Halpin's star rises over New York

Peter Halpin says of the stage and the screen: "What one doesn’t give you, the other does in abundance."


By Sean Devlin

Peter Halpin is no stranger to the world of acting. He’s been at it professionally since he was 14 years old, when he played Malachy McCourt in the film adaptation of Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes.” Halpin has been in New York for over a year now, raising his profile through his work, rubbing elbows with the influencers of the New York performance scene, and making a name for himself in the Big Apple.

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We met in an Irish pub on a drearily rainy day, reminiscent of a soft afternoon back in Dublin. With sandy hair and bright blue eyes, Halpin is effortlessly charming. During our conversation, he commented to me, “One of the great things about Irish people is that we can meet up with each other anywhere in the world and it’s like we’ve been friends for years after five minutes.”

We speak about his background, his origins in acting and much more during our afternoon together at Wolfe Tone’s Irish Pub by Madison Square Park. When I asked him about his beginnings in the world of performance, his eyes glowed, and he told me of some of his castings in films and TV shows such as “Angela’s Ashes” (directed by Sir Alan Parker, opposite Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson), “Breakfast on Pluto” (directed by Neil Jordan, opposite Cillian Murphy, “Garage” (directed by Lenny Abrahamson) and “The Clinic” (directed by Liam Cunningham, opposite Chris O’ Dowd).

“Booking the role of Malachy McCourt in the film, from 21,000 hopefuls that tried out for the part confirmed for me that I wanted to be an actor. I booked an agent in Dublin, but my parents wanted me to finish my schooling, so I did and soon after I managed to land a role with Garry Hynes [the Tony Award-winning director based in Galway] at Druid Theater Company.”

The Limerick-born Halpin added: “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of Ireland’s greats, like Gabriel Byrne, the late Anna Manahan and Frank O’Sullivan. They gave me a great support system and really nurtured my growth as a young actor.”

When asked about his preference between film and theater, Halpin sat back in his chair, and ruminated for a moment before providing answering. “I love both mediums equally, 50/50, right down the middle, because what one doesn’t give you, the other does in abundance.

“The nuances of screen acting are sometimes lost on stage in the larger theaters, hence I love the smaller, more intimate spaces where the audience doesn’t miss a beat and they experience the true magic of live theater,” the actor said. “However, on screen the slightest movement is picked up by the viewer and that is an extremely powerful thing.

“Touring with Druid Theater Company opened my eyes on the importance of adapting my performance to the size of my audience,” Halpin continued. “For example you may be in a small theater with 100 seats one week, and find yourself in a 2,000-seat theater the following week, where you’ll naturally give a bigger performance. You need to make sure every single member of the audience gets what you’re doing and hears what it is you are saying. The theater is a place to explore and play. The vagaries of an audience are so different, you simply cannot let the crowd dictate your performance.”

We eventually transitioned the conversation to what brought him to the Big Apple. “As an actor, I was always drawn to New York City over London. I really seem to click with the American mindset. It’s creatively explosive here – everyone is striving to achieve their dreams.” With the help of his attorney Lorcan Shannon, Halpin received his extraordinary-ability EB-1 green card in the United States in record time, allowing him to pursue his dream of making it big in the Big Apple.

The actor also cited his Irish roots as a major influence on his work in performance art. “Ireland is a land of storytellers,” he said. “There’s a great Irish network here in New York and Irish and Irish-Americans alike have been a great support system. We’re people with a can-do attitude and that comes through every day.”

Peter Halpin, who played the lead recently in a new Off-Broadway play at the Barrow Group, has a wide array of work that can be seen by the general public. He is the producer and star of a “Narcan,” where he plays a paramedic navigating the mean streets of New York City, which will be hitting the international festival circuit in the coming months. It’s due to be screened in New York and Los Angeles in September. In a comedy called “Love In Kilnerry,” he will be a nudist priest, and in “House of Charity,” a mercurial chef at a homeless soup kitchen. He will also play the lead role in a feature film in Ireland next winter.

As we parted in the New York City rain, I returned to my first question: why does he do what he does? His answer not only speaks to the experience of the performer, but to anyone trying to make it in the Big Apple.

“Playing it safe doesn’t make it happen. You have to take risks and make choices,” Halpin said. “When you raise the stakes, your choices become so much more important.”