Conor McPherson Q&A: “Aged nine, I heard the Beatles. My life as an artist began”

The playwright talks Northern Ireland, kaleidoscopic dream music, and the Six Million Dollar Man.

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Conor McPherson is an Irish playwright and director whose plays include “The Weir”, “The Night Alive” and “Girl from the North Country”, which is set in Minnesota in 1934 and incorporates the songs of Bob Dylan.

What’s your earliest memory?

Lying on the kitchen floor drinking orange from a bottle, looking up at my mother talking to me from the kitchen sink.

Who are your heroes?

When I was about six, all the boys at school thought Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man (or bionic man) was super cool. He was played by Lee Majors and when we were making our First Communion, all the boys wanted “bionic man suits” – a short bomber jacket with a zip and matching flared trousers. Now, my heroes include James Joyce and Stanley Kubrick.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

John Hume. The politics of Northern Ireland has been such a tragic part of our history. Where so many politicians reached for angry rhetoric and worse, John Hume and his party, the SDLP, pursued equality through entirely peaceful means. As the Bible says: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Like a lot of people I tend to read books that confirm what I already think. Or I read them that way. Mostly I like to read biographies, history, philosophy. I don’t tend to read literary fiction. As a writer I find reading real “writing” too painful as it reminds me of the process I endure in my own professional life, full of doubt.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The Beatles. I saw them on TV when I was nine years old. A season of their movies was playing that Christmas and within a year I had a guitar. My dad got me the Beatles compilation 1967-1970. The first song was “Strawberry Fields Forever”. I sat with headphones on listening to (and seeing) this kaleidoscopic dream music. My life as an artist began right there. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the confluence of fate that brought these four intelligent, magically talented young men together in Liverpool. In a sense their differing characters have been a living drama playing out in my mind for my whole life.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The late-18th and early-19th century seems like a very exciting time intellectually. I’d like to meet with philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, GWF Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer in Germany and poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth in England.

Who would paint your portrait?

Who would want to?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A line from one of Billy Roche’s plays: “The heart’s its own boss.” It’s certainly helped me to understand how people behave and accept the decisions they make.

What’s currently bugging you?

I bug myself daily.

When were you happiest?

The last few years have brought me more peace than I knew existed.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Nuts.

Are we all doomed?

Of course we are. But isn’t mortality what makes things beautiful?

Girl from the North Country” is at The Old Vic until 7 October. A revival of “The Weir” opens at the Mercury Theatre Colchester on 8 September followed by a UK tour

This article first appeared in the 07 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next move