Having achieved notoriety on Manchester’s Chatsworth Estate, then been hunted and killed by Dexter in Miami, Portadown actor Aaron McCusker was glad of the return to reality provided by a trip home for a friend’s wedding last week.
The 34-year-old, who now lives in Manchester, is best known for the role of loveable rogue Jamie Maguire in Channel Four’s Shameless. Since the long-running show ended Aaron has landed two new parts which have seen him on both the right and wrong side of the law.
Fans of Dexter will have seen Aaron star as AJ Yates, a serial killer who meets his inevitable end at the hands of Dexter Morgan, the eponymous star of the cult series, currently being broadcast on FOX.
He’s also landed the part of a detective inspector in the forthcoming series of Silent Witness to be screened on the BBC in January.
While his acting career continues on an upward curve Aaron has become a father for the second time and also managed to squeeze in a trip back to Portadown to attend his friend’s wedding.
Aaron landed the part in Dexter after going to LA for a series of casting interviews set up by his agent.
He said, “I have an agent in America who lined up a lot of interviews for me during pilot season. He told me some actors can have 70 interviews and get nothing. I was lucky that I got the part in Dexter after about 20 interviews.
“The good thing about auditioning in America is they give you a lot of feedback if you don’t get a role. They’ll tell you maybe that you weren’t big enough or old enough or sometimes they want someone who’s more well known. I always like to find out who got the roles I got turned down for just in case they’ve cast someone who’s just like me.
“I didn’t get a part in The Walking Dead so I looked up IMDB and found out it had gone to a black guy, so I obviously wasn’t what they wanted.”
Aaron explained how he got the part in Dexter, “Shawn Dawson was doing the casting for a new show called Big Thunder Mountain. I was in for the role of sheriff. He told me I was too young, but he really liked me and really wanted to get me into something.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear from him but he phoned me back and asked me to audition for Dexter. I was back in Manchester for the birth of my wee boy. I told him I couldn’t get back to LA, so he said just to send a tape of myself.
“I sent the tape, got the part and I was out there for a month when my wee lad was just a week old.”
He continued, “Although Dexter is set in Miami, it’s filmed in LA. The locations were very different to Wythenshawe in Manchester (where Shameless is filmed).”
“Michael C Hall (who plays Dexter) is a great actor. My character AJ Yates is a cable guy who Dexter is tailing to see if he’s a serial killer. It turns out I am so he kills me. I’m proud to be one of Dexter’s victims.
“It was a dream for me to be filming alongside Charlotte Rampling (Dr Vogel).
“Dexter is something I would have watched along with Breaking Bad. I love American TV. I remember Jennie and I got the box set of ‘24’ and did an all-nighter and watched 18 episodes in a row. It’s coming back for another series. That’s one show I’d love to be in.
“I’d also love to get a part in the second series of The Fall or Game Of Thrones so I could be at home.”
Not long after filming Dexter, Aaron was back in front of the cameras to film two episodes of Silent Witness.
He commented, “The role in Dexter was just a tiny part but in Silent Witness it’s a main part as a detective inspector.”
In two episodes of Silent Witness to be broadcast in January, Aaron stars alongside Lorraine Ashbourne, wife of Andy Serkis, famous for playing King Kong in the 2005 remake and Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
While it sounds like a glamorous lifestyle, Aaron commented on the stark reality of being an actor.
“I have a couple of auditions lined up, but at the minute I’m out of work,” he said. “As soon as a show ends you’re out of work. It puts a lot of demands on you. Especially when you have a young family. I don’t like to be out of work for too long.”
After graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in 2001, Aaron moved to London where he had to settle for bar work as acting jobs were few and far between.
He recalled, “When I moved to London I got a role in Murder with Julie Walters on BBC Two near enough straight away and thought I was the bee’s knees. After that I had bits and pieces for the next six years, but not enough to keep me going.
“I was working as a barman and was doing well at it. The bar I was working at wanted to train me as a bar manager.
“The advantage of being a barman meant you could get out for auditions. Being a manager would be different. If I’d taken the job that would have been the end of the acting.”
Then came the turnaround in fortunes that saw Aaron land his biggest role to date.
He said, “A friend of mine from RSAMD recommended me for the role of Jamie Maguire. I went along to the audition and did it in my own accent.
“Afterwards they said, ‘That’s great, but Jamie isn’t from Northern Ireland - he was born in Manchester, his mum is from Liverpool and his dad’s from Northern Ireland’.
“They gave me half an hour to go away and work on the accent. When I came back and did the audition I thought it went awful. I was slipping in an out of all three accents. I couldn’t believe it when I got the part.
“I’ve got better at accents since then but I still can’t really do Southern Irish and I’ll never be able to do Welsh.”
Of his time in Shameless Aaron said, “I was 26 when I started Shameless in 2006. I was working 42 weeks of the year and I didn’t live too far from where we were filming. For most of my life I was Jamie Maguire, not Aaron McCusker.
“Don’t get me wrong. I loved Shameless and I owe the show so much, but I’m glad it’s over. Because I was in Shameless I couldn’t audition for other roles.
“I’m very lucky to have got work so soon after it ended.”
Aaron’s parents had lived in Blair Drive in Lurgan before he was born, but at the time of his birth his parents were living in New Jersey where his dad was working.
Aaron said, “My dad is from America, I think he wanted to live there but I don’t think mum did. I was born in New Jersey and lived in America for six weeks before we came home to Ballyoran.
“Being born in America means I don’t need a permit to work there. I have three passports - an Irish one, a British one and an American one. It’s very handy.”
Aaron’s parents now live in Laurelvale while Aaron lives in Altrincham with his wife Jennie and his two sons Sam (3) and Cory (five months).
Despite living in Greater Manchester, Aaron, a Liverpool fanatic, said he’s had his son Sam in a Liverpool shirt since the day he was born.
He said, “Where we live is very close to Hale where loads of footballers live. Because there’s some many famous faces around here no one gives me a second look. It’s fine for Sam to wear the Liverpool shirt round here, but he couldn’t wear it into the city centre.
“You see footballers on a day-to-day basis. I’ve seen some Liverpool legends like Steve McManaman, Graeme Souness and Kevin Keegan and I’ve also met former Man United players. Much as I want to hate Denis Irwin and Frank Stapleton they’re really nice guys.”
Last summer Aaron enjoyed being back home in Northern Ireland to perform the Lyric Theatre.
He said, “I really enjoyed coming back to Belfast to do The Importance Of Being Earnest. I was nominated for Best Actor for the part of Algernon. I hadn’t done theatre since I was 23.
“On the last night of The Importance Of Being Earnest, Dennis McKeever and his whole family were there to see me.”
Aaron explained the significant role played by the McKeever family in his career, “Without Dennis and Angela McKeever I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.
“Much as I love Portadown there was little to do during the summer. I was dragged kicking and screaming to audition for Bugsy Malone with the Junior Phoenix Players. After that I never looked back.
“Phoenix Players was cross-community as well which is important. A lot of young people in this area can fall in with the wrong crowd and go down the wrong path.
“Dennis was my maths teacher at Drumcree High as well as being my tutor at the Phoenix Players. I saw a lot of him. He’s a great friend and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of an MBE.”
Aaron recalled, “The last play I did with the Phoenix Players was as Danny in Grease. They’re putting on Grease again this year and my little cousin Melanie O’Hagan is playing Rizzo. I reckon she’ll be a musical theatre star. She’s a fantastic wee voice on her.”
Aaron came home last week to attend the wedding of Mark Judge and Carla Hagan.
“Mark was my best man so it’s only right I’m at his wedding,” he told the Times on the eve of the big day.
Aaron tends to make up for lost time when he’s back in Portadown. During one of his last visits to the town he filmed a music video with local band Microlip then joined the band on stage for a gig in The Oak.
He said, “After filming the video I went along with them to a gig they were doing in The Oak. They let me up on stage to do Molly’s Chambers (Kings Of Leon) with them. That’s the closest I’ve come to being a rock star. It was some weekend.”