Interview with local actor Jack Murphy

By David Prendeville

Irishtown actor Jack Murphy is fresh off the shoot of a new short film, Cost You Nothing, when I caught up with him to have a chat about his career. Jack has been acting since he was a child and also made history as the first trans actor/character in an Irish soap. He played the character of Ryan Donnelly, who appeared in Fair City in 2017.
Jack started off his career as an eight year old on the film Agnes Browne, which starred and was directed by Angelica Houston. “I auditioned for the part but didn’t get it. Then, I got a call from the people doing the film and they said (I was still female at the time) that the girl playing the character of Cathy is sick so can you be her stand-in for two days. They would collect me from Ringsend school at 6.30 the next morning.”
“Since then, I got second lead in my school musical. I went to St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School in Christchurch. It was a very musical school. I used to do a lot of singing. I joined a community drama group when I was 18 – the Ringsend drama group – so I did three or four plays with them.”
Jack started transitioning when he was 24: “From then on, I’ve been a trans advocate. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Teni – Transgender Equality Network Ireland and I’ve been giving talks to BeLonG To, the youth service, about being transgender and about what it’s like to come out and how its OK and what it was like for me coming out.”
It was around this time that RTÉ started to take notice: “RTÉ approached me and said we’re looking to do a part of a trans character coming into Carrigstown, would you be interested in auditioning? I said definitely. I went down to RTÉ to audition. Less than a day later, they told me I got the part.”
Jack speaks in glowing terms about his time on the show: “It was a fantastic experience. I would go back there in a heartbeat. It was the best time I had. They couldn’t have looked after me any better.”
I asked Jack how he feels about issues of representation in film and the arts and how important it is that trans people are played by trans actors. He cites the recent example of the controversy surrounding Scarlett Johannsen being set to play the part of a trans man in the film Rub and Tug. Johannsen subsequently dropped out.
“I think it’s very important. I know there was a lot going on about Scarlett Johanssen. Fair play to her she stepped down. In the end we’re all actors, we’re acting, we’re playing a part so I did see her side of things as well. I saw both sides of it. She was playing a part and she would’ve been playing a part. When I saw it I thought, no, that’s not right. Then I kind of saw it from a different angle and then thought it was OK because she’s an actress and that’s not a big deal, y’know? Because we’re all acting, playing a role. But it is very important for trans people to be seen and a lot of trans people don’t get a lot of jobs. Walking by me on the street you wouldn’t know I was trans. I wouldn’t also just go for trans roles. But I find it really important that there is representation, because there aren’t that many trans actors out there.”
Jack speaks passionately about the aforementioned short he’s just wrapped on: “It’s about a trans man who has a tense relationship with his mother and who returns for a tense family reunion, hoping to build a bridge, but things don’t go to plan. My character is called Alex and my mother doesn’t aceept me because I’m transgender. I go away to London to transition. I’m coming home after four years because my aunty is coming back to visit for her birthday. My mother doesn’t accept me for the man I am. The director was looking for a trans man for the role. And when she saw me online and was following me online, my journey, she saw me and said I’d be perfect for the part.”
Jack feels the film has a powerful message for the trans community: “I didn’t have the experience Alex went through, thankfully. I have a very understanding family. But putting myself in Alex’s shoes was important for me because I want to say at least 80% of transgender people go through that with their families. I think this film will really hit home to a lot of trans people. There’s a lot that happens in the film that they will say happened to me.”
The role wasn’t without its challenges: “I had to do something in the film that I’d never had to do. I’m six years on testosterone now and I’ve never had to do this in my entire time on it and I did it on camera – I had to shave my beard. That was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Because my beard is like my safety blanket. I felt if people saw me without my beard that they’d think I was female. All I kept saying to myself was do it for the film, the love of acting. You’ll see in the film it’s real emotional. It’s real emotion when I shave it. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal but it was a huge deal to me. But the film is great. It tells a true story and it really hits home. It’s really good.”
The film is aiming to be finished in time for the GAZE Film Festival in the summer. Jack is hoping to organise a community screening prior to that. We look forward greatly to seeing the film and following Jack’s career in the future.