Ardal O'Hanlon: Answer the questions!

My hardest role? Giving the best man's speech...
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The Independent Culture

Ardal O'Hanlon, 37, was born in Carrickmacross, Ireland and began his career as a stand-up comedian. He is best known for his role in TV sitcom Father Ted but has more recently been seen in BBC1's My Hero. He is currently on stage in See You Next Tuesday

This is your first time on the stage since school, isn't it? Was the first night nerve-wracking?

Well I was never on stage before I did stand-up. And theatre's not as nerve-wracking as doing comedy. Stand-up braces you for this and most things in life. The most nerve-wracking thing I did recently was delivering the best man's speech at two weddings - terrifying. Or trying to tell my children stories at night. The eyebrows raise. It's humiliating actually. I'm supposed to be able to improvise but I can't get together a story for a six year old and a four year old. The youngest I can just make silly faces at.

The play's about a group of friends who invite to dinner the stupidest person they know. Did you ever consider auditioning for the part of the wealthy Parisian host?

No. They didn't ask me surprisingly. There's a certain inevitably about the type of parts I get offered but I don't mind because I wouldn't be credible in that role. I don't see myself as a very versatile actor. I'm very much from a stand-up background, playing around with the comic persona I developed. That's fine, I don't have any hang-ups about it. I suppose deep down I would love to do something radically different. The truth is I never expected to become an actor, and over the years I've become more curious about the actual craft; I feel confident I could do stuff I would never have considered before.

Your father was apparently appalled when you told him you wanted to be a comedian, saying you weren't funny enough. Did he change his mind when your career took off? And what do your children think of your sense of humour?

He was more bewildered than appalled. He just didn't really get it, he's from a generation that didn't really go for alternative comedy. But he came round to it. He now spends a lot of time on the internet tracking me down. Obviously the story-telling's not winning over the children, but the silly noises work well. The six year old is getting into Father Ted.

Apparently your character in My Hero wasn't an Irish grocer until you asked for him to be. Would you ever play a character that wasn't Irish?

There was a pilot for My Hero in which the guy was Jewish English. I wouldn't dare attempt that accent, but there was nothing in the script that said he couldn't be Irish so I just asked. Without making an issue of it, you best serve the script by doing it in an accent you're comfortable in. There's nothing more irritating in my book than somebody putting on a bad accent.

You've said that growing up near the border, you weren't interested in politics. Now you're living in Ireland again, do you feel more concerned about its future?

It's not true I wasn't interested in politics growing up. I say a lot of things that aren't true! As an actor and particularly a fluffy sitcom actor I would be extremely reluctant to foist my political views on the public. But I have a deep interest in politics and a hope that the peace process will work and that everyone will throw their weight behind it. In general, I loathe orthodoxy of any sort. But Ireland is in much better shape than it's ever been in my lifetime - or any lifetime.

How did your novel The Talk of the Town come to be renamed Knick Knack Paddy Whack in America? Were you consulted about that and did you mind?

I remember getting an email about that: "Oh, by the way, your American publisher is going to rename it." But to be honest, at the time I was pleased it was getting picked up there and was flattered. And they said the British title had different resonances there and they wanted something punchier and related to Ireland, something that leapt out of news-stands (not that it did much leaping). And after I wrote it I didn't want to have anything more to do with it. I was pleased I'd done it and just wanted to get on with my life. I'm not a control freak, I left all that to the experts. So I had to say: "American publishers, do what you like!"

Are you still working on your second novel, and if so, what's it all about and when do you hope to finish?

I'm kind of nearing the end of that. It's going to be the most important book ever written. It'll mean the end of the novel. It's taken me a long time because what with TV stuff and theatre and kids, it's been hard to get down to it in a concentrated way, but I'm almost there.

Finally, if Thermoman challenged Father Dougal to a fight, would anyone win do you think?

The battle of good versus good... the likelihood of any kind of duel is slight, both being such pacifists, but I think if it really came to it Dougal would win - with God on his side he might prevail.

'See You Next Tuesday': Albery Theatre, London WC2 (020 7369 1730), previewing, opens Thursday, to 11 January 2004

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