Long and lean Irish actor Richie Stephens guest-stars on the original horror series Lore for Amazon.
The third episode sees him cast as a villainous cousin named Jack Dunne who spreads superstitious malfeasance. Titled “Black Stockings”, the episode is a detailed look at the 19th-century Irish belief in Changelings, a fairy left after a human is taken by fairies.
The story is entwined with a modern-day murder case of a man who killed his wife while running in the park using the Irish “Changeling” defense.
Lore is a new six-part anthology series based on the popular podcast by Aaron Mahnke. A horror and crime anthology, it weaves modern-day happenstance into historical myths that were believed to be real in their time.
Richie Stephens’ episode is set in 1890s Ireland when the belief in fairies and Changelings apparently showed the Irish were reticent to give up the “olde ways” and take the word of the Roman Catholic church on such inexplicable matters.
Season 1 debuts on Amazon Prime today. The series is produced by Walking Dead’s Gale Ann Hurd and also stars Robert Patrick, Adam Goldberg, Cathal Pendred and Holland Roden.
You have likely seen Richie’s work before in music videos for Florence + the Machine as well as TV series such as Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, Roadies, and Major Crimes.
We spoke to Richie about his work, past present and future…and his unbelievable linguistic skills!
Monsters and Critics: Good to talk to you, Richie. How did you win the role of Jack Dunne in the Black Stockings episode of Lore?
Richie Stephens: Casting wanted to see some real Irish people for the episode because it’s set in 1890s Ireland. They gave me a choice of roles to read for and I picked the youngest one because it was closest to my age.
I was surprised they cast me as Jack Dunne because he was much older than me. But I was delighted to be a part of the project. It was really exciting to work for Gale Ann Hurd and all those other major producers attached to the project.
M&C: You grew up in Cavan, Ireland, and since have crossed the Atlantic and worked your way to California. I read you had a terrible injury working as a carpenter in San Francisco which nearly could have paralyzed you, but set you off to a career in acting. Tell me about what happened and how you made that transition — who took a chance on you and mentored or hired you early on?
RS: Yes, I broke my back in a construction accident in 2011. Working on a residential remodel, a beam fell on me, knocking me off the scaffold. I ended up with one broken disc and one herniated. I was lucky I wasn’t paralyzed.
They had to open me up and remove half of one disc because there was a danger of that. As a result, I had to find a new career. I had no idea what to do. A friend of mine in San Francisco suggested I try modeling. So I did a little modeling and [director] Weston Simpson saw me on a website and asked me to be in his film because he liked my look.
That was my first role and from doing that I made up my mind I wanted to pursue acting instead of modeling. It was an obvious choice for me because I was always good with voices/character work and so on.
I took classes at a bunch of schools and progressed as quickly as I could. The jobs got bigger and then I moved to Los Angeles to get to the next level.
M&C: Your CV is impressive, the National University of Ireland studies, UCB and Bobby Moresco’s actor’s studio, loads of stage time, how quickly did this all come together for you when you arrived here?
RS: I started training with the best teachers and schools available from the very start. I found out where the best actors trained and went to those places.
I figured that it would give me the best chance to progress and catch up to the other actors who had been around for years.
I think my personality is a lot different from stereotypical LA actors. I’m not very free-spirited or laid back. I’m very determined and hard-working.
M&C: A surprising number of Englishmen live in Los Angeles, California. Is there a sizable crew of Irish you have connected with and have you found your accent has helped you enormously in finding work? Or do you tend to avoid expats in the LA community at large?
RS: Yes, there’s a ton of Brits in LA, but not so many Irish. I met none for my first two years in town.
One day I had an audition for Scorpion. They were looking for real Irish folk and I met a few at the casting office. We exchanged numbers and stayed in touch, so I know a handful and we hang out occasionally. Actors like Liam Tuohy and Georgina McKevitt. McGregor fights and St. Patrick’s Day are always good get-togethers for us!
I made another Irish buddy on Lore — Cathal Pendred. He’s a great guy and really talented. The Irish accent doesn’t really help me with getting roles. There aren’t many Irish roles around!
Lore was my first major Irish character so far in my career. Luckily I can do any accent, so being Irish doesn’t stop me at all from booking.
M&C: Your bio states you speak six languages! School or self-taught?
RS: I studied French, German, Irish and English at school. Self-taught some basic Spanish and Russian. Russian has become a necessity because I go out for so many Russian roles. Last year I learned “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in Russian for a movie.
M&C: Your accents video [below] is amazing. When did you know and start mimicking accents and learning dialects and linguistic identifiers? If you had to trade in your native accent, which one suits you best in the English speaking world?
RS: I’ve been learning accents since I was a kid. Just for fun.
It amuses me how people say things in a different way. For some reason, I can hear it clearly and learn it easily, like how some people can listen to music and hear the notes. Then I categorize them in my head based on ‘trigger phrases’ that help me remember a specific one. I often do different ones for fun when I’m out and about. Like I’ll go and order coffee in a German accent using the name ‘Fritz’.
I think Russian suits me the most because, apparently, I look Russian. And sometimes old Russian ladies come up to me and start talking Russian when they see me. Especially when I wear tracksuits!
M&C: Which is the worst sounding (to your ears) of the lot in the English accent family?
RS: To be honest, I don’t really think any accents sound bad per se. They all amuse me. That’s probably part of why I enjoy doing them. I find a lot of them funny but I don’t judge them.
One thing I’ve found when performing accents is that a lot of other people judge the accent! Some people hear it and say, ‘oh my God we don’t sound like that!’ They can be touchy.
I got the most stick on Twitter for my Cockney accent on Major Crimes. But it couldn’t be that bad because I beat some regulars from EastEnders for the role!
M&C: Why do you think (or do you think) that of all the people from Ireland and Britain, that the Irish are so adept at prose and humor, oration and argument? Lawyers and writers! Which Irish artist or thinker is one you admire?
RS: Ireland has a great history of myth and folklore dating all the way back to the Celts. That, coupled with a culture of family, socializing and close-knitted communities led to some great storytelling and humor.
So I suppose it’s in my blood. My favorite Irish writers are Roddy Doyle and Martin McDonagh. My favorite actors are Gabriel Byrne and Fassbender.
M&C: Most actors say the villainous roles are the best, you can really tuck into a wider toolbox of emotions and range, are you in agreement and, if so, what role thus far has been your absolute favorite?
RS: To be honest, I’m grateful to get any role because the industry is so competitive. I do get to play a lot of villains because of my look. They are fun roles to play though!
It could be worse, but villains rarely get love interests! So there are a few emotions I don’t get to tap into very often.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite because I love all of the projects I’ve worked on, but my absolute favorite role so far was probably Blue Bloods. It was a great experience to travel to New York City to work on that show. A lot of fun.
I got a real kick working with actors from shows I grew up watching like The Sopranos and Oz — Steve Schirrpa and Robert Clohessy.
M&C: How did you connect with Florence + The Machine and collaborate in her videos? Any interesting anecdotes about her and you to share?
RS: I auditioned for Florence + The Machine’s music videos the same as any other job. The first one I was in was What Kind of Man.
I carried her around in the video along with a bunch of other guys, but apparently they liked the way I did it and made me more prominent in the final cut.
Florence was a lovely person. Really kind and positive to work with. She always seemed to be in a good mood. Even working on exhausting all-night shoots.
Some trivia: The green jacket I wore in the videos I actually brought to set myself from home. I got it a couple of years earlier on a commercial and they let me keep it. But it looked really cinematic and the director let me wear it in the video as my costume. I got to wear it in two more videos as well!
The choreographer offered me 600 bucks for it too but I didn’t want to sell it because it feels lucky to me…also, I was on hold to be the lead in her video Queen of Peace. It shot in England, but they decided to use a local actor instead.
But they did bring me back for two more videos: Delilah and Third Eye.
M&C: Let’s talk about Lore. Your episode delves into 19th Century Ireland — spirit creatures and superstition. Did they get this Changeling one right?
RS: Yes, I believe that this episode, titled Black Stockings, is pretty accurate.
From what I’ve heard, Aaron Mahnke is painstaking about his research into these stories and, as a result, he’s had a hugely successful podcast talking about them.
Changelings are an old folk belief about fairies coming and replacing a person with a demon that looks identical to the person. Usually, it was a baby, but in this story, it happened to a grown woman.
Ireland is rich historically with these concepts, like leprechauns, banshees, changelings, and piseogs. I think Ireland might be more prone to superstitions because of our Celtic heritage.
On top of that, Ireland was mostly an agricultural society until recent years. Folklore seems to thrive far away from modernity and Ireland was like that for a long time.
M&C: This episode you were in also broached an even more sinister thing, how subjugated women were then to the whims and dictates of their husbands — the asylum stuff. Fire tests, “victims” either bathed or drinking “the seven sisters killer cure” foxglove and Calomel, a mercury-filled potion administered in asylums. Places easily admitted into by the power of a woman’s husband. How much of this history are you aware of and does it interest you at all from an artistic standpoint in dramatizing real-life events?
RS: The underlying theme of this episode is very much about the male-dominated society of the past.
Bridget Cleary was a successful, independent, enterprising woman. She ran her own business, making more money than her husband. This kind of situation would have been very rare at the time and would have caused great embarrassment to him. In those days if a woman was viewed as troublesome for a man, he could easily have her committed to an asylum. Or worse — like in this tale about Bridget Cleary.
As an artist, it’s very important to be able to illustrate the past for people who might not be aware of how things were in days gone by. As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana is quoted, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”.
M&C: Any new projects you are working on?:
RS: I am leaving for New Orleans pretty soon to work on a horror movie called Rightful. It’s inspired by a true story.
Over 100 years ago in Connecticut, two African-American brothers are framed for a crime they didn’t commit by their white neighbors. The two men got the electric chair and the neighbors stole their land.
In the movie, the two brothers come back from the dead 100 years later and kill the descendants of the neighbors! I’m going to be playing a redneck sheriff’s deputy in the film.
Also in the spring, you’ll see me in the new Halle Berry and Daniel Craig movie Kings.
I’ll be playing a LAPD officer in the Rodney King riots. I’m also working on writing a TV series about British mob boss Paddy Conroy, and another feature with Randy Donabedian.
Make sure to catch Richie Stephens in Lore Episode 103, Black Stockings, which is streaming now on Amazon.