“I’ve always wanted to be an actor,” says Eric Byrne, 17, on the phone.
As a young kid, he was glued to the TV, then would mimic what he saw.
“He used to take my phone and run up to his room. He’d pretend that he was hosting The Jeremy Kyle Show,” says his mam, Lesley Byrne. “We would be in stitches.”
“He was always just a real happy-go-lucky lad,” she says.
Says Eric Byrne: “There was just something about horror films.” Halloween, and Freddie Kruger.
At nine, he got his hands on a white hockey mask and a fake knife à la Michael Myers in Halloween. “I’d run around the house tormenting my family,” he says.
He was always more attached to acting than any other hobby, says Lesley Byrne.
“When Eric was born he had multiple underlying heart conditions,” she says. Doctors warned that he couldn’t overexert himself with many sports.
Acting wasn’t a childhood phase. It was an outlet, she says.
“I always feel like I want more of this. I have this constant drive,” Byrne says.
He did a course with the Gaiety Theatre in 2019, experiencing stage acting, learning lines and improvisation. He met other like-minded kids his age there too.
Together, they’ve worked on two short films.
Byrne featured as a supportive friend in I’m Fine. He made that film with friends in November 2019.
It follows a girl masking her poor mental health from friends, unaware of how to ask for help.
“I went to therapy myself. It’s about sending a message to people,” Byrne says. “You’re not alone.”
More short films were in the pipeline until Covid-19 put a stop to them. But Byrne and his friends made sure this hitch was only temporary.
Eric Byrne wears a bright turquoise gilet and as he strolls across the street, he slides his hood down from his face, revealing a cheerful smile.
“I had the day off school today,” says Byrne, outside the Westcourt apartment complex on St James’ Avenue in the Liberties on a rainy Wednesday.
“There was a bit of a Covid scare but it turns out to be fine,” he says.
“I actually didn’t mind the first lockdown,” Byrne had said earlier on the phone. “It was new and something different.”
But Covid-19 has changed so much of Byrne’s life, he says.
Some changes are small. “Like we can’t use our lockers in school so we just have to carry around our books all day,” he says.
Others were bigger, like the effect on Byrne’s life outside of school, he says. “It was just weird not seeing the faces that you normally see.”
Eric has had mostly to isolate himself from friends because he is immunocompromised, says Lesley Byrne. “He’d just go on long runs by himself.”
In normal times, the gym had been an outlet to help with his physical and mental health, he says. “I’d go almost every day of the week. It’s an hour a day just for yourself.”
He had to give that up during lockdown, but he was determined to keep up his acting, he says.
During the lockdown in January, Byrne and friends shot The Debacle.
It was weird filming while trying to maintain social distancing, Byrne says. “But we just had to make it work.”
The film depicts teenagers adjusting to life and Covid. How they live the new normal. And how, in particular, to host a debs during a pandemic.
They entered the film into the Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition this year, Byrne says.
Byrne is a determined actor who never misses a line, says Darragh Flood, 17, the director, and Byrne’s friend.
“He’s very good at improv,” Flood says.
Flood was impressed by Byrne’s acting in the last scene of I’m Fine, he says, when Eric’s character finds his mate and asks her if she is okay, if she needs to speak out about her mental health.
“There was just a real connection between the two actors and it was a tough scene,” Flood says.
Flood has cast Byrne in Crime Wars, his upcoming short.
“I want to show [that] how people talk about the north inner-city can affect how the people in the area think about the area,” he says.
People too often focus on crime, Flood says.
And young people in the inner-city have not had enough of a voice in the last year, says Flood, who lives in Summerhill, and wants to change that with his film.
“It was hard to see young people without gyms, football teams and hang-out spots during the last year,” says Lesley Byrne, Eric’s mam.
Acting has been a great distraction, says Eric Byrne.
“When you are kept doing something, you’re not sitting around bored. It also has you interacting with people as well,” Byrne says.
Flood took the camera out to film anything and everything in his area during lockdown, when he wasn’t making a short film.
“If I didn’t have this to do, I don’t know what I’d do,” he says.
“When you’re on projects like this, you’re just improving your skills for the future,” he says.
Eric Byrne wants to someday star in action movies, he says. “I would love to be in something like The Avengers.”
The idea of acting around green screens doesn’t deter him. “You just get used to it after a while,” he says, “a bit like the pandemic.”