Actor: Sam Keeley
October 15, 2015
New York, NY
Photography: Gregory Aune
Realization: Deborah Ferguson
Interview by Jaimie Kourt
You come from Tullamore Ireland. Town to the famous Tullamore Dew Whiskey. Tell us some other tidbits about the place. What was it like to grow up there?
Tullamore was a nice place to grow up. It’s a small town in the middle of Ireland that doesn’t seem like much but growing up there you get to see the beauty in it. As soon as you leave the town limits the place opens up to wide open green spaces and then expansive bogs after that. People in Ireland think of the midlands as a wasteland but the locals still love it. Growing up there was a rewarding experience that I didn’t know about until I left home and saw the world a bit. It wasn’t until then that I realized how lucky I was to have the space and quiet and nature.
What kind of activities did you engage in as a child?
As a child I tried many things to figure out what I was good at. Standard practice in the schools where I grew up was to play Hurling, a traditional Irish sport, and Gaelic football. I very quickly found out that neither of these were for me. I started martial arts shortly after that and was happy doing that for many years. As I got older I really liked exploring in the forests around my home and on the outskirts of the town. It was always nice to just get out there and walk and see where you ended up. In my early teens I started to play music and played all around the local area.
Had you done much acting prior to auditioning in Tullamore, where you won a role in your first feature film, The Other Side of Sleep? Do you remember what that audition was like? Why did they hold an open call in your particular town, was that a normality? Is it an artistic environment?
I had never done any acting prior to The Other Side of Sleep. I only showed an interest in acting 6 months prior when I got into a drama school in Dublin, but before that I had never done it. The audition was fairly straightforward. They put an ad in the paper for an open call. They were looking for people who didn’t feel like actors and could bring truth to the material they had in away that wasn’t forced. I went and did a reading with the director and casting director and got a call back and then another and before I knew it they cast me in the second lead. The whole thing happened very fast. This was rare enough in Tullamore, a few things had shot there before but whenever a film come to town it’s an event. In terms of the environment it is fast becoming more and more creative in the world of film as people have recognized that it’s a good place to shoot.
shirt: SIKI IM / sweater: Billy Reid / blazer jacket: SIKI IM / pants: SIKI IM / shoes: SIKI IM
shoulder piece: SIKI IM / shirt: SIKI IM / pants: / SIKI IM / shoes: SIKI IM
If acting hadn’t worked out, what career do you think you might be employed in? Do you think you would have been successful in that field too?
If acting hadn’t happened I’d say I would have stayed playing music and tried to make an album and earn my keep that way. At one point I talked about moving to Canada to work in lumber yards and play music on the weekends…It would have been a very different life.
What advice would you give to a young actor starting out? What advice would you give to a young person in general?
I always find it hard giving advice as I’m still feeling my way around in the dark. But if I was to give advice to a young actor it would be to listen and don’t let your ego get bigger than you, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and rejection doesn’t mean failure. Advice to a young person would be much the same in a different context and it’s going to be ok.
Where do you currently live? How did you arrive making “there” home?
Right now I am constantly back and forth between Dublin and London and for the past eight months straight I have been going from job to job so right now this minute I don’t have a fixed place. I don’t know where I’ll settle yet but my job requires me to move a lot and I’m going with it.
How do you spend your time off the set? Who do you spend your time with?
When I’m not on set I like to get out into the wilderness. I take surfing trips to the west coast of Ireland every year where I camp out and surf, it sets everything back to zero. I also like martial arts and practice when I have time. I spend my time with close friends and family and try not to think about work. It’s good to just surround yourself with people and things that bring you back to you.
You have been working quite a bit and a lot of your projects are imminently coming out. What is the waiting period between filming and the release of these movies like for you? Does your excitement about the project wane in that time, as you have moved on to other projects?
The waiting period for me with these projects is something that I don’t really think about. For me it’s a given that the projects take time to be ready for the world to see and if I thought constantly about waiting for them I’d go mad! In terms of my excitement for them, it certainly subsides as I move onto other things and my focus gets drawn to them but once the project starts gearing up to come out my fire for them comes back.
Of late, there seems to be a small theme in your roles pertaining to the military. Is this a particular choice you are making? Are you more attracted to playing in this arena? Do you have personal or familial history with the military?
It does seem of late I’ve been playing soldiers. It’s not a particular choice however I do find these characters interesting. There is something about the thought of taking a normal person and putting them through a system where they become trained to kill and the effect that has on someone’s mind and character. On top of that the horrors of war lead for a very complex and difficult character to play and that interests me. I thought about joining the army once years ago but it was only a thought. I have a cousin who is an officer in the Irish army but apart from that there are no huge current ties to the military.
On to Burnt. Who do you play? Are you interested in cooking yourself? Do you cook? Did you have the opportunity to any great chefs in preparation?
I play David, a young up and coming chef, who is recruited by Bradley’s character Adam and gets introduced to the fine dining world. I have always been interested in cooking and always loved food so it was nice to see how these elite kitchens worked. When I am home, and have the time, I do like to cook; I find it therapeutic. In preparation for the film I was lucky enough to train with Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley hotel in London. He let me come in and watch a full service in the evening and this gave me an opportunity to see how a kitchen of this standard worked.
How does that all work technically in the filming process? It seems such a difficult feat to cook and act simultaneously. You must have to be very comfortable around the kitchen.
Technically the scenes in the kitchen were very difficult. We would do 10 minute long takes where the camera would roam in and out of each station and we would actually have to cook so if we messed it up it would be seen. Add to that the heat of the ovens and stoves tested everyone’s patients and we all had to be very confident and rely on each other to get through it. And after all that we still have to act! It was hard but so worth it.
Do you think your Irishness informs your acting in any way? Who are your personal ideas of the preeminent Irish talents that you feel everyone should know and might not?
I think the fact I am Irish has had a hand in my acting for sure. Certainly in my approach to characters and what way I want to portray them. Because of where I come from and my background I think it gives me a distinct difference and change and an almost jaded, dark approach for characters than say someone who grew up in LA all their lives. There is so much Irish talent out there. There are a few that everyone should know by now, Michael Fassbender, Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan and directors like Lenny Abrahamson.
Who are your favourite designers?
I’m not massively into designer clothes. I like Levi jeans, I’ve got a few of those. I like finding smaller designers for various events, for example Louis Copeland is an Irish designer that has dressed me in suits in the past for events that I like. Recently my attention has been drawn to a few smaller designers in Iceland that I also have my eye on for the future.
What is your everyday style like?
My everyday style is a bit all over the place. I was obsessed with the 90s Seattle grunge scene when I was in my teens and that has definitely influenced me to date. I like ripped jeans, I have one pair of boots I always wear and one leather jacket with a few t-shirts on rotation.
coat: SIKI IM / shirt: Billy Reid / pants: SIKI IM / shoes: SIKI IM
Do you own a special piece of fashion or treasured accessory? What is the story about that/those item(s)?
My wardrobe doesn’t change much, it just gets added to and some things go. But I do have this red beanie that I bought two years ago that I like a lot. I make sure that when I’m traveling I have it with me no matter where I go. I’ve always thought of it as lucky but I’m not willing to leave it behind anywhere to see if my luck changes.
Is there anything you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing?
There isn’t a whole lot I would rule out wearing because of the acting. I’ve put on some stuff that personally I would never wear. But if we are talking on a personal level, I’m not keen on bright colours.
Your Instagram account is stunning. Are you interested in photography? I loved your video of a simple green landscape the sound of rain pouring onto it. Do you plan what you want to shoot, or is it a moment-by-moment inspiration?
Thank you very much. I like photography a little bit but I wouldn’t say I’m too versed in the world. I like moments that we miss, bits in between. I don’t plan them I stumble upon them most of the time. The green landscape is a view from my bedroom window in my home house and the rain is a soundtrack I’m used to growing up there.
Would you ever direct? You have such a keen eye.
I think that maybe someday I would direct. It seems like such a massive undertaking but there is something in carving a vision you have through words and images that really appeals to me.
Did you seriously dive with sharks? Can you describe the experience? You are obviously very brave and adventurous. Do you have any fears?
I got in with the Great Whites in South Africa. It was an amazing experience. When you see these creatures that haven’t changes in millions of years float through that water with such ease you realise that we don’t belong in there with them. It was incredible to look something in the eye that is so beautiful and powerful. I loved it. I don’t think I have many fears with that stuff, I like the excitement of it. While in Africa I did the world’s highest free fall. They drop you into a net from inside an old cooling tower with no ropes. That was scary! I’m yet to find something that scares me so much that I won’t do it.
Anymore singing in your future?
I’ll always sing I think. Music was my first love and whenever I get time I’ll play a gig with my drummer. I’d like to keep it as leisure and not something I have to depend on.