Valene Kane is gushing about the craftsmanship of a Valentino butterfly dress when I arrive on the set of her recently wrapped shoot for IMAGE. She claims she’s not a girlie girl by any means, but the Italian fashion house appears to be turning her.
“The clothes I wore today are completely different from what I would normally go for,” says the Northern Irish actress. “It’s the kind of clothing you’d only ever wear to big events. The Valentino dress was truly outstanding. I think it’s the best piece of clothing I’ve ever worn. It’s beyond stunning. It’s the kind of dress you could wear to a picnic or a red carpet event. People say you wear a dress like that and you feel special. I promise, as soon as I put on that dress, I felt special. Stunning!”
If you’ve seen Valene’s performances as the ex-girlfriend of serial killer Paul Spector in The Fall, opposite Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson, you’ll know that red carpet events are not quite as fanciful a prospect as she’s making out. The Newry-born actress has already made quite a name for herself in films such as The Fading Light, Jump and War Games. She has not one, but three new films coming out in the coming months, including The Hoarder, a horror starring Mischa Barton, ’71 with Jack O’Connell, and Frankenstein, tipped for early next year.
“I’ve been busy, very busy, but I hope it continues,” she says modestly. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the 27-year-old. From the age of 15, she spent summers in London, at a national youth theatre, and left for drama school at 18. After a difficult third year, she became somewhat disillusioned and left London for Paris, where she spent a year working in a café. “I didn’t know who I was, and I don’t think you can be an actress until you know who you are. And so I left, and had lots of lovely love affairs and learned to speak French and got to eat lots and lots of good food and drink lots of wine. Then I realised I really wanted to be an actress and came back.”
Years of working in a bar at night supported her casting endeavours during the day. “Even now I think, ‘Do I really want to do this for my whole life?’ The rejection is really hard. There was a role recently that didn’t work out. I believed that it was my next project and I was perfect for it. But it went to someone else, and it does take its toll. Anyone who says it doesn’t affect you is lying. It took me two or three days to move on from that one.” Thankfully, the tables do seem to have turned in her favour, and with so much film and TV work to her credit, Valene is itching to return to theatre, her true passion.”
“I’m not sure if my next project will be a film, a TV show or a play, there’s three of them in the mix at the moment. I love theatre and I haven’t been able to do it for sometime. I was supposed to do a play in February, but The Fall changed their [filming] schedule and the dates clashed. I love theatre. It’s your creative time. You don’t get any money for it, but if you work with a great director… You get to be with them from 9am to 7pm every day and you collaborate, which is my favourite way of working, and you produce something together.”
“Whereas a lot of the time, as an actress, you go in and do your work alone, and then you leave and then you end up watching someone’s edited version of your work, which is kind of odd. You don’t know what to expect. Even with The Fall, I don’t know how it’s going to turn out – they can change so much of it. I did ADR [additional dialogue recording] the other day for some scenes I hadn’t heard, and I got goose pimples. The director wouldn’t show me any more, but I’m really excited about seeing it now,” she exclaims.
The Fall is reportedly the highest rated drama launch in eight years, and swept the boards at last year’s IFTAs. Was Valene surprised by the response to the series? “There’s something quite different and unique about this show because you know it’s him [Jamie Dornan], he’s an intriguing character, but he definitely does not look like a murderer. I was totally surprised by how it was received. “
“When my episode aired, I was in New York and two women spotted me, and I was in it for five minutes and they went out of their way to say, ‘I watched you last night and you blew me away,’” she reveals. “When I heard about it first, I was so excited that there was going to be an actual TV series set in Northern Ireland that wasn’t anything to do with politics or the Troubles and it had female characters – strong female characters – in it. It’s very rare that women are written as anything other than girlfriends or the psychos, they’re never the lead.
Gillian [Anderson] is the protagonist and she is amazing. For me, it was really exciting to be part of a European project, like The Killing, but one that was set in Northern Ireland. Everything I’ve done so far hasn’t allowed me to use my own accent. I’ve done the Southern accent, but that’s not mine. I did a film two years ago called Jump, with Charlene McKenna, and that was set in Derry and that was really good, but it didn’t hit the ground in the same way as The Fall.
Valene might be hungry for success, but she’s seriously focused, and thinks long and hard before accepting any role. “It’s kind of boring going up for sexy slut,” she says laughing. “There’s a lot of things I read and I just think, really? Also, I wouldn’t choose me for that role, I’d choose someone much more beautiful and glamorous, and it’s sad because I read so few scripts that are led by a woman and about a woman’s journey that are not about her relationship with a man.
I’ve read scripts for two films recently that were really inspiring because they were about a woman’s journey through everything. It is important because there aren’t many that exist. The last play I did was called Miss Julie; it’s an amazing play and one of those roles I was desperate to do. It’s not really something you can do after you hit 30, you’ve got to do it before. It was a great time, and I was very, very happy doing it. I love anything that’s about a woman, instead of a woman supporting a man. I’m intrigued by that, and any actress worth her salt is intrigued by that.”
As for acting mentors, Valene claims she’s a bit of a “lone wolf” who likes doing her own thing, but she does admit to looking up to Julianne Moore and Catherine Keener. “What I want to watch is someone going through something that I can relate to. We read literature and poetry and we listen to songs because they help us to understand the crap that we are going through in our lives. I’m attracted to relationship-based drama and characters that display what a woman goes through in life and you can relate to. Julianne Moore has an amazing ability to portray what seems to be going on inside with just a single look. I think she’s incredible. And she’s classy. She dresses masculine and I’m into that, I’m preoccupied by women who fight through perceptions of what a woman should be.”
That preoccupation with equality has trickled into her personal style too. “I like masculine tailoring with a bit of a ’60s vibe, with very relaxed and casual pieces,” she explains. “I like COS, Zara and vintage. I don’t like to look too girlie or sexy. I love Simone Rocha. I’m so impressed by her. She gets better and better. I loved Marc Jacobs’ last collection. He did this incredible pale blue pantsuit that I would have died to own. Alexander Wang always does it for me.”
“I like Acne, Opening Ceremony, Pilotto, and I like heavy prints.” It appears Valene takes her fashion almost as seriously as she does her roles. And the two happily overlap whenever she lands a new project. “When I book a job, I buy an expensive piece,” she admits. “I’ve got a problem with Balenciaga bags. It’s really bad. I think I probably have six, and I need to stop…” she says laughing. With plans to wed her fiancé – also an actor – next year, she knows her bag obsession may have to be shelved.
Then again, when we start discussing her June nuptials, she reveals: “I haven’t even begun to think about the wedding. I just want to wear a killer dress.” When I suggest a certain Italian fashion house, her face lights up. “I think I’ll definitely be wearing Valentino now! Does that come in white?”
The Fall returns to RTÉ One and BBC Two later this autumn. @valenekane
By Rosaleen McKeel.
Photographed by Naomi Gaffey. Styled by Corina Gaffey.
This article originally appeared in IMAGE’s November 2014 issue, make sure to check out the December issue which is on shelves now.