BELFAST-based Fermanagh actor Tommy Love has returned to his home country after six successful years honing his skills on the London arts scene.

Here, he talks to The Impartial Reporter about his background in acting, his role as a filmmaker and how the NI arts scene compares to London.

What first got you into the performing arts? Have you always wanted to be an actor?

GROWING up on a farm in rural Fermanagh, there’s not a lot to do for young kids, so I remember watching a lot of TV and being drawn in by a lot of 90s children’s films where groups of kids in baseball caps would cycle around American towns, saving the local forest from property tycoons and that sort of thing.

I think that is where the fascination started, just because I wanted to have a life like that which was exciting and filled with action.

I never really said it out loud [that I wanted to get into acting] until much later.

Did you take part in any local amateur dramatics growing up in Fermanagh?

NO, UNFORTUNATELY I didn’t because I wasn’t aware of anything like that existing when I grew up and, then again, it didn’t seem like the kind of thing that people like me were ‘allowed’ to do.

I would recommend it for anyone interested in performing, though, as there’s no substitute to getting out there and doing it, in terms of learning.

What has been your proudest moment as an actor so far?

I THINK it would be auditioning and getting into my drama school, Drama Centre London.

I’ve had other really proud moments since, professionally, like performing on London’s West End and in a Channel 4 show.

I still think thta getting into my first choice drama school was a really defining moment because it was one of the first times I’d made the commitment that this was what I wanted to do with my career, and being recognised by one of the top schools in the world gave me such a boost that it was the right choice.

Do you prefer acting for stage or screen?

I LOVE both and have been lucky enough so far to have a real balance of both stage and screen work.

I always say that when I’m doing one, it makes you miss the other, which I think is a good sign as it means you never get bored of the different demands of each medium.

What production have you most enjoyed working on?

I THINK probably it would have to be Forgotten Man, which is a film I made the month after I left drama school.

It was a low-budget feature film, shot in black and white about a homeless man in London who gets involved with a wealthy family while working with an East London Theatre company that gives opportunities to the homeless.

It was my first job, and it was such a fantastic project to be involved with. I shot my scenes on the first day and then ended up helping them out on the rest of the shoot on the crew side when I wasn’t working in my bar job, because it was such a friendly and fun environment.

Any funny rehearsal stories?

I WAS once doing a show in the West End which was being live broadcast in cinemas.

During one scene, myself and some of the other actors were sitting upstage playing cards as the action happens elsewhere. Usually we were able to whisper to each other as we played because the size of the stage and the orchestra pit meant no-one would be able to hear us.

However, when they do the live broadcasts, they set up the cameras and mics beforehand and film a backup copy before the live show, just in case anything happens during the live broadcast.

We shot the first back-up copy and then went off for dinner before the live evening show, which is exactly the same as doing the regular show with a live audience, etc.

We came back later for the show and started as usual. It wasn’t until halfway through the particular scene as we were playing our card game that we remembered they had hung stage mics directly above our heads and we were sitting onstage playing our usual game of cards and chatting away.

If you look closely during the broadcast, you can see the moment we all start freaking out that they might not have muted the stage mics, and our card game was being broadcast to cinemas all over the world – including the Enniskillen cinema!

Is there a particular theatre show you have always wanted to perform in? If so, what character’s role would you like to act?

EVER since I saw Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk at the National Theatre in London, that’s been a show that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.

I saw it with Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi in the two main roles, and it was incredible. I’d love to be in a production of that.

After working in London, I understand you have returned to your native Northern Ireland. How does the NI arts scene compare to London?

I WAS based in London for six years, including the time I was at Drama Centre and then moved back to Belfast at the end of 2019.

I’ve found the NI Arts scene has been fantastically welcoming and productive for me. As it’s a much smaller community, there is much more of a sense that it is a community that supports and looks out for each other, which is fantastic, and how the arts should work everywhere.

What do you enjoy most about hosting the Accidental Theatre in Belfast’s weekly talk-show?

ACCIDENTAL Theatre has been one of the best things to come out of moving home.

Richard and the team at the theatre have been so supportive and welcoming almost since the first month I’d been back in Belfast.

Talk AT AT, which is the weekly talk-show we’ve been hosting in 2020 throughout the pandemic, has been such a great experience and I hope it’s helped to highlight and build that sense of collective community in the arts.

It’s allowed me to meet so many people who are pivotal and inspirational to the NI Arts community, and also highlight some of them based in the more rural areas, particularly Dylan Quinn’s Dance Theatre, and Kat Woods, from Fermanagh.

I understand that you are also a filmmaker. What inspires your filmmaking?

I’VE always done a bit of writing alongside my acting work, mostly just as a way to keep myself entertained and creative. I ended up with a bunch of short film scripts that I had no intention to do anything with, mostly focused on absurd situations and moments that I thought were funny.

I think that my main inspiration is just seeing something in real life or online that is just too ridiculous to be true, and following those situations through to a logical end.

Your debut short film is to be showcased at London Short Film Festival, What does this mean to you?

IT’S been a crazy process, so far. Having the film selected for the London Short Film Festival is an incredible honour.

They have around 5,000 submissions to choose from, and it’s a BAFTA-qualifying festival which means that the film can now be eligible to be considered for the BAFTAs next year.

We’ve also been shortlisted for an award as part of the festival, which could potentially mean a cash prize to go towards our next project and added exposure for the film.

Can you tell me a little about your short film?

THE film is a short I wrote based on an idea about the old crime scene recreation shows that used to be much more popular – it’s called *This is Not a Recreation, and focuses on a film crew shooting a crime scene recreation on the location of the original crime when they get interrupted by the mugger they were intending to catch.

We shot it in London in one night, and had a crew and cast mostly comprising people I was at drama school with, or others we had worked with since, including our fantastic director, Danny Baldwin.

We finished it at the start of the Summer and have been on the festival circuit for the past six months or so.

Has the pandemic had an impact on you as an actor or filmmaker? If so, can you outline in what ways?

MASSIVELY so – I used to work in hospitality in London, so I appreciate how hard they have been hit by the forced closures this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, but theatres seem to have been left behind and most haven’t been able to open whatsoever since last March.

A whole industry has been effectively shut down for nine months. Unfortunately, due to my previous work situation, I wasn’t eligible for any of the government support schemes apart from the one or two grant schemes from the Arts Council, which have been incredibly helpful but hasn’t really replaced almost a year of lost work.

Any new ventures planned for 2021?

2021 looks like a really exciting time and I hope that the creative industries can come back with a renewed focus on inclusion and community across all levels of the industry.

For me, we have the rest of our festival circuit for the short film, which will hopefully include some in-person screenings if things can improve over the next few months and it becomes safe to do so.

I’m also looking forward to auditions starting to come back again and getting back to my acting work and planning my next film projects.

Any last words?

I think 2020 has been such a challenging year for everyone and I hope that things start to get better soon and that 2021 holds much brighter times ahead. I think it’s really important to support our communities and our young people. So if there are any young people who think they want to get involved with the arts I’d encourage them to give it a go and don’t give up if it’s something you really want. I’d also like to offer any help to people who want to know how they can take the next steps to get involved in acting or filmmaking.