A career in acting

 31 January 2011

Derek Halligan started his performing career as a touring singer with a band called Luigi Krum and the Kumbaks. He moved into theatre in the 1970s as has performed on stage, television and film.

Derek Halligan is an actor whose credits include Harry's Game, Fifty Dead Men Walking, Hollyoaks.
Derek Halligan is an actor whose credits include Harry's Game, Fifty Dead Men Walking, Hollyoaks.

Starting an acting career

Derek Halligan's first acting role was in Jesus Christ Superstar, Belfast, in the 1970s. He went down to where the company was rehearsing and asked to see the director. It took four days of persistence to get an audition. They gave him a role with one song and the job of understudying for Judas, which he got to play for a week. He was now an actor, but it was a period of fast learning.

“The show had to be the same every night. You couldn't extemporise or improvise. It was a great discipline.”

Once the show was over, the company stayed together and applied for funding to reopen the derelict Arts Theatre in Belfast's Botanic Avenue. The building was filthy and they had to clean it out themselves.

“It was absolutely pigging and we got it all refurbished.”

“Acting is not a steady job. It is a vocation for a certain kind of person, often one with a big ego."

Derek had now got into Equity, first on a temporary basis and then as a full time actor when he got sufficient work. In those days, the workload was considerable. One Christmas Derek was performing in a ‘Paddington Bear’ pantomime during the day, and an old time Music Hall at night.

'Over the Christmas period I was in that theatre six days a week from nine o'clock in the morning until eleven o'clock at night.'

Since then he has performed many roles in film and television, such as Hollyoaks, but still prefers acting on stage.

“You can't beat that thing with an audience. If they believe you, you're doing your job.”

Getting the audition right

"You grab opportunities by exuding confidence, acting like you already have the job."

The audition is everything, according to Derek. A producer once took him to London to commend him for a leading role in a TV series, but he didn’t get the job. The interview had seemed to just dry up.

“It just faded away into a what-do-you-say-next kind of silence, so you say thank you and leave.”

The producer berated him afterwards for throwing away a great opportunity. He explained that you grab opportunities by exuding confidence, acting like you already have the job.

Derek had lost a role for not performing in front of the director at an audition, even though he had been recommended. He applied that advice and a few weeks later - and scared them off by being too forthright.

“They wanted someone who was going to be polite.”

The lesson he learned was to be yourself. It may not always get you the jobs, but hamming up doesn't work every time either.

Advice for a career in acting

“Would I tell a young person to get involved in acting? Yes, if that is what they really want to do. I would try and give them an insight into how hard it is and try and steer them away from the glamour and celebrity way of thinking, which is not what it's about at all.”

“You can't beat that thing with an audience. If they believe you, you're doing your job.”

“Be prepared to listen and try to be genuinely nice to people, because you are going to meet a lot of big egos and some people who are not particularly well balanced.

“If you are the sort of person who wants to get up early and run out and buy the paper and see what people are saying about you, then you are going to have to learn how to take people saying you were crap.

“Acting is not a steady job. It is a vocation for a certain kind of person, often a person with a big ego who loves nothing more than to make people laugh or convey a powerful emotion.

“It's a phenomenal way to massage your ego without being egotistic, and it's a great get-out if you have an ego. It's the difference between doing something good and just being big headed.”


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