Memorial Service for actor Gerard Murphy
29 January 2014
Newry born Gerard Murphy, who starred in Pumpgirl died last year of prostate cancer aged 64.
Coming into the theatre scene in the north of Ireland in the early eighties, I didn’t get the opportunity of meeting Gerard before he went to England and sadly never got to see his work onstage. But being part of a small and close-knit artistic community, one always felt the ripple of talented actors like Gerard, who were treading the boards on our most prestigious and cutting edge theatres and making our northern accent a significant and important addition to both theatre and film production.
Gerard’s voice was deep and resonate, velvety soft, yet charged with iron and grit when the role demanded it. He never lost his accent despite his many years in England and no doubt his Ulster vowels stood him in good stead whether performing Shakespeare, Beckett or indeed new work. His face – unforgettable - with that shock of red hair and lived in face.
In 2008 I was in pre-production to direct the low budget feature “Pumpgirl” and when I read Abbie Spallen’s screenplay, I immediately visualised Gerard in the role of Shawshank; an ex-con who was as initially charming as he was sadistic.
We met in London during that summer; Gerard buying me lunch instead of the other way round. He had read the script back to front and every which way in between, easily articulating the darkness of a character that would reap havoc on the characters in the story. No persuasion was needed on my part; in fact I think he was really keen to have the opportunity to work at home. I suppose I’d always thought it odd that Gerard hadn’t performed in any Irish theatres since the late 70’s - our loss - although in later years he did return to front a documentary about his home town of Newry in a series called “Tales of the Fatlad” directed by Maeve O’ Caithain.
With only seventeen days to shoot my first feature, the pressure was immense for everyone. Yet Gerard always managed to catch me during a break to ask how I was, to find out if was I enjoying the shoot or reflect on the work already in the bag. He neither patronised nor advised, but simply had a soft way with him that managed to soothe in moments of crisis.
I’ll never forget his kindness and generosity, his professionalism and his big hugs and it will always be a regret that I didn’t see him flex his outstanding creative muscles on the stage.Carol Moore