Fans of Netflix’s recent “spy-fi” series In from the Cold may be curious to know how lead actor Cillian O’Sullivan landed the part of Chauncey. (They may also want to correctly pronounce his first name — it’s with a hard C, for the record.) The Irish actor virtually sat down with Casting Networks to share the unique casting story that led to his most high-profile role to date. Keep reading to learn how O’Sullivan booked the male lead in a Netflix series off just a self-tape audition.
It’s nice to virtually meet you, Cillian, and I’d love to hear how you’d sum up the character of Chauncey before we dive into your casting story.
When we were initially talking about the character, [showrunner] Adam Glass made the comparison to Lestat from Interview with the Vampire. You glean from the film that the character is just awful, but you find out why if you read Anne Rice’s novels on which it’s based. You know, it often comes down to trauma or the good in someone getting twisted, and Chauncey’s arc in the series relates. When you first meet him, he’s just asserting his power over everyone and generally being a dick. But as the show progresses, you learn more about his motivations and that he’s not quite as cold and calculated as you first thought. He’s working for the greater good, but at the same time, Chauncey’s more complicated than your average “good guy” that’s trying to save the world. He’ll do what needs to be done and is not necessarily a paragon of virtue.
It seems like a fun role to play! And what can you tell us about the process of booking it?
The audition process for this was actually not very elaborate. But there was a lot leading up to it that went into me booking the role of Chauncey. I mean, I moved from Ireland to New York four years ago and got with my American agency, Buchwald, after my first year here. I already had representation in the UK with the Jonathan Arun Group and had worked over there. So, it wasn’t like I was starting from scratch in America — I had a reel and resume and all that. I started getting a lot of great opportunities here to audition for projects I was really excited about, but I wasn’t booking anything. I was going in with this angst, feeling like I needed to get the job or leave a lasting impression on the casting directors so that they’d bring me back in again. And then out of nowhere, I got offered a guest star role on the CBS series Bull.
You didn’t even audition for it?
No, the offer just came in through my agents. I had been trying so hard to book my first guest star role with an American accent here, and having it happen that way made me realize something. At the end of the day, they either want you or they don’t. That freed me to approach auditioning with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, and I started booking more guest star roles on shows like The Blacklist and Chicago P.D. I was actually doing one on FBI: Most Wanted when I got the first audition for In from the Cold. Since I was working, I didn’t have time to go through the script before the audition and ended up doing something very dorky with Chauncey. Some time later, my UK agents reached out to tell me that the In from the Cold people were extending their search to the UK. I wasn’t working on a show then and could really read through the script that time. I realized Chauncey is an extremely alpha type who’s always asserting his power over others — the furthest thing from dorky. So I did the self-tape audition that way and got the part.
Just like that?
That’s the thing — after my experience with Bull and the guest star roles after it, I was kind of in this zone where I was very confident in my work. I’ll always be growing and getting better as an actor, but I’d gotten to a place where I wasn’t afraid to just deliver my take on the material. That way, when I do book a job, it’s for my essence and interpretation of the role. But yes, it was a short audition process for In from the Cold. When my agents called to tell me I’d booked the male lead in a Netflix series, I was in shock because there hadn’t been a callback, a chemistry read, or anything. I asked, “How did this happen off just a self-tape?” My agents were like, “Yeah, they just made an offer.”
Wow. That’s crazy you booked a lead role in a Netflix series off of a self-tape!
Adam [Glass] told me later that he’d seen a short film by Lisa Keogh I did years ago in Belfast called Thumb Wars. He explained that my audition for Chauncey showed I had the whole asshole thing down, which was necessary for the role. [Laughs] I was like, “Thanks, bro.” But another part of Chauncey that he wanted to see was the character’s charming, romantic side. Adam told me he saw that in Thumb Wars, which is what made him offer me the part. I booked my most high-profile role to date — for more money than I’ve ever made in my life — because of a short film in which I had almost no dialogue. This industry is crazy and just so weird.
It really is. Now, I read that you were three days out from starting to film the series in Madrid when Covid paused production. Can you share a little about filming the most high-profile role you’ve ever done through the uncharted waters of the pandemic?
You know, it would’ve been a very different iteration of Chauncey had we filmed the series before the pandemic happened as initially planned. During that time when production was shut down, I met this acting coach named Greta Seacat. She’d seen a film I was in and offered to work with me on In from the Cold. I’ve acted from a young age, but I hadn’t done a lot of classes or really been coached until Greta. Her method of dreamwork really worked for me — she had me do these assignments where I’d associate certain things from my dreams with Chauncey. My initial ideas for the character were already there, but having the time off during Covid and working with Greta helped me really develop him more.
That’s nice to hear something good came out of the overall pause on productions that Covid caused.
Yes, the approach I learned during that time is something I carried onto my next job, Then You Run, and it’ll definitely inform how I continue to work as an actor going forward. But as far as In from the Cold, we were one of the first productions in the world to start back up with filming. It was a lot of testing and bubbles — the whole cast stayed together in this beautiful five-star hotel in Madrid. It felt like a six-month-long summer camp. I’ve worked on many jobs where different personalities don’t quite mesh, but everybody on this show was just incredible. There was a learning curve that came with shooting in Covid, but it didn’t interfere with the actual acting in the slightest. It was an overall amazing experience filming In from the Cold.
Before we wrapped the interview, O’Sullivan shared one last insight about his breakthrough role. “I may never work again or get to a point in my career where I can choose to do anything I want — either one is possible,” he remarked. “But even if I wake up in the morning to find out I’m the next James Bond or the new Superman, Chauncey will still be my first big role.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.