Gerard Kearns is instantly recognisable to fans of the hit TV show Shameless as Ian Gallagher.
But he has also worked with Mike Leigh (Peterloo) and Ken Loach (Looking for Eric) and gripped viewers on the small screen in dramas such as Chernobyl and The Last Kingdom.
Ten years ago he made his Royal Exchange Theatre debut in the play The Accrington Pals.
He returns to this unique space in two hander Beginning – a painfully honest and funny play by David Eldridge, which explores dating in the here and now in a confusing and alienating backdrop of apps, social media boasts, swiping, waiting and the shame of admitting you are a singleton.
Hatim Ahmed caught up with Gerard to chat about the play, his character Danny, career to date, and his love for performing at the Royal Exchange Theatre and Manchester.
How did you get into acting?
Well since around primary schools I had been getting involved in school plays and really started to enjoy them as a child. However secondary school was slightly different as I did struggle with studies for a while, it was almost as if I was doing the bare minimum when it came to those sorts of things, but I most definitely enjoyed drama. I really enjoyed participating in plays as well as being able to practice improvisation.
I hadn’t actually been raised into acting, so it wasn’t like any of my family took a big interest in it, or had influenced me in that sort of way but, I would say that it is something I really enjoyed growing up and something that I was very much passionate about. So, a little while later I started going into classes and regional theatre and different types of plays, and received extra work. It was kind of like in an agency. A little while down the line an audition came up for a show, which I auditioned for and had actually received the role. From there it led to more and more opportunities, having networked with so many different people and having got my foot through the door with that main audition it had led to something.
Tell us about Beginning?
It’s about two people who meet each other at a house party, and they begin to explore the idea of a relationship between each other, as the two people have very different ideas of what they want from the relationship. It is a modern play set in the year 2015. And I feel as if it makes the play a lot more relatable to people’s modern-day issues in a relationship.
What attracted you to the play?
A two hander at the Royal Exchange, is exciting, because you’re in the space for the whole time, so there’s nowhere to hide, there is a certain amount of naturalism, and the story speaks to the modern audience, especially when it comes to the language the writing and the story; I found really interesting. If you read a script the whole way through, without stopping and without getting distracted, a part of you feels hooked.
What appeals to you about performing at the Royal Exchange Theatre again?
I love the design of the Royal Exchange as a whole really, the building itself is grand and stands out to me. It is honestly gorgeous and stands up to any kind of set up internationally. I love that and I would dare say it stands up to any theatre, not just in the country, but in the world. I think sometimes, like especially Manchester and the regional towns outside of London, I don’t think it’s often that you can actually say that; but in Manchester the Royal Exchange is one of those places that makes me feel like it can most definitely stand up to anywhere in the world.
I’m from Greater Manchester so I get to go home every night, so that’s also lovely.
Have you been inspired by Danny in any kind of way?
I think inevitably you bring a certain amount of yourself into a character. But I will say that I was definitely inspired by Danny in the play to be more honest about how I feel in the moment, because I feel like sometimes some people really struggle to take a moment to think about how they feel. But Danny knows himself, because he has a certain amount of emotional maturity, so when he’s feeling something, he’ll give himself a bit of time because he feels a certain way; instead of thinking, that hell just try and suppress that feeling and just carry on with what I was doing, but it comes out in different ways, and I am really inspired at the fact that Danny can pump the breaks and express how he’s feeling in the moment.
What do you think makes theatre special compared to watching a film on Netflix or renting a film online?
Well, you turn the phone off for a start, and there are no distractions. When you enjoy Netflix or TV you’re in your own home with only a couple of people however, when you’re in the theatre your experiencing something with 700-800 people including the actors on stage, so it’s a whole different experience; sometimes you will hear people laugh where you wouldn’t laugh, and that might be something you find humorous, you’ll hear things that you don’t understand but you will feel or hear somebody else’s reaction, and you will feel like you’re a part of that reaction. It’s almost like your all together around a campfire immersed heavily into the stories being told.
You tend to feel like you’re on a journey with each other. I do love going to the cinema and I do love going to the theatre and I feel many different things when going to both but at the same time you tend to sometimes receive some of the same feelings you would get at the cinema in the theatre and vice versa but they definitely still have their differences.
How does performing on stage compare to acting in a series such as The Last Kingdom?
Well, you have more rehearsal time so you can unpack the script and unpack the writing, you are able to get more of an insight into how things will play out in different scenes so you can immerse yourself into your character more. However, on a set you may not always get much of a chance to do that sort of stuff, usually its if you’re lucky, and if you are; it usually goes very quick so the time frame wouldn’t be the same. You spend a lot of time waiting around on a set and it’s almost like a discipline. Theatre tends to be different in this sense because you would receive live feedback from the audiences’ reactions and it’s all just more in the moment compared to on set.
What do you like about Manchester?
I like that there’s a certain amount of space and time in Manchester that you don’t usually get in London. Another thing I would say I love about Manchester is that you have such access to the countryside, like you don’t have to go too far to surround yourself around the hills and the greenery, and if you think about places such as Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire, It’s all there.
What would you change about Manchester?
Well, I would have better weather, because I’m always seeing grey. But when it’s really sunny I do tend to stay away from the City Centre. But another thing I would most definitely change in the cost of transport, as I feel like tram prices are increasing slowly. But other than that, I wouldn’t change much about it at all.
What are the main things that you think audiences will take away from Beginning about relationships?
It will get people reflecting on their own current relationships. I think what’s great about this is that it will help pinpoint little problems that different people have in the relationship, as well as helping people to become more understanding, instead of judging people too quickly based of something small in a relationship; whether it’s a friendly relationship or whether it’s a more love and romantic type of relationship.
It will still highlight different things that people can relate to, especially in this day and age. I think it will also help people understand the real-life aspect of being in a relationship and how it’s not all just sunshine and rainbows, and that hardship is always going to be part of the process, and the fact that relationships can also begin in many different ways, and it’s not the ways people usually fantasize about it.
This is because relationships can be very messy how they start sometimes and not perfect and it’s a beginning, but regardless of how messy the relationship started, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how a relationship ends up. It will always make you think twice about things, and relationships can be very tricky to navigate and this is one of those tricky and interesting things that people will judge and will disagree with and people might self-reflect on and maybe they’ll go out into the world with a little bit more understanding and kindness and care to people.
Beginning is at The Royal Exchange Theatre from 16th February – 11th March and you can book tickets here.