He attended and boarded at Methodist College Belfast, where he played rugby and participated in the drama department. In school, he participated in Christmas Pantomime and portrayed Widow Twanky which earned him his first drama prize. He has also played Baby Face in Bugsy Malone, milkman in Blood Brothers during school productions. He was a member of Belfast's youth amateur drama group, Holywood Players and he participated in Ballymoney's Drama Festival with his group for several times. From the age of twelve, he had participated in the native production of Anton Chekhov's stage dramas. He later attended Teesside University but dropped out and moved t o London in 2002 to train as an actor. He worked in a pub in Knightsbridge for six months until he embarked on his modelling career. Addressing those six months as rough time, Dornan stated he went through such financial hardship that he could not afford to buy even a kettle for his rented residence and to make ends meet, he took a job at the pub.