Gerard McCarthy in rehearsals. Photo credit Pamela Raith
HE played a policeman in BBC 2's BAFTA nominated drama The Fall, has performed at The Globe, Penge's Bridge House Theatre and in numerous West End productions, not to mention his award-winning performance as Kris Fisher in Hollyoaks.
But now Gerard McCarthy is taking on what he says has been one of the most demanding and scary roles of his career.
The Belfast-born actor is making his debut at the Southwark Playhouse in Stalking The Bogeyman, the extraordinary true story of award-winning journalist David Holthouse's secret plot to murder the man who raped him when he was seven years old.
It opens at the Newington Causeway theatre next Wednesday for a four week run and Gerard admits it took some persuading for him to sign up to it.
"It's an incredible play but I took one look at the script, read it and said no way," he tells me in a chat during a break from rehearsals.
"It is really intense - a 90 minute straight through play which tells the true story of David Holthouse and how his life changed after he was raped by a childhood friend when he was just seven years old.
"So it's not for the fainthearted and it did take me a while and a few readings before I was able to say yes to it.
"David and I have nothing in common and nothing like this has ever happened to me so I couldn't relate to what he had gone through so it's a massive stretch and which is why I said no initially.
"It's such a huge role - I play him from age seven and then through his teenage years, into his 20s to when he realises this guy messed up his life and then thinking about how he could kill him. So it's just huge and to be honest I didn't think I could do it.
"But then I saw a documentary about David Bowie and he said that you need to break out of your comfort zone and always challenge yourself and something just clicked."
So, Gerard re-read the script and took the plunge but admits it was a daunting prospect and at times emotionally exhausting.
"It's still scary and huge but I knew I should do it," he says. “But it's also a massive responsibility not just to David and other victims of sexual abuse, but to tell David's story - which isn't a one in a million as it happens to kids all over the place - in a responsible way.
"The incident itself happens 10 minutes into the play and while you don't see it, the audience is taken on a journey to see how that night went on to affect the rest of David's life, the decisions he made and how he deals with it in his mind.
“It’s a compelling and incredible piece of writing. And of course it's amazing for it to be staged at the Southwark Playhouse, a theatre which I have wanted to work at for a while."
To help them in the play, Gerard says he and the cast have been working with counsellors and others who work with victims of sexual abuse and he says the stats are “gobsmacking".
“This happened to him when he was seven and the man who did this was 17 at the time, a family friend, a grade A student and David idolised him,” he says.
"Yet, he did this, telling David he mustn’t tell his parents because if he did they would hate him and that the Bogeyman would get him.
“I have spent so much time trying to imagine what that might be like and why would a seven year old believe his parents would hate him if he said anything. Kids don't even know what sex is at that age let alone what's just happened and because he's physically hurt and in pain I can only imagine what he was going through.
"The counsellors have given figures for the numbers of children who are sexually abused at the hands of people they know and it stunned us all," he adds.
"I went home and as I sat on the tube I looked around and thought about how many I was with on that train who that could have happened to.
"It has made me much more aware but also incredibly protective of my own two year old nephew, and so to some extent I can see why David felt he had no option but to kill the man who had done this.
“I can only imagine that you would just want to know why, why did that person do that to me and what did I do to deserve it. I suppose you can't process it or have closure if you don't understand it. And I am sure it's no coincidence that his career as a journalist and the fact he's adamant he will not have children of his own are a result of what happened to him.
“During the play David goes through every possible scenario in his head. He stops speaking to this man, moves away and then there is a sort of moment of enlightenment where he has an idea this guy might be out raping other children and he feels the only way to put a stop to it is to kill him.
“So he stalks him for a year, learns his daily routine, buys a gun and remodels it so the bullets aren't traceable and buys a gun silencer. However the night before he was going to do it his parents turn up with his childhood diary which they have read and ask if it is all true.”
Gerard says you will have to come to see the production to find out what happens next and whether or not David actually commits the act but he says it's powerful and hard hitting.
And despite the somewhat grim and dark subject matter Gerard says he believes passionately that it is a play people should see, if only to encourage other victims to come forward and have a voice.
"I hope very much, and think it will be the case, that those who come to see the play will be moved and will go out into the bar afterwards and start having a discussion about what they have just seen," he says.
"I should think there will be a lot of arguments about whether David was right to do what he did, or think the way he did as well as what our response should be.
"And if it encourages more victims to come forward and know that they will be believed then that will be a massive step forward."
Stalking the Bogeyman is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, from Wednesday, July 13 until Saturday, August 6. Tickets cost £20. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.