Film in Motion is a series of articles and interviews which look at the different roles needed to produce the visual medium of film. This week we talk to actress, Maeve McGrath.
Maeve McGrath is an actress, writer, and producer, known for Brooklyn (2015), Vanner (2012), Ros na Rún (2007), Mother me Daughter (2001), Cowboys and Angels (2003) and Fair City (1993-2000). Maeve studied Theatre Studies in Trinity College. She is a Licentiate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and graduated from GMIT where she studied ‘Television Production and Development’. She is Artistic Director of Sidhe Theatre and Film and writer/producer of short film, Vanner.
How would you define the role of an actor and what they do?
It’s our job to tell the story that the writer has written with the assistance of the director and the production crew. People think that you have loads and loads of rehearsals. However in television you get a small bit of rehearsal but in film you walk on set and sometimes it’s the first time you meet the other actors and sometimes it’s the first time you meet the director and you get on set and you need to know your lines. So when a script comes in the door you have to take it apart yourself. Find out what the story is, and how your character is driving the story along; our job is to portray that story.
What was it that drew you to acting?
My dad was very involved in amateur drama, as was my mother and so I was never out of the theatre. I was always inside the Belltable as it was then, or with my parents on the road to some kind of festival. I loved it. When I went for my career guidance meeting at school, my teacher suggested I apply for the Diploma in Theatre Studies in Trinity College, so I did and I got a place. Luckily my mam and dad didn’t jump with fright when I said I was going to be an actor. They went ok, grand, and supported it.
How did you get started in the industry?
After two years in college I was still in Dublin. I started doing a play called The Children of Lir; it was a play for the schools and it was the first time I had ever been paid for my work. I played the character Fionnuala and it was brilliant. We went on tour and I just really, thoroughly enjoyed it, just getting up there and performing. Then my agent called and said Second Age Theatre Company were casting for The Plough and the Stars; are you interested? I was, for Mollser, which I got. That was really my start into it and then I got the call to go out to RTÉ to audition for Fair City. When I got the part of Lorraine, that move into television was a completely different medium altogether. You know in something as big as Fair City you have to get along with people… everybody really, because you’re working as an ensemble. I left Fair City in 2000 and moved to the UK and started working on other things. Then I came back to Ireland and started looking for work here after that.
What training or experience did you find the most helpful?
The two years in Trinity for me was a great learning and a great base. I would think that I learned a lot of my skills from there. Now people often say you don’t need training, but I do think it gives you a discipline; it gives you a knowledge in terms of creating characters and I think it helps when you go out into auditions and you know how you interact with the director or the producer. When I was on Ros Na Rún I did a producer’s development course and that was fantastic on a completely different level. Then about five years ago I did a workshop about working with children in theatre with Louis Lovett from Lovett Theatre and I have to say it was almost like being back in college again. Two weeks of just being immersed back in theatre, this was why I wanted to do theatre. I had forgotten. You forget with the struggles to get parts, the learning of lines, with it just becoming part of your life. You forget how much you enjoy it. That was certainly a defining time for me.
How much preparation do you do for a role?
Lots!! For theatre it can be sometimes very specific, sometimes you are devising a play with a company so it’s a very different process; you’re researching the character you’re looking at their life, you’re building a life around them, because you only have a shell that’s in a script. I would have done the same with Lorraine, I was given very little information on who she was when I was in Fair City. There is a process, a process that you do by yourself, finding out about the character, exploring them, what are they bringing to the story? What’s there role here? Are they here to shoot somebody? Are they here to cause a problem? Or are they here to solve one? Find out who they are, what they are doing there and build that characterisation around it. Then there is the process of learning the lines.
What is the best part of your job?
I love being on set. I love watching the cameras go up, the lights, it never gets old. When I did Brooklyn, everything was set in the 1950’s and it was a very different experience, certainly for me. It was a big film, all the streets in Enniscorthy were closed, and there is that minute on set when you think, I have the greatest job in the world. I really do. This is what I do for a living and you know its hard work.
What have been some of the greater challenges in your work?
I think learning lines with age has become very very hard. I was able to learn them no problem when I was younger, that’s a difficult part of it. There is also a funny thing about film sets or TV, you go on and you build relationships with people you spend a very intense amount of time with, you know people very well and then it stops. It finishes and everyone goes off and there gone, and you’re gone and everyone’s gone. That can be a difficult part too, saying goodbye to people all the time.
What are you currently working on?
Brooklyn is opening in cinema on November 6th. I play Mary, she’s the kind of downtrodden shop girl under the finger of Mrs. Kelly. She gets all the tough jobs and she is ignored a lot. All of my scenes were with Saoirse Ronan and Brid Brennan and it was amazing. I was there going how lucky am I to be working with these people; it’s like a master class in acting. I’d read the book, and I read the script, it’s just beautiful, and I thought this is just so wonderful, because it’s a beautiful story and look at the parts for women. It’s outstanding! I have never seen such a number of roles for women. You’ve Saoirse Ronan and Julie Walters, but you also have this amazing group of other women all around her. The men have parts obviously but it is the women that run this film and its success has made me so happy because it shows that women can carry a film. So for me it was really exciting to get that script and to sit in rehearsal and see all those women, because there are no jobs for women in film a lot of the time. There’s smaller roles, the wife or the girlfriend etc., but there are rarely films like this with so many parts for women. At the moment I’m also line producing an opera for the Performance Corporation and I’m working on a documentary called Medjugorje Man, we’re in post-production on that.
What advice do you have for someone looking to get started in acting?
I certainly would suggest that they go and do some sort of training course. It doesn’t have to be two, three years or a degree or anything. Get experience, join an amateur theatre company, I think it’s important to learn from the ground up. Watch other people acting, because it will inform you, what you like and what you want to do. Also research, if you want to get into TV, then watch TV, find drama that excites you. If you want to get into theatre, then go see shows. Or read, read Shakespeare or Friel or whatever it is that moves you. Probably the best advice I could give to anybody is learn. I’m still learning and I will always be learning because I will never know everything there is to know. You will always find something new that will challenge you and give you a better performance.
Featured graphic credit: Phil Shanahan