“Aim for God,” Fra Fee tells me. The advice is practical rather than theological: I’m standing on a hill in a middle of Oxfordshire, brandishing a ball thrower shaped like a soup ladle, preparing to launch a hard blue ball as far up the slope as possible so that Ace, Fra’s magnificent boxer dog, can fulfil his lifelong passion of chasing after it. 

Supposedly a ball thrower is one of those devices that is harder to wield effectively than you might imagine. Now, I imagined it being pretty easy; it’s a ball thrower. Fra has some advice nonetheless. The trick for a good throw is to focus on a spot in the sky ahead of you when you release – aka aim for God. Righty ho. I lean back, let loose. The ball soars into the air, not quite hitting God but certainly posing a threat to any low-flying sparrows. Ace bounds off in joyous pursuit.  

“That’s a great effort for a first time!” says Fra. He grins. “I’m gonna credit that one to the coaching.”  

“Beginner’s luck,” I demur. On my second attempt, the ball falls off the thrower as I draw back my arm; on the third, the ball barely gets airborne and skids off into the undergrowth. Fra handles the throwing from thereon. Kid’s a natural. 

Fra Fee is a natural at a lot of stuff. He started his career in musical theatre with supporting roles in West End productions of Dirty Dancing, A Man of No Importance and Les Misérables. He proved his talent sans songs in Romeo and Juliet and in Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. In 2021, he joined the Marvel universe as the villainous Kazi Kazimierczak in Hawkeye; the following year brought a return to his musical roots as the MC in Cabaret.  

This year has showcased his versatility. He spent seven weeks as Edmund in the Almeida’s critically acclaimed production of King Lear. April saw the release of Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver, the epic space opera in which Fee plays the tyrannical Balisarius. June brings Lost Boys & Fairies, a BBC drama that follows the adoption journey of a gay couple. Theatre, film and TV ticked off in barely four months. 

Yeah, Fra Fee is thriving. Factor in an Irish accent capable of turning sour milk sweet and hair that would inspire envy in a Viking and honestly, if he wasn’t such a charming fellow I’d be tempted to push him off the hill. This would require the element of surprise – dude looks stacked beneath his T-shirt – and the subsequent outrunning of a large and irate boxer dog. Best not. It would only ruin a delightful day.

Fra Fee

The idea was a delightful one from the outset: come up to Oxfordshire for a country walk and do the interview in a pub garden. Green fields, blue skies. Don’t mind if I do. We had concocted this plan at the photoshoot at the Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch, when the city was gripped by a May heatwave and it seemed like summer had finally arrived. Spoiler alert: summer left again. 

The following Thursday afternoon I’m sheltering outside High Wycombe train station as the rain drums onto the concourse rooftop with an implacability that suggests there is a solid business argument for investing in an Ark. The sky is a marginally lighter grey than the steel car park across the road. Green fields and blue skies are conspicuous by their absence. 

“This wasn’t part of the plan!” laughs Fra as I scramble into the car. Ace greets my arrival with some lusty barks before settling back into his seat once it becomes apparent that I’m incoming rather than he’s outgoing. Fra suggests we drive over to the market town where he lives and assess the situation on arrival.

I know he’s a voracious reader so I show him my recently purchased copy of The Bee Sting by the Irish writer Paul Murray. “That’s one of my favourite books!” says Fra. He also loves Skippy Dies, an earlier Murray novel. Every year, he tries to get through the Booker Prize shortlist. We spent most of the half-hour drive comparing books both conquered and unconsummated. (Cloud Atlas stands unopened on our respective shelves.) His dad reads everything, apparently, including the famously challenging Infinite Jest. His dad didn’t care for Infinite Jest. His dad sounds like a lad. 

Frank Fee is a quantity surveyor, still working at 78. “It’s very a mindful exercise,” says Fra of surveyance. “Essentially just doing sums.” 

Frank went to a Catholic boarding school in County Armagh, a cold, tough environment that he couldn’t wait to escape. Aged 16, he went to Belfast and knocked on the doors of random businesses, asking for an apprenticeship. Quantity surveying happened to be the first one he landed. “He could have been anything!” smiles his son. “Literally anything.” 

Fra Fee

A man who loves words as well as numbers, Frank would regularly take the family to the local theatre: Fra wasn’t the only Fee to catch the bug. One of his earliest memories is seeing his sister Claire rehearse a school production of Blood Brothers. Stage gunshots went off in the climatic song ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ as a seven-year-old Fra watched rapt from the back of the hall. From that day on, he wanted to be an actor. 

Funnily enough, Claire phones Fra on our drive; Fra puts her on speaker. “Is this about the painting?” he asks. Claire works as head of development & marketing at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Last year, her brother performed a fundraiser gig for the Lyric: Seisiún with Fra Fee. (It’s a Gaelic word for an informal music gathering.) As a thank you, the theatre gifted Fra a painting of Brian Friel’s play Dancing At Lughnasa; however, it’s a very large painting and Fra isn’t sure whether it will fit in his cottage. Claire has promised to send over the dimensions.  

As we approach our destination, something miraculous happens: the rain slows, stops, and sunlight breaks through the clouds. (Granted, ‘the weather changed’ isn’t exactly Lazurus in the miracle stakes but in the moment it felt positively divine.) “We’ve hit the jackpot here!” says Fra. Driving into town, I understand: the place is too damn pretty to be rained upon. Some higher power must ensure the sun shines permanently here, and the excess downpour gets diverted to High Wycombe instead. 

We drive to a good walking spot and release Ace from the car. With his T-shirt, jeans and unkempt curly hair, Fra doesn’t look very country squire, more like the member of a rock band who’s replaced his guitar with a ball thrower. As we tramp through woodland, Ace races ahead, frequently disappearing into the trees with the purpose of a dog who has just smelt something very interesting. “There’s no stopping him when he goes off,” sighs Fra. Fortunately, he tends to come back again. 

Fra and his partner Declan bought Ace as soon as they moved to the countryside. He had spent his twenties living all over London: Streatham, Camberwell, London Bridge. He never expected to leave but Covid closed all the theatres and rural life suddenly became a tempting option. In a way, it’s a return to his roots: he grew up in Dungannon, a small town in County Tyrone. “Oxfordshire is prettier than Dungannon,” says Fra. “Less boggy.”

Fra Fee

We emerge from the woodland onto a hillside. The view is spectacular, a green patchwork quilt of hills and fields and forests spreading across the horizon. Red kites circle above us. There are two reactions to such a view and I experience both. Firstly, a heightened appreciation of nature and its ineffable beauty; secondly, an urge to take out my phone and search for nearby properties on Rightmove.  

Climbing the hill, a red kite hovers a few feet above our heads. I’ve never seen one so close before: the thing is bloody enormous, a feathered aeroplane with talons. “You might see them in the pub garden,” says Fra. “They swoop down and grab your pizza off the plate.” A smaller bird flitters across the treetops. What type is that? Fra laughs. “I left my birdwatching book at home!” I thought you knew all of them? “Only the kites!”   

We pass a wish tree decorated with various trinkets: children’s toys, a love poem, a photo of an old man. Fra tells me about the faery trees from Irish folklore. Back in County Tyrone, the Fee family would drive past a field containing a solitary tree: a faery tree that served as a portal to the faery world. One of his tattoos depicts a faery tree and an owl. Beside it is a line from The Stolen Child, a WB Yeats poem his character recited in The Ferryman. It’s written in the Ogham alphabet, the ancient language of Ireland: Come away, O human child.

The full verse goes: ‘Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.’

The world and its weeping can wait until tomorrow. Time to hit the pub. 

Fra Fee
Fra Fee

All pub gardens look good on a sunny afternoon but Fra’s local has a particular charm. Everybody seems to know one another, everybody seems happy; two elements that distinguish the country pub from your typical London boozer. The air is suffused with a rich, sweet scent that can only be attributed to the absence of traffic pollution. The whole scene is bucolic to the point of parody; I feel as though I’ve walked into a cider advert. 

In the corner of the garden there’s a giant teepee and within the teepee we find Declan and a couple of their neighbours. This evening sees the first in a series of monthly gigs organised by Dec for no other reason than love of music and a good time. The headliner tonight is Olivier-nominated singer and actress Maimuna Memon, with support provided by Dec himself. He is also a creative powerhouse whose CV includes the band Point Break, musicals such as Taboo, Rent and Moulin Rouge!, a stint on Eastenders as Dot Cotton’s grandson and touring his autobiographical one-man show Boy Out The City.   

Music brought the couple together. Fra saw Dec performing in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. They followed each other on Instagram. When Fra needed a backing musician for a London Seisiún gig, he reached out to Dec and the rest is history, present and future.  

We plonk down on a bench so far flung it’s practically in the adjacent field. Over Fra’s shoulder I can see the hill that we were recently tramping across. Snatches of music burst from the teepee as Declan continues the soundcheck. As well as the gig, this Thursday afternoon marks the start of Fra’s long birthday weekend – he turns 37 on Monday. Tomorrow he and Declan will fly to West Cork. The pints he has just ordered will be the first of many consumed over the next few days. Over there, he’ll be on the Guinness – like most Irishman, he bemoans the lack of a decent Guinness on these shores – but today we drink lagers. The liquid glows golden in the glass.  

His chest is sore from a new tattoo. This one is a butterfly in a human eye, inspired by a musical production of Breakfast on Pluto that he rehearsed a few years ago. “I’m a butterfly emerging…” went the lyric. The musical never happened – Covid – but a fragment of it now survives on its erstwhile protagonist’s chest. 

His first tattoo was a hummingbird, three flowers (one for each sister) and a line from a Tennessee Williams poem: “There will be pity for the wild”. That one marks his coming out, although it wasn’t inked until years later. “It always takes people ages to sum up the courage to get your first,” says Fra of tattoos, “and then it’s very easy to get subsequent ones.” 

There are two more flowers for his parents alongside a compass to point his way home. A raven and a clock: “The clock shows the time I was born and the raven sort of signifies death. So it’s like a life timeline.” What about the red streak beneath the raven? “That just looks really cool!” 

Fra Fee

The tattoos are concealed in Lost Boys & Fairies – clearly his character Andy isn’t the type. Created and written by Welsh writer Daf James, the series follows Cardiff couple Gabriel and Andy as they adopt for the first time. “I was bawling my eyes out,” says Fra of his initial encounter with the script. “It’s the most beautiful, beautiful story, really gorgeous writing.” 

He describes Gabriel and Andy’s relationship as “extraordinary in its ordinariness. As a gay man to read a story that was so normal, in inverted commas, it was very, very moving.” 

As a kid, studying at an all-male Catholic grammar school, he once had to write an essay for religious studies explaining why homosexuality was a sin. “Writing that, knowing you’re gay, that’s really traumatising,” says Fra. He stresses the teacher was a lovely woman who checked up on him after he wrote another essay about bullying – “which I experienced a bit at school because I sang. So stupid.”  

The school was in thrall to what Fra describes as “these big buzzwords: euthanasia, suicide, homosexuality. We were taught what they were; you were never taught that there was any nuance. That the person who’s committing suicide is depressed. That euthanasia can potentially be a really compassionate act for someone who is suffering. Homosexuality is just a way of life because that’s how people are born. That nuance didn’t exist.” Happily, he says, the times and the church have changed. In modern Catholicism, “you’re not doomed to damnation if you commit suicide. You’re not a sinner if you’re gay.” 

Fra first spoke about the essay in an interview with Attitude magazine. After its publication, a former classmate reached out over Facebook to offer a sort of collective apology. “I was at a really large school. There were loads of gay lads. Of course there were, but we all had to just get on board with what the narrative was. But yeah, it’s nuts that I had to go through that and thank fuck kids don’t have to now.”

Poor Ace is looking quite tired after the day’s exercise. He rests his head on the bench and regards us with mournful eyes. Fra decides to fetch some treats from the car; I fetch us the next round.

He first appeared on stage aged ten, playing Kurt von Trapp in The Sound of Music. The cast each wrote themselves a short bio for the programme. His went: “My name is Fra. I go to Laghey Primary School and I want to be an actor when I grow up.” 

He followed a music degree at Manchester University with a year’s postgraduate course in musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music. The latter ended prematurely owing to Fra being cast in Dirty Dancing – and he hasn’t stopped working since. “After a few years of just doing musicals, I said to my agent, ‘I want to diversify here. There aren’t enough musicals in the world…’” There are quite a lot of musicals, I note. “They’re not all good, though,” says Fra with the air of someone who has encountered a few of the bad ones. 

In 2017, he landed the “game-changing” role of Michael Carney in The Ferryman. Written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Sam Mendes, the play received rave reviews in the West End before transferring to Broadway and picking up four Tony Awards. Unsurprisingly, the original cast grew very close –  Fra even officiated at one of his co-star’s weddings last year. 

Despite his stage pedigree, Fra is probably best known for playing villains in two major screen projects: the Marvel TV series Hawkeye and Zack Snyder’s Star Wars-channelling space opera Rebel Moon. The latter required Fra to don a large fake beard to play a character much older than his actual age. Why not cast an older actor? Snyder intends to depict the origin story of Balisarius in one of the planned sequels – provided those sequels get greenlit. 

“Fingers crossed,” sighs Fra. “It’s such a precarious industry, and I guess if Netflix don’t feel as though they’ve got the interest, they’ll not do it. But I’m really fucking hoping that they do.” 

For Fra, the appeal of Rebel Moon, “wasn’t about my involvement in these two films. It was this character’s storyline from being a young man on his own planet outside of the mother world, and how he managed to find his way to this unbelievable position of power. That’s the story I want to tell. As fun as it was to stand there in a big grey beard, that’s not why I took the job.” 

Snyder has a large, passionate fanbase, and the scheduled R-rated versions of the first two films should further hit their sweet spot. But should the young Balisarius never emerge from behind the big grey beard, his actor will hold no regrets. He knows the game. In 2022, he was cast as a prince in a Beauty and the Beast prequel series focusing on the villainous Gaston – only for the project to be postponed indefinitely. A few days later, he landed Cabaret. There’s always another phone call.   

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Speaking of phone calls, I better ring a taxi. Afternoon is slipping into evening and Fra needs to head back to the cottage to freshen up ahead of the gig. Unfortunately, the local taxi company has no rides available until half past eight. Ah yes, the downsides of rural living. Don’t even think about Uber. Another taxi company is sourced – this one can pick me up in an hour. “Is it mad to get another pint?” says Fra. His friends and neighbours are beginning to arrive. Music is playing. It feels very ‘happily ever after’… 

“‘Happily ever after’ gives it a sense of ending,” says Fra. The beauty of his profession is the roles keep coming: you just evolve from Edmund to Lear over time. “I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to settle down. I don’t want to get complacent. I’m still really eager to do stuff and I’m excited about what’s next, but this is a lovely place to be in-between those moments.” 

Earlier in our conversation, Fra noted: “You get into acting because you want to explore all facets of the human experience.” He seems equally keen to explore all facets of himself. He journals regularly, practising the ‘morning pages’ technique from The Artist’s Way programme – “you wake up and you write three pages of stream of consciousness, anything that comes to mind. It’s a really good way of clearing the head.” He recently purchased a harp. He would like to write a screenplay one day, and a musical with Dec. 

Would the couple ever adopt? Lost Boys & Fairies inevitably prompted conversations on the subject, although Ace is more than enough responsibility for the time being. “We’ve talked about it in a hypothetical sense,” says Fra. “It’s not on the cards at the moment but I’ve gone from an ‘absolutely no way’ to ‘never say never’.” 

My ride to the train station awaits. The last pint is drained, goodbyes and embraces are shared. Time to return to London. With more than a pang of regret, I totter down the garden path and pour myself into the taxi, leaving Fra Fee to his evening of music and laughter and love. 

Lost Boys & Fairies plays Monday 3 June, 9pm on BBC One. The shoot took place at the Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch