By Tara Fitzpatrick
There is a high chance you haven’t heard of Christy O’Donnell. Over the past few years, the 22 year-old Glaswegian has shifted between being a recognised presence on the Scottish busking scene and building the foundations of an international acting career.
The latter is about to take off.
Moon Dogs, in which O’Donnell landed his breakout role as Thor a musically gifted yet slightly autistic teen, premiered at London’s Regent Street Cinema on Friday. It follows two step-brothers from Shetland on a road trip to Glasgow where they meet Caitlin, a free-spirited wannabe singer.
The coming-of-age film, which also stars newcomers Tara Lee and Jack Parry-Jones, has all the elements of a quirky British Indie – the three mismatched leads, hedonistic adventure and some scenic Scottish landscapes – and O’Donnell certainly sees it as the perfect project to kickstart his career.
“It’s been a long time coming because it was about two years since I filmed it,” he tells me when we meet in a Glasgow bar. “I even look really different. I’m very proud of it though because the experience of filming itself was a fantastic learning curve.
“It’s very weird watching myself on screen because I don’t see myself at all, it feels like a different person. But then, I’m in character so guess it isn’t me.”
Indeed there are differences with his Moon Dogs character. Thor is an introvert who struggles to form a relationship with his step-brother. Conversely, O’Donnell is extroverted and loquacious, happy to chat openly about everything in between casual swigs of beer.
He seems willing and able to put himself out there, lacking the fear of rejection that so many actors talk of. He tells me a story about being in London, completely unknown in the industry but with a desire to make things happen for himself: “I had this hour in London and decided on a whim to just call this agent to see if she would meet with me and she did. It was a reminder to just go for it, you have nothing to lose by trying.”
I wonder if it bothered him that she may have said no. He shrugs, “you’re always better off giving it a shot. You need to trust your instincts.”
Yet despite his clear determination, O’Donnell still has concerns about his own suitability for the, notoriously demanding, industry.
“I’ve found that self-doubt is the worst thing. It can destroy you. Every job I get I feel like someone might send me home. I feel like I’m convincing people that I’m something I’m not.” He hesitates, “but at the same time I know that as long as you’re not a pretentious idiot who thinks they are amazing, and you’re honest you will succeed. It’s just perseverance and time.”
Speaking of perseverance, O’Donnell is the first to admit that he took a rather roundabout route to get where he is.
“I know that as long as you’re not a pretentious idiot who thinks they are amazing, and you’re honest you will succeed. It’s just perseverance and time”
In 2012, O’Donnell joined Harris Hiscoe and Gregor Coleman to create Supanova a three-piece rock-pop Scottish boyband. At the time, One Direction were releasing their first album, The Vamps were emerging from YouTube and there was talk of the re-invention of the boyband: the type more likely to strum a guitar than dance in a white tuxedo. Supanova, with its commercialised pop and three young male musicians aimed to capitalise on that trend. Ultimately however, it didn’t last.
“I wasn’t doing something I really wanted to do,” says O’Donnell. “We were about to go on Britain’s Got Talent when I thought ‘fuck this’ it will ruin the acting career that I want to have. I didn’t want to sell my soul to Simon Cowell.”
Does he regret it?
“Well,” he pauses, “no, because it was successful in its own right and I loved doing it for three years because I gained so much confidence. I was playing on stage in front of thousands of people and I learned how to talk to the media. I got to see what ‘that’ world is like.”
O’Donnell frequently refers to “that” world. He sometimes uses his fingers to make inverted commas. It seems “that” world, the entertainment world, is something he regards as surreal, detached even, from himself.
His contact with “that” crazy old world of show business is set to increase however. He is currently filming in France for Disney’s upcoming new TV series, Find Me In Paris. He plays Henri, a central character in the teen drama which follows a pair of time-travelling lovers in the French capital.
“It’s a comedy but I’m also trying to take it quite seriously,” he says. “I don’t think anyone will watch Moon Dogs and then watch this and think I’m the same, which I’m really excited about.”
Despite his short-lived days in Supanova, O’Donnell is still musical. Having established an impressive following on the Glasgow busking scene and touring around Europe with fellow busker and friend Daniel Docherty, O’Donnell has continued to write and record his own music. His original song Better Place, a soft piano ballad, will appear in Find Me In Paris. He announced this to his Facebook page with a live video recording of himself performing in Paris’s Royal Opera Garnier. “I am so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunities I have had,” he wrote. “The very fact I get to write that sentence makes me feel strange inside.”
Indeed. Bagging a leading role in a Disney project is a tried-and-tested success route for many young actors and O’Donnell knows he is on the right path.
“I don’t want to sound really cheesy, but one of my dreams was to walk down the Hollywood Boulevard with an acting job behind me. Then all of a sudden I was in LA with Moon Dogs and we were walking down Hollywood Boulevard. I didn’t feel any different, it felt futile so then I thought I’ll need to set another dream.”
Like I said, there’s a high chance you haven’t heard of Christy O’Donnell, but that won’t be for long.