By Olivia Tracey
Andrew Connolly may be somewhat hazy on details such as wedding anniversaries, ages, birthdays and the like, but when it comes to his career choice to become an actor, there is nothing about which he is more definite. And a born actor he certainly is with destiny taking shape quite beautifully. Barely nine months in Hollywood under management of the prestigious ICM, he is already on his third movie this year, "Vendetta," shooting in Toronto opposite Christopher Walken and fellow Irish thespian Daragh O’Malley.
Mind you, the Finglas and Ringsend-reared Connolly was not always quite so clear about his professional fate. At the age of 16, he left school to satisfy a certain sailor bug by joining the Merchant Navy. He traveled worldwide from London to Jakarta, where, during his seven-month stay, he was particularly struck by the horrendous level of poverty. However, landing on American shores in Baltimore and Philadelphia he encountered a much brighter picture where the smell of pretzels went hand in hand with the smell of success. He was awestruck by everything from the sheer geographical size of this landmass to the Chevy and Cadillac-crowded highways, bustling shopping malls and department stores. However, although his blue eyes stood out on stilts like a child with a new toy, he was not yet ready to tackle America and so returned to Ireland.
Within two months he was bored. Unsure of what to do with his life, he joined the Irish Navy. But, alas, this was not to be either, and so, after 18 months of what he describes as "torture," he left.
Nonetheless, as one door closed another one opened, this time in the form of a former schoolteacher who steered him in the direction of the Dublin Youth Theater. Having been a child actor with the renowned Brendan Smith Academy in Dublin, he was easily motivated toward treading the boards, and so made a conscious effort to apply himself to the craft of acting.
Then aged 22, he gave himself four years to progress, which he did through drama-training and live theater. Although he performed numerous plays with the Dublin Youth Theater, many in Dublin’s Project Art Centre, he admits to disliking the pressure of live theater and sees it more as a learning ground and steppingstone to the more preferable art form of film. However, he paid his dues, working with some of Dublin’s most highly respected directors, including Passion Machine’s Paul Mercier and Rough Magic’s Declan Hughes an Lynn Parker, not to mention some time in the Abbey.
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His hard work and diligence paid off because as he approached the end of his self-imposed four-year time limit, he landed his first film break in "The Courier," aged 26, playing "Danny the Junkie" opposite Gabriel Byrne. The male lead in "Joyriders" immediately followed and it looked like Connolly’s career was cruising into overdrive. Then came an inexplicable slump — lasting almost six years. Thankfully, his actress wife, Karen Woodley, was on a roll of work including a stint on Roddy Doyle’s "The Snapper."
By 1993 the tide took a turn for the better as the thespian couple crossed the Irish Sea to try their luck in London. The move paid off as Connolly garnered one of his first leading roles on BBC’s "Shannongate," under the direction of "Prime Suspect’s" Emmy-Award winning David Drury. Next came two years playing a doctor on the period-style TV series "Bramwell," followed by Thames TV’s "The Bill," BBC’s "Lovejoy," Channel 4’s "Troubles" and RTE’s "The Truth About Clare," the latter directed by Gerry Stembridge.
As his television repertoire gained ground, his film work kept pace more than adequately. Paramount’ s "Patriot Games" and BBC’s "Runway One" and "The Family" are just some of his motion picture credits, with Gerry Stembridge’s "Guiltrip" winning Connolly a best actor vote in the 1995 Amiens Film Festival for his portrayal of a mentally and physically abusive psychotic soldier.
By 1997, he was back in Ireland on RTE’s detective series "Making the Cut," under the direction of Paul Cusack (son of Cyril). The cinematic style of the series brought him to the realization that motion pictures were truly what he wanted. And so with film as his goal and ICM London setting him up with ICM Los Angeles under agent Colton Gramm, it was clear that Hollywood beckoned. In November 1997, along with his wife and two children, he arrived on Southern California soil. Unlike most debutante actors to L.A., he was working in no time, with six weeks on a BBC movie "To Cast a Cold Eye" in which he played a cop hunting down Dublin’s crime king Martin Cahill. A stint in the Isle of Man followed immediately on "The Hunted," a film about the renowned racehorse, Shergar, and also starring Mickey Rourke.
It seems clear that Connolly is well on his way to joining the ranks of Neeson, Gleeson, Byrne and Brosnan. Despite the fact that he may have difficulty recalling the exact date of his wedding anniversary, he’ll never forget the wonderfully spontaneous ceremony itself, taking place one random day under a blossom tree on a Florida vacation. Mind you, isn’t spontaneity the mark of a fine actor — and an ever-exciting, perfectly unpredictable partner?