Simon Delaney is nothing if not ‘child-friendly’. So much so, in fact, that when I hit a childcare blip ahead of our interview, I’m assured that I could bring my three-month-old along to the Gate Theatre and Delaney won’t mind one bit. In the end, crisis is averted and I’m flying solo, but if there were any jobs you could bring a baby to, it’s a Simon Delaney interview. Specifically, it’s a Simon Delaney interview, while in rehearsals for The Snapper.
For the second summer in a row, Delaney (48), is taking on the role of the Most Irish Dad There Ever Was. Colm Meaney (40 at the time of filming the 1993 film), made The Snapper’s put-upon patriarch Jimmy Rabbitte a highly quotable national treasure, but critics have given Delaney’s portrayal a resounding two thumbs up. Last year, Delaney and the crew were ‘sh**ting themselves’ bringing the Roddy Doyle classic to the stage. This year, they know they’re very much playing to a home crowd.
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“You still sh** yourself every night in live theatre, but the audience were coming in going, ‘This is going to be funny’, so that’s half the battle,” he admits.
It’s a dream project for Delaney, and he notes that The Snapper’s cast have become a family of sorts, taking the business of bringing the project to the stage very seriously.
But his current workload, he admits, is “bloody brutal”. And when you put it all together – eight weekly performances of The Snapper, two weekly presenting gigs on Virgin Media’s Ireland AM, an interview podcast, a sports documentary, writing a feature-length drama, writing a comedy, a separate book, his pop-up food truck that took up residency in Kildare Village last year, a plan to create a line of food sauces – and ‘bloody brutal’ is just the half of it. There’s also the not-inconsiderable task of being dad to four boys: Cameron (12), Elliot (10), Isaac (7), and Lewis (3).
He admits that he is driven to stay productive as the fallow periods of non-work have cast a long shadow in his mind. Once, he recalls with a shudder, he had to endure seven terrifying months of unemployment before booking another acting gig.
“As a freelancer you have no choice,” he shrugs. “You have to cancel so many holidays, and miss weddings. But you develop the mentality ‘take it while it’s there’. In my business, they might not ask you again. And my kids have this very selfish habit of eating food every day.”
His wife Lisa, a former dancer/choreographer who gave up work 12 years ago to look after their sons in the family home in Lusk, “should be dipped in bronze and sainted”.
“People ask, ‘How does Lisa put up with it?’ but she knew the deal when we got married,” Delaney notes. “For the majority of the year I’d be in the house for most of the day, and I do the school-run while Lisa does the dinners and the homework and the bedtimes.
“It’s not easy. But we’re lucky that they are very good, polite, nice kids. I’ll say to Cameron and Elli, ‘Give Mammy a hand with Lewis’ and they’ll get the bottle and the soother and the blankie and do the hoovering.”
It’s a plate-spinning situation that Delaney and his wife have clearly honed over the years, but still, raising boys at different ages must take all sorts of skills.
“Yeah, you need to be on different levels with the four of them,” he reflects. “Cameron is starting secondary school, Elliot is all go, and then you’re toilet training Lewis at the same time. It’s busy but it makes for an interesting house.”
Delaney worries about the usual stuff that any dad of a child on the precipice of adolescence might, from smartphones to sex: “You try to have open and honest conversations with them and that’s all you can do,” he says simply.
As to what it’s like for the kids growing up with an actor dad: “Elliot was on his school tour this week and they passed the poster (of Delaney wielding Jimmy’s famous garden shears for The Snapper), and one of the girls went, ‘Is that a horror he’s in?'” laughs Delaney. “Then Lisa might have Weekend AM on +1 on the telly. I walk in and you can see Lewis thinking, ‘Hang on, you’re home, so who’s this balloon on the telly that looks very like you?”‘
Delaney’s dad Billy had a similarly fierce work ethic: “He was a printer by trade, but did the showbands so would work 7am to 7pm and then Thursday, Friday and Saturday would jump in the car down to Cork, for a residency. There were no Playstations, no smartphones – we had to talk to each other.”
Working on The Snapper, and recounting life in 1989 Ireland, has brought with it an unexpected melancholia. The music and the culture has reignited old memories of his parents; his father in particular.
Delaney was 19 when his mother Margaret died of pancreatic cancer at 51. When he was 26, his father dropped dead playing golf at the 17th hole – what a way to go.
“It was f***ing horrendous,” he says of that morning. “I remember he woke me that day – I was driving a van for Sam Hire and he used to wake me by throwing a wet face towel across the room to me.
“He said (singsong voice): ‘I’m off to play golf and you’re going to work, have a great day!’ Four hours later I got a call from the two lads who went with him. The hardest thing was driving home to my sister, who had just gotten the news. The screams of terror.”
His father was “no talker and not much of a philosopher”, but taught him plenty of the good stuff in life: “He taught me how to behave with women. I handed half of my first pay-cheque over to my mam.
“My dad also always said, ‘Never ignore the doorman as they’ll be in the lift on the way up, and the way down’. I try to treat people well, I’d hate to think I’d leave a room and people would be like, ‘Prick’.”
One of the greatest sorrows in Delaney’s life is that his parents never saw any of his acting achievements, or met any of his sons.
“There are moments that really kick you in the nuts,” he admits. “When I made my debut in the West End, no one was there. My parents would have swam over to see it.
“Even at Cameron’s confirmation recently, I was bawling at the church. I was just thinking of my mammy, and could see her beaming with pride there.”
Delaney grew up on Tonlegee Road, mere yards from where Doyle placed his Barrytown action. While many actors with a career spanning three decades can be prone to a touch of luvviness, it’s still very easy to see the down-home Delaney who years ago sold photocopiers, and drove that van for Sam Hire. “Here’s where they bring the President and Lord Mayor,” he stage whispers out of the side of his mouth as we are ushered into the Gate’s hospitality suite. We make jokes about us Northsiders nicking the glassware. If ice-breaking were a sport, Delaney would be Usain Bolt.
It’s an approach, incidentally, that has served him well in the US, when he sits down to meetings with studio execs.
“People get swallowed up by the business there, but being Irish is a golden ticket,” he says. “I remember going out to LA with my friend and agent Lorraine (Brennan), to get my ducks in a row out there. She put in serious prep and handed me 30 little Kilkenny Shop bags. I went into every meeting and handed them the little gift and they all went, ‘Oh, thank you so much’, and I went, ‘It’s an old Irish tradition, called bribery’. I gave Judd Apatow one and you’d think I’d given him a f***ing Ferrari.”
It’s clearly worked on occasion: there has been slick US drama (The Good Wife), blockbuster horror (The Conjuring 2), and Hollywood comedy (Delivery Man).
He would love to try his hand at more episodic TV in the US. Recently, he got down to the last two for a major project, but was pipped at the post. It still evidently hurts.
“Oh, I cried all the way on the flight home,” he recalls. “It’s horrible, going home and saying, ‘I didn’t get it’.”
Part of Delaney’s drive to work flat-out, he admits, comes from wanting to create a legacy to hand over to his sons. “Well, I can’t hand them my acting career,” he says. “I take that responsibility very seriously. Maybe it’ll be a restaurant, a diner, a line of sauces, I don’t know.”
Father’s Day this weekend will be a quiet affair. They don’t tend to go big on the occasion, given that Delaney’s father and Lisa’s father are no longer here.
“I’m usually working anyway,” he notes. “You never know. I might get away with not cooking dinner that day, if I’m lucky!”
‘The Snapper’ is showing at the Gate Theatre, Dublin from June 6 to August 24. See gatetheatre.ie for details.
Read more: The Snapper at Gate Theatre review: Big hair, Whitney Houston and the birth of a new kind of father
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