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Chicken Soup Dumplings with "The Night Alive's" Peter O'Meara

Peterdining

The restaurant manager at ROC Kitchen gently nudges a plump chicken soup dumpling onto a thick white ceramic spoon. Prodding it with her chopstick, she pops its thin, near-translucent skin, and golden liquid floats the dumpling. “Drink first,” she instructs as her fingers flit, tipping over sauces here, scooping out a dab of amber-colored jam there, swirling bright lemon matchsticks of ginger into the mixture. She plops and twirls the shrunken dumpling in the concoction, catches its neck with her chopsticks and deposits it back into the spoon.

“It’s like theater,” Peter O’Meara breathes, his eyes widening. His plaid driving cap is flipped backwards and sits slightly askew. If there weren’t a peppery scruff covering his cheeks, you might mistake him for a teenager.

dumplings

That O’Meara is enchanted by the xiao long bao theatrics probably explains why he’s back onstage as Kenneth in the Geffen Playhouse’s upcoming production of Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive. Since getting the ‘ol big break in 2001, when he played a lieutenant in the acclaimed HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, the Irish-born actor has cultivated a successful film and television career. He’s played opposite Tom Berenger on Peacemakers and Jennifer Garner on Alias (of the latter, he says, “After they killed me, they very kindly said they wish they hadn’t killed me off because they would’ve liked to keep it going.”). He recently appeared in season four of Ireland’s gritty, The Guardian-praised crime drama Love/Hate, and stars in Charlie, a three-part series on Ireland’s former prime minister.

Still, he found himself missing the theater, and told his new agent so. The agent sent him to a general meeting with the Geffen’s casting director, Phyllis Schuringa, but O’Meara had no idea how loud and clear the universe had heard him.

“She said, ‘So you’re here for the Irish play?’” says O’Meara between bites of three-cup chicken. “I said, ‘What Irish play?’”

Peter O’Meara was born in Thurles, a town in County Tipperary, horse country. It was rural, and his was a family of farmers and horse racing.

“Anyone from any other country would look at it like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing! That’s a wall from the 11th century!’ You’re just a kid thinking, ‘Why can’t Superman be here? Why can’t a UFO land?’” he says, chuckling. “So I grew up on American television, watching Star Trek and wanting to perform.”

His outlet was a local Saturday morning drama class, at least until he left for a Benedictine boarding school. While there, he was the kid getting into trouble for spot-on teacher impersonations, but he also managed to helm his own radio show, which allowed him to do skits scot-free. He quickly realized he wasn’t interested in academics, and was accepted to the National Youth Theatre of Ireland. There, his appearance in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was such a success he applied and was admitted to the prestigious Samuel Beckett Center at Trinity College (notable classmates? Dominick West and Jason O’Mara).

“[It was] a funny time of running around wearing a leotard and taking yourself very seriously,” O’Meara says. “It has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of being an actor, but what an extraordinary time.”

The next few years were the roller-coastery sort typical of the average twentysomething. He spent four years doing repertory theater in Belfast before ascertaining that wasn’t going to pay the bills, then nabbed a job hosting a television show before ascertaining that was a glorified office job. He hopped from the Abbey to the National Theatre of London and finally landed at the Royal Shakespeare Company. A bit of bad luck for one proved fortuitous for O’Meara — the actor playing Edmund in King Lear threw out his neck and O’Meara had to go on for him. Band of Brothers was casting and saw the performance. He was going to be on American television, just like his childhood

heroes.

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Band of Brothers ended up being both a blessing and a burden. “It was the ultimate boy fantasy come true, playing an American GI,” he says, skewering a fried vegetable dumpling. “[But] it was very hard afterwards. We were living in 1943 everyday. I stood on this runway where we were filming and thought, ‘What will I ever do that will feel this special?’”

The success of Band of Brothers encouraged him to move to L.A., and he quickly found work in both TV and film. Yet over the past 10 years of being a working actor in Hollywood, he’s started seeing the “cracks” in the very lovely facade. Although he doesn’t articulate it, spotting those surely has contributed to his return to theater — as does the opportunity to perform McPherson’s work, even if in his younger days he strove to shake his heritage.

“The Irish thing can be such a label. Pre-Colin Farrell coming along to make it cool, I wanted to be other people,” he says. “Invariably you go home when you’re older and you realize you can’t escape where you’re from. You have to embrace it. We have our own language, we are an island people. That probably gives us our sense of humor,our great storytelling and repartee — and the [other] side, the longing, the yearning, which Conor McPherson explores so well. People call it the dark side, which is a bit flip.”

He pauses for a beat.

“The night side,” he says.

The Night Alive opens at the Geffen Playhouse February 11. To purchase tickets, please click here.


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