Fame for Aoibhinn McGinnity came in the form of a drug gangster’s wife in the gritty TV drama Love/Hate. This month, she stars as the love interest in Elf the Musical. Sive O’Brien catches up with the actress to talk stage and screen.
Most of us would be familiar with Aoibhinn McGinnity by now, having first landed into our living rooms in the guise of Trish in the RTÉ hit series Love/Hate. This month, however, the Monaghan native embraces a very different role: that of Jovie, the love interest in Elf the Musical, on the Bord Gáis Energy stage. You’ll remember Jovie, the character originally played by kooky-cool actress Zooey Deschanel in the 2003 film, which starred Will Ferrell.
For Aoibhinn, who studied musical drama in college, the role is “a dream come true”. “It’s going to be loads of energetic fun; and it’s not just for kids – the day it was announced, it was all the big kids who were more excited about it.”
Dancing around on stage and belting out some beautiful chorus is a far cry from her ongoing role as Trish in Love/Hate, the wife of kingpin gangster Nidge, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
“I’m really lucky with Love/Hate, but it’s also a total dream for me to be given a platform to show a completely different character,” she tells me. There can’t be many people on our shores who haven’t seen or heard of the series, which depicts fictional characters in Dublin’s underworld, focusing on rivalries within the criminal milieu.
And, after five series, there’s no way her pretty face isn’t familiar; she can no longer go about her business without onlookers demanding a look-in.
“People come up sometimes and call me Trish,” she laughs, “two girls even asked me on O’Connell Street the other day if I was married to Nidge in real life.”
And that’s the magic of this dark, urban drama; thanks to its spot-on casting, gritty ambience, and some serious shock value, the characters are completely raw and believable. She is mesmerising to watch and imbues her character with a loud brashness while happily living life on the wrong side of the law. But, her character also has a real likeability as a woman in a dysfunctional marriage, and a mum struggling to be happy.
In real life, McGinnity’s a good girl with a sunny disposition, who lives a clean-living life in Dublin. But actors feel a real connection and empathy for the characters they play, no matter whether they’re good or bad people. So how does she slip into Trish mode?
“I always wanted to meet a real-life gangland wife, but it just didn’t happen, and after a while, I just had to trust myself, and not overthink it. With Love/Hate, the dialogue does the work for you. You don’t have to do much homework when the script is that good, you just have to do the usual mental work of getting into her mind, her emotions, and what her everyday life could be.”
Trish’s wardrobe has to help; McGinnity and the show’s costume designer get really involved in getting Trish’s outfits just right. “It takes a lot of money to look that cheap,” Aoibhinn laughs. More is more with Trish’s costumes. “We want to make sure her look has conviction, but you have to be comfortable, and it has to fit your imagination of what the character is, because it’s the last part of getting into a character, and it can help hugely.”
Delving into all sorts of different characters’ minds is all in a day’s work, and since catching a break on Love/Hate, Aoibhinn’s had a string of screen roles over the past few years; most recently as the female lead in Irish comedy Poison Pen; as Bernadette in Moone Boy; and as Gabriel Byrne’s wife in the television mini-series Quirke, based on the John Banville novels, set in 1950s Dublin.
On stage, she was lauded for her performance as Erika, Ross-O’Carroll-Kelly’s girlfriend in Between Foxrock And a Hard Place at the Olympia and Gaiety Theatres in 2011.
“That’s the whole point of acting. It’s full of versatility. You have to change it up, so there’s no routine or predictability in your career. I’ve always said I want to do varied things.”
Switching from stage to screen doesn’t seem to propose a challenge to the actress. “You have more room on stage to be slightly larger, to open yourself up more; then for screen, you have to take it all back and internalise your feelings.
It’s also something that I have been aware of–to not do those big faces on screen–they are perfect for stage, but for screen, less is more; it’s all in a look.”
And this couldn’t be more true with Love/Hate. The chemistry with her onscreen hubbie Nidge just comes to life; the energy between them is almost palpable.
“I was told I work instinctively. You can learn your lines inside out, but you really have to feel like her, and whoever you’re acting alongside. It’s important to plan, but you have to allow the situations or argument to develop, so it’s fresh and organic, and that you’re not this robot actor who has prepared too much and can’t go with whatever energy you feel.”
From blazing arguments onscreen, to jolly dances and roaring chorus lines in Elf the Musical; from drama, which is all about facial expressions and knowing looks, to comedy, which is all about timing…there’s a lot more to this actor than we have learned from her onscreen relationship in Love/Hate.
“There’s so much I want to do. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. At the end of the day, it’s a job, and I want to be happy,” she tells me. “As an actor, you always look for things that will stretch you and that are different than you are, so that you can surprise yourself.”
So will we see her on season six as the bad girl WAG with a questionable moral code? “Who knows,” she says, holding her cards close to her chest. “We don’t even know yet.” We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, get your hands on a ticket to catch her singing and dancing with merriment as Jovie on the Bord Gáis Energy stage.
Elf the Musical runs at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, December 16 – January 10, bordgaisenergytheatre.ie.
Sive O’Brien @SiveOB
Photographed by Naomi Gaffey / Styled by Corina Gaffey
This article originally appeared in IMAGE’s December 2014 issue, make sure to check out the January issue, which is on shelves now.