The Accidental Actor
Etc Magazine, August 2015
"Treading the boards in a West End show is a long way from selling kitchens or even being a delivery driver, but it's the incredible career change that a Portadown man made - albeit at the age of 40.
The now 48-year-old Glenn Speers is one of the stars in the West End production of The Commitments, the big-personality show based on Irish author Roddy Doyle's best-selling novel and subsequent film.
And it's a position he's reached without any formal training in acting or singing. As he says with a laugh, "They (the casting agents) just seemed to like me for some reason."
Acting is something Glenn discovered by sheer chance after a series of jobs including nine years in the Navy as an aircraft engineer, and stints as a roadie, salesman, van driver and bouncer.
And his story is undoubtedly a source of inspiration for all those acting wannabees who believe that the footlights are just an elusive dream.
It was when he was living in Dublin, and working in a nightclub, that his now-wife Jacqui handed him a flyer about an acting class - and it proved a turning point. "I came out of the class that night and I knew then that's what I wanted to do," he said.
"The only play I had ever been in was a pantomime when I was in the Navy, which we put on for the Captain. I was the Evil Queen and I really enjoyed it but I never thought any more about it.
"I was always more into the arts when I was young but Northern Ireland wasn't the nicest place in the mid-80s and I decided to join the Navy. I never regretted it. Travelling broadened my horizons.
During is Navy days, he also sang in a band and recalls going with his fellow members to watch The Commitments film.
"If someone had told me 20 years ago that I would be in the West End in the same show, I would have laughed. It's pure serendipity."
After signing up with an agent, Glenn was given a couple of lines in two RTE shows, one of them the long-running soap opera, Fair City. It was enough to make him eligible for an Equity card.
With very few opportunities for acting work in Dublin, he and Jacqui made the decision to move to London.
It was a leap of faith but one that paid off as, eight years on, Glenn has starred in everything from commercials and TV series to films.
But when he got a call for an audition for The Commitments two years ago, his first reaction was to laugh. "I'm not a trained singer; I can't even read music so I really wan't expecting to get cast," he said.
"When I got there, the rest of the guys auditioning were there going through their scales!"
But he got a call-back and then another call-back from casting director David Gringrod, Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'right-hand-man', eventually being interviewed by director Jamie loyd - one of the main men in London theatre.
Glenn was eventually cast as an understudy to Jimmy Rabbitte's dad, and also played different ensemble parts. And he points out that starring in a West End show isn't all glamour - it's hard work, with performances six days a week 52 weeks of the year.
After an initial year with the show, Glenn was offered another year as understudy and, in characteristic form, didn't choose the safe option. "I didn't want to be understudy for another year. At my age, I can't afford to hang about so I decided to look for other work," he explained.
The decision resulted in a fantastic year in which he starred in TV commercials, had an "amazing experience" on the Hollywood set of the remake of the film Point Break, as the acting double for lead Ray Winstone, and starred in The Four Warriors, a Game of Thrones-type film available on DVD and Netflix.
When a call came from The Commitments just a few weeks ago, offering him the principal role of Jimmy's Da for the final weeks of the show, he didn't hesitate. "It's a big thing for my CV. We've had stars like Jude Law and Rod Stewart come to see The Commitments. It has been a great experience."
Not bad for a boy from a small Northern Ireland town, who didn't take the traditional acting route.
He added, "Even though I only started at 40 and didn't go to drama school, it has all worked out well.
"With hindsight, I remember when I was a kid my aunties coming over to visit and I used to get behind the settee and pop up and do impressions, so maybe there was something there, even then."
The Commitments is set to finish its West End run on November 1.