As a nation of acclaimed artists, poets and writers it’s no surprise that we have an endless store of thespian talent. When it comes to leading men Irish actors Michael Fassbender, Jamie Dornan and Colin Farrell dominate all the casting headlines. Brendan Gleeson is due an Oscar, like, yesterday. Rising stars Domhnall Gleeson and Jack Reynor are on the cusp of household fame with roles secured in the Star Wars and Transformers franchises respectively.
However, when it comes to famous female actors we’re a bit behind in the fame game. While Brenda Fricker won her Academy Award for My Left Foot there still remains a dearth of Irish women making it to Hollywood. Saoirse Ronan is a lonely name. Nonetheless, our heritage is a rich one. Sister Molly and Sara Allgood brought the works of Synge and Hitchcock to life while Maureen O’Hara and Greer Garson remain icons of the golden age. We’ve got the actresses up there on the stage of the Abbey and the Gate every night. The lack of international regard for some of these women is confounding. Which is why we’re absolutely delighted to see young Cork actress Sarah Greene trailing a critically acclaimed blaze from the West End to Broadway, garnering herself Olivier and very recent Tony Award nominations in the process for her lively role in The Cripple of Inishmaan with Daniel Radcliffe. We got her on the phone last month to talk her burgeoning career, exciting projects in the pipeline, and to get a delightful earful of her not feigned in the slightest Cork lilt.
“It was something I never thought about,” she says about her Olivier nomination. Her phone was off the day the shortlist came out and it wasn’t until she logged into Twitter that she had an inkling. “Someone had put a link there… I was like what are they talking about. I was quite blown away. I got a bit of a shock. I cried like when a baby gets a fright and starts crying!” she laughs. Named after Laurence Olivier, the awards are the British equivalent of the US Tony Awards. Sarah missed out on a win for Best Supporting Actress but this week was nominated for a Tony. She describes this kind of validation as “amazing,” for her parents in particular. “All the years of in and out to classes, pantos and all the shows I did. It kind of all paid off. I am doing the right thing!”
Greene first came to critical attention in the Abbey’s musical extravaganza Alice in Funderland, a show that was as far from staid-leaving-cert-drama as you could get. Produced by eclectic theatre company This Is Pop Baby, this musical reworking of Alice in Wonderland followed a girl, Greene, on a hen night in unfamiliar Dublin during which she gets lost, falls in lust, makes pals with The Gay and grabs the unwanted attentions of the fearsome Queen of Hearts, who is in drag. “One of my favourite, favourite jobs ever. That was really special. We worked on that for so long. We really felt like we were making something special. It was a really good time in my life and I learnt a lot, acting wise I came on a lot… I was on stage for three hours every night. And singing for six weeks! I had never done that before. It was funny. My voice got so much stronger. The songs were written to suit my voice, which when we first started off was quite low and as the show went on my voice got stronger and stronger and it ended up I couldn’t hold the low notes anymore.”
Next up for Greene is Noble, an Irish production that is racking up a lot awards at various festivals around the world. It won top jury prize at the 29th Annual Santa Barbara Film Festival and is set to hit Cannes later this month. Noble is a biopic of the children’s rights crusader Christina Noble and Greene portrays the activist as a young woman, with the comedian and scriptwriter Deirdre O’Kane playing the older Noble. “Christina’s story is a one of a kind, to a point where I was reading her book and going this is unbelievable, people won’t believe this,” she says. At times you really can’t. Noble is now a household name and her Christina Noble Foundation, which works with the street children of Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, is internationally regarded. Her upbringing was beyond difficult. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother died when she was ten. Christina and her siblings ended up separated in state care. When Christina eventually escaped the orphanage, she lived rough on the streets of Dublin, where she was gang-raped. She found herself pregnant and the resulting child, a boy, was put up for adoption without her consent. When she was reunited with one of her brothers she moved to the UK where she married and had children. Her life was then blighted by domestic violence, depression and a nervous breakdown. Noble had a dream about the children in war-ridden Vietnam and years later left to work with street children.
“To come from nothing, to be beaten down your whole life and still be able to go out and help people like she does… I think she’s an incredible inspiration. A lot of people still don’t know who she is. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know much about her before I read the script. And then it didn’t leave me. When I read the script. I was obsessed with (the story) and found out everything I could – before I even got cast. I wanted to know everything about her.” Greene feels a responsibility for the role and hopes this production brings Noble’s story to the masses even more. She speaks about the short visit she made to Vietnam to research the role. “I spent time out there with the kids (in the Foundation) and it’s just incredible the work she does with them. They’re really happy children and well loved by all the people who work there. That’s all kids need, all everyone needs in life, is love, isn’t it?” The slums however were an eye-opener.
At the moment Greene is on stage most nights, bringing playwright and now filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s Inishmaan to life. Daniel Radcliffe plays a young orphaned man in 1930s Ireland with a severe disability who dreams of visiting the set of a Hollywood movie that is being shot on a neighboring island, desiring of a life away from the hard daily graft that characterised the Old West of Ireland. Greene is winning all the plaudits as Helen, a local girl with a bold spirit and fiery wig that keeps her safe from the huddling masses at the stage door. “Yep, it is mental. 300 people outside the door everyday – older women and stuff. I think because of Harry Potter a lot of women want to mother him!” she jokes about her co-star. “But they’re very nice. Lovely people,” she qualifies.
We think Sarah Greene is going to have to get used to the lovely people looking for her autograph very soon.
Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun