RADA member Graham Butler Breen is an actor and theatre maker based in London. He is the co-founder of the new-wave theatre company ‘Luna Collective’ which has produced a number of original works and an adaptation of the Frank McGuinness short story ‘Samovar.’ Butler Breen has a BA in English and Drama from UCD and is a former UCD Ad Astra Performing Arts Scholar.
1. What made UCD stand out as the place you wanted to pursue your studies?
I had always wanted to steep myself in the arts and learn of the vast history Ireland has to offer, so what better place than UCD? I met some fantastic people – peers and lecturers alike – who all played a pivotal role in my development as a performer. Getting to know and understand the theory and the histories deepened my craft.
2. What was your UCD experience like – the social scene, classes, lecturers?
I loved it. I loved how you could get completely lost on campus but still bump into someone you knew. For me it was always a crazy rush to get back to Heuston to get a train, but the campus and its facilities made it worth it. Newman and Theatre L became a little home away from home.
3. Were you involved in amateur dramatics during your time at UCD?
I was involved in a few productions with Dramsoc, probably one of my favourites was a production of Martin Crimps’ “Attempts on her Life”. I made so many lifelong friends from that production that I still speak to frequently. There was so much creative freedom with the production. I also worked on the Leaving Cert production of King Lear where I performed as Edgar and another production titled “Shining City”, written by fellow UCD alumnus, Conor McPherson.
In my final year, I co-directed a performance on addiction with two of my fellow Ad Astra scholars, Ryan O’Donnell and Rachel O’Sullivan, titled ‘Addikt.’ This was the crowning jewel of my time with Dramsoc as we then ventured so far as to create a theatre collective called Luna Collective.
4. Have you always wanted to be an actor?
I did want to be an astronaut when I was 6 but that didn’t exactly fly, so from 16 on I dedicated myself to becoming an actor. I had an overwhelming desire to inflict emotion on others through story, any emotion at all. I always enjoyed writing and reading, so a newfound joy in becoming other people to tell stories really resonated with me.
5. What has been the greatest moment of your career to date?
I’m not too sure, I try not to judge each moment with too much weight because each is great in its own right. Performing at London’s National Theatre with Eugene O’Hare’s ‘Hospital Food’ at 17 was a major feat, as was performing at the Abbey in Karel Čapek’s “R.U.R” for Ireland’s National Youth Theatre. I’ve just graduated from RADA which is an amazing achievement, but, I hold them all with the same weight because at the time each of them was so important to me as a performer. People say they stand on the shoulders of their giants but I am standing upright on my own successes and failures; nothing that I do is without consequence and it’s important to acknowledge that.
6. What have been the most challenging aspects of your career?
It’s such a double-edged sword. I dislike that it relies on a committee of people who do not know you or your story to decide whether or not you can sell this particular story. I know I can! Let me do it, I can! I promise! Appearance does bleed into the job, unfortunately, so while a story may appeal to my emotional integrity, I may not be the ‘fit’ for the brief. I do struggle with that sometimes, but it just creates your own objective: make the story in your own image through your own project. Take charge.
7. What interests you the most about your job?
The variety: no day is the same. If you are not enjoying a particular job, you can be safe in the knowledge that 6 weeks later you’re (hopefully) on to something new. There’s so much to explore with people. I love being in a room of creatives, being allowed to be absolutely unbound and frolic. It’s food for the soul. I think it’s why I love playing ‘villainous’ characters because they’re not villainous in their own stories. There’s a reason they are the way they are, so what is it? Well, it’s my job to find out, to make sense and be the hero in my own villainous story.
8. How has your career impacted the way in which you see the world?
I could speak forever about this because there are so many avenues to dissect: political, sociological, philosophical, and metaphysical. I don’t think I could give this justice but it has shaped how I am from such a young age. Each project I do adds another flavour, another layer; and it all comes from that love of reading I have.
There’s a lot to learn from plays of the past: patterns that repeat themselves, warnings about reliance on tech, artificial intelligence etc. There’s always a reference in the news that I can turn around and say “oh that’s exactly like that Frank McGuinness play!”
9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully headlining a national theatre production in either the UK or Ireland. My next goal is to get back to the National in both countries. I’m not saying it will take 10 years, but I’d like to see myself still doing it in 10 years. I’d only be 34, which is crazy.
10. Who are the most interesting or helpful mentors or advisors that you have had?
Too many to count. Kellie Hughes, my UCD Ad Astra performing arts director, has been a major help to me over the past 3 to 4 years. The level of confidence, commitment and dedication she has shown to me has been super comforting while trying to navigate a turbulent career. The same as my course director from RADA, Ian Morgan. Both have pushed me to a creative edge and said ‘jump, see what happens.’ I know for sure there are at least two in my camp who would support and at the same time push for more. It’s a fantastic dynamic.
11. What advice would you give an aspiring actor/theatre producer?
Keep going forward. Wear your failures but don’t obsess over them. They’re stepping stones. Don’t wait for doors to open, build your own. Create, create, create but listen; make informed choices in your creations.
12. Where can we find you when you are not working?
I am never not working – I’ve just realised I have not had a holiday in years. I work at a lovely wine bar on Charlotte Street, in London – so do come to say hi. You might catch me making a cocktail or two.
13. What is your favourite book?
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day has moved into my top position. I can’t stress how beautifully written this book is. From moment one you are instantly transported into the character’s head and you have full knowledge of how he thinks, speaks, and views the world. It is so tragically beautiful.
14. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t leave things bottled up or unsaid. There’s nothing better than a good rant with some friends.
To find out where Graham will be performing next, you can check out his Instagram and Twitter – both with the handle @dankgray.