GT Stage

Johnny O’Callaghan

A pre-Edinburgh GT interview

Irish actor Johnny O’Callaghan’s one-man show, Who’s The Daddy, about the adoption of his now 10-year-old son Odin from Uganda, was a sold out hit in Los Angeles. The actor is now bringing his hit show across the pond ready for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We talk to him about the show, adopting and raising a child as a single gay parent.

So are you still in LA at the moment?
I am yes. I’m flying over to New York soon and then flying over to Edinburgh on 30 July for the start of my show.

Are you excited for the start of the show?
Yes, very, I’m really looking forward to it. It will be interesting to see how a different audience reacts to the show.

Are excited to be able to bring it over to the UK?
Yeah, I really am. The American audience is quite different to a British audience, and it will be good to see what they respond to, and what they find funny, as opposed to what the Americans laugh at.

Were you surprised at the reaction from the American audience?
I was yeah, it was really great to see them responding as they did. People used to come up to me after the show and say that the show was very inspiring. And some of them were quite conservative American or Irish men and women, which was astounding.

You said earlier that you were interested to see what the different audiences will laugh at, what did the American audience find the most funny?
Mostly the bits about my Irish family actually. I think they liked the humour and the stories about my mum and Dad.

Have you parents or any of your family seen the show?
They haven’t no, they don’t travel very well, but my siblings should hopefully be coming over to Edinburgh to see it, so that will be great.

Was it mostly gay male audiences who came to watch it?
There was a real mix of people, obviously quite a few gay men, but also as I said the more conservative American and Irish people were also in the audience. It was great to see such a range of people. Some of the people would come up to me after the show and hug me, which really took me aback. I was Aust telling a story, but I know it’s not your typical story.

Do you mind just saying a bit about the show?
Well it’s a one- man show where I tell the story of my life, and mainly the adoption of my son Odin from Uganda. It was something that happened in my life that was completely unexpected, he was Aust something that came along unexpected in my life. I call it my unexpected pregnancy.

Why do you think it has been such a hit so far in America?
I think mainly because of the family side to the show. I focus a lot on my upbringing and my Irish family, and what I felt towards Odin when I first saw him; I knew he was mine. Hopefully people find it quite inspiring too which is surprising for me especially when you’re telling a story about someone else’s country, it wasn’t a reaction that I wasn’t expecting. But it is my perspective of what happened during that nine-month period. The more I looked back on it I was like oh my God I actually did this, I don’t even know how that happened. And as soon as I came back to LA with my son, I was raising him straight away, so it wasn’t like I had anytime to process and talk about it. I think that’s where the need to tell this story came. All of sudden everyone was meeting my son and I was raising him, and no- one knew what happened in the nine months before, or how it happened. I think sometimes the story can scare people, especially my family.

Has your son seen the show at all?
He hasn’t no, I feel like it’s my love letter for him for when he’s older to watch, it will be a this what I did for you moment. I feel that it is very gritty and honest. This all happened six years ago. It was a difficult time for my family and my friends to show where I was at the time. I Aust don’t want him to misinterpret because he’s so loved. So I think when he is 16, it will be perfect.

So you play quite a few different characters in the show don’t you? Have the people that you play seen it?
Yes I do. Actually the social worker came to see it, which was lovely. Also, with the movie, she’s hoping to be in that, she wants to play herself. She really took it in a great spirit and again it’s my perspective of these people. She loved it and at the end she stood up and she actually came twice.

So you mentioned the film, is that going ahead still?
We are in development with it yeah, it’s coming out. The screenplay has been written so it’s getting there.

Will you still be starring in it?
The intention right now is to, I mean the companies wanted it with Michael Fassbender or Colin Farrell attached to it but I mean, I don’t just want to watch celebrities do movies, I think it might be interesting to see the actual person be in it. I’ve been an actor for 20 years so you know I can do it anyway. But again, I think it might be more interesting to see the person who actually went through the journey act it. So I would like to play it, but we shall see as time unfolds.

Are you still taking the show to Broadway next year as well?
Yeah we are going to in February 2013.

Are you looking forward to that?
I am yeah. I’m going to do a preview for New York just before we come over to Edinburgh. I love New York, New York is great, especially when you are working. I find New York hard to beat when you are working, it’s very different. But we will see, it’s been an interesting journey so far and I’m excited about Edinburgh too.

Have you had a lot of men asking you about adoption since the show started?
I have. I did from a show called The Advocate over here, I don’t know if you get it in the UK. I did a big piece on the show when initially it [the adoption] happened. Also, the English media were very public with it when it happened too because I think the single man thing really triggered them. I was doing a lot of interviews. I get a lot of emails on my website and people would email me and talk about it. Again, my story is very unique. It was my accidental pregnancy as I call it and no-one had been over to Africa to adopt in that way so it’s very different. You know I always wanted children but I never thought that this was going to happen, it was very tough and very unusual in some respects, so although I can give them the details of my experience, it don’t think necessarily it can be repeated.

So would you encourage men to go and adopt still?
Oh yeah, I mean the way it teaches you about life you know, and the circle of life. In a way, I think it’s the most challenging thing but then I also think it’s the most rewarding thing too. It really puts everything into perspective, but it’s a great journey. But then I think more and more in the gay community are adopting, and having surrogates too, and I encourage it completely.

So what was the most shocking thing that you saw when you were in Uganda?
I think at the time when I got there I was very ignorant. I had become very privileged living in Hollywood. I think the most shocking thing was just everything happening seemed to be very present. I went to University in Belfast and there was always an edginess about it in Belfast, we were always sort of aware of it if that makes sense. But there was just a whole other edge to it. I’ve never experienced seeing children with rifles, and just the poverty and the images of death at the time. You know in a way, I think I was ‘depressed’ in LA, and I would put the depressed in quotes, lots of naval gazing. The thing also was that people could be happy with so little, which was most shocking. And they could play with nothing, you could give them a plastic bag and they could play for hours. People could survive on so little, especially coming from America where everything is so extreme. There is a lot of it that you forget when you are living in your own little bubble, it almost feels that you’ve been transported away from Hollywood. I went very last minute, I went to Uganda on a Saturday, I think it was Wednesday when I decided to go, so it was very actiony and very dramatic. But it was the perfect medicine; it was Aust what I needed if that makes sense. Meeting my son was a huge thing and there was no preparation for what happened.

Does he know the effect that he has on you?
Yeah I tell him this regularly. He’s got a birthmark in the white of his left eye that looks like a map of Ireland, so I always tell him that it was meant to be. He loves hearing the story about him when he was younger. But he’s doing well, he’s 10, he’s growing up really well. He’s a miracle on many, many levels. And I’m excited for him and his life ahead. He’s coming to Edinburgh too, and also Ireland. He’s going to hang out with his cousins for a while, then he’s going to come over with my brother sometime in August. He’s very excited about coming to Edinburgh and Ireland.
Well, he gets to see some of your and his roots.
Well yeah, he’s very keen to meet the soccer team, part of the Irish thing I think

So he’s good at football then?
Yeah, he’s very good at sports, very good at sports.

Did you attract much attention from Hollywood stars when you were in LA?
Lots of different people came yes. The street we live on has Tom Cruise at the end of the street, and Justin Timberlake at the beginning of the street. Celebrities are the wildlife you know, this is their territory.

So after New York and everything, have you got any projects your working on? Is the show going to continue somewhere else?
Right now it’s the just the film, and hopefully that will be in production right after New York. Someone told me they want me to write a book about my story. I’m interested in talking about raising children and its challenges, especially being a single gay parent. I think it’s very funny but also very interesting, this journey. So I would like to explore more of that but with writing. Right now most people are fascinated with the adoption, but eventually I would like to talk about the raising of him, and the rollercoaster of it.

And you volunteer at an AIDS clinic as well don’t you?
I’ve ran a lot of marathons and triathlons for charities and last year Odin was the mascot. He’s a lot of fun too, he’ seen a lot I suppose.

So he’s quite unshockable then?
He’s seems to be, you know it’s like a Benetton commercial with all the gay families. But he’s very comfortable with who he is, and all the girls have already come running, and he’s only 10, so in his teenage years they will be all over him.

So you still have all those teenage years to look forward to!
Yeah absolutely!

Johnny O’Callaghan is performing his show Who’s The Daddy at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Assembly Hall from 2-26 August. Tickets are available here.

Words: Antony De Rienzo.

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