ARChive 9: Ciaran McMenamin (Series 4)

In series four of Primeval, Ciaran McMenamin took charge as new ARC team leader Matt Anderson, appointed following the disappearance of Jason Flemyng’s Danny Quinn. The Irish actor, who first worked with series co-creator Adrian Hodges on the TV adaptation of David Copperfield in 1999, sat down with Paul Simpson on set in Dublin during filming of episode four…

What were your first thoughts on getting the role of Matt?

When they asked me to do it, my initial process was getting my head around what it was. I tend to do very gritty, realistic, naturalistic dramas, and the odd period thing. It was instantly appealing because it was something different.

I’d seen a very early episode, possibly even one of the very first ones, but I hadn’t watched anything else. I had to decide whether to sit and watch 10 hours of it, or go into the world in my own imagination, which is pretty much what I’ve done, so I can keep it real. I can jump in and keep it all inside my head.

I was over the moon and I thought it was going to be a completely different challenge: “I’m going to be spending the next seven months chasing a man with a stick and a tennis ball pretending it’s a dinosaur!” I haven’t done a lot of green screen work; there are always a couple of bits in anything you do now, but this is pretty extensive.

It’s a physical challenge as well. When I read the first two scripts, I could really imagine myself doing it. I could see myself as Matt, and I could see the whole process piling out. I was excited about the whole idea. You kind of know instantly when you read something. You might go, “That’s not really right, I wouldn’t watch that; it’s not my cup of tea.” And there was a bit of me that thought that might be the case originally because it’s not something I would watch. But I really responded to the scripts. I thought it was going to be a lot of fun, and I’m just enjoying every day.

As an actor it is all about your imagination, and as kids, it’s all about the power of your imagination. We all run around with these little worlds in our heads, and a lot of boys and girls who end up becoming actors do so because there’s a want to keep that part of it alive. A lot of actors are big kids!

The first couple of weeks of the shoot were quite bizarre, so I had my own process. I was running through a maze with a laser gun, chasing a pretend dinosaur – so I was thinking I could be running through the Vietnam jungle with an M16, chasing a sniper who’s just killed my best mates. I had a couple of weeks of doing that and then I realised I was really getting into it, and really believed where I was.

It’s such a good ensemble, and it’s been great working with Andrew and Hannah, because they’re doing it with their eyes shut – in a good way. Both Ben Mansfield and Ben Miller are great. It’s a bit of a dream to be working with Ben Miller – he was a a hero to me and my sister when we were late teenagers getting into the first round of Armstrong and Miller.

What did the writers tell you about Matt before you started filming? It’s clear that he has his own agenda for getting involved with the ARC…

There are secrets which I’m not allowed to tell you. It was quite tricky at first – there’s the reality that when you’re making shows like this with a long running strategy and amount of episodes, you’re not exactly making up as you go, but things do change. When you’re shooting episode three, you realise that there is something there that can pay off in episode nine. A lot of it isn’t there from the start.

What I was given was a skeleton of Matt for working around. I know his ulterior motive for being in the ARC; I know he’s got an ex-military background, and there are very specific reasons why he loves this work. But he’s a bit of a loner…

I do a lot of character work. I was on Channel 4 last summer playing a mental murdering cannibal, for example, but whether I’m doing that, or it’s Matt, the basis for me is to put Ciaran in there. Obviously you’re not playing yourself, but there’s a very basic reality that will come across by just putting yourself into the situations.

In any dramatic situation, half your head has to be technically doing all the stuff, and half of it has got to be “Ciaran backed up in that corner by that thing that’s about to kill him,” and you’ve got to get that sense of real fear. In a weird way, even though the show is so specific, and is sci-fi, you still have to make them very simple, realistic scenarios, and that makes them real. That’s my process with it.

What’s been the biggest challenge playing Matt?

The physicality. I’ve been in and out of the osteopath quite a bit for the last couple of weeks. I’m fine, and I’ve got very fit over the past couple of months. I was pretty fit anyway, and I do a lot of gym, but I started this job smoking – and I haven’t smoked for three months, which is great. There’s a lot of running, a lot of jumping backwards through tables. The physicality has been challenging in a good way.

Was it more than you were expecting?

Absolutely! Next week we’re shooting a pretty full-on fight sequence from episode five – and it’s brilliant. It’s quite brutal actually. And in one of the earlier episodes, there’s a very extensive hands on fight sequence between me and a creature – very messy, very visceral and real. That was completely crazy because you’re having to physicalize this complete fight sequence with nothing there. There’s bits where I’m rolling around clutching a medicine ball. I came in that morning going, “Oh Christ…” and then I had the best day ever! I had such a laugh, got such a sweat on, because you just get into it and go with it. You’ve got to trust everyone around you as well.

There are times when you stand looking at nothing, or a tennis ball, and deliver a kind of tongue-in-cheek line which is half-realistic…

A James Bond quip?

Yes – that sort of fun line. You’ve got to mind yourself of the audience, because what you’re making is heightened reality. I’ve found myself a few times on the verge of turning round to the director and saying, “I can’t say that!” And then you go, “Yes I can, because it’s the style of the show.” You’ve just got to remind yourself what you’re doing.

The Roger Moore rather than Daniel Craig Bond?

Yes – I must remember that! That’s the most useful thing I’ve heard all month! So I’m doing Roger Moore’s acting with Daniel Craig’s physicality…!

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