heaping praise on their father: ‘Ah, you don’t do that.’ But I’m very thankful and grateful that he is my father, just for the man he is and the things I’ve learnt from him.”
For the past two years, the Cushendall midfielder has been plagued by a hip problem. Surgery has failed to repair the issue. Under the watchful eye of his father and team manager John ‘Smokey’ McKillop McNaughton’s training and game-time has had to be carefully managed.
A county return has been ruled out. He plans to head to New York later this year for more acting experience. Over the last few weeks, Cushendall has been transformed into a sea of maroon and white.
You can’t walk two feet in the coastal town without bunting fluttering from lamp posts and every household. But it’s something McNaughton can’t get too wrapped up in.
“It’s new territory for us. As a fan you could sit back and enjoy it and enjoy putting the flags up and all that. Which is great. But, as a player, we need to focus on the match. There is no job done, that’s the truth of it.
“We have gone a step further than any other Cushendall team but that’s not enough because you’ll not be remembered for that. Winning a semi-final just doesn’t mean enough.
“It might to people who have been there for 50 years and experienced heartache, and that’s grand. But there’s a lot of ambition within this team who won’t accept that.
“You don’t want to be looking back years later and thinking: ‘That was our chance and we let it go by’. People say Na Piarsaigh have Allstars on their team and they’re obviously favourites – and they should be favourites because they’ve a lot of great hurlers - but I don’t think they can have the same bond or work ethic as us.
“We’ve come through a lot, we’ve been behind in every game (except against Sarsfield’s), so there’s a lot of character in the team and no-one will lie down. We’re in the prime of our lives and we really need to make the most of it.”