|Dearbhla Molloy in Doubt|
20 Questions With ... Dearbhla Molloy
Date: 3 December 2007
Actress Dearbhla Molloy Ė who follows her West End stint as Orlando Bloomís mother with a role as a strict nun in the UK premiere of award-winning Broadway hit Doubt Ė discusses her Irish roots, Judi Dench and the knack of wearing a habit.
Dearbhla Molloyís career has taken her from stage to screen and back again. Her stage credits Dancing at Lughnasa, for which she was Tony Award-nominated, three turns in Juno and the Paycock (once as the daughter and twice as Juno), most recently in the West End, In Celebration, in which she played Orlando Bloomís mother.
Her stage credits in her native Ireland, at the Abbey and Gate Theatres and elsewhere, include The Plough and the Stars, The Philanthropist, Phaedra, Mrs Warrenís Profession, What the Butler Saw, Barefoot in the Park, Translations, The Misanthrope, The Aristocrats and Dancing at Lughnasa, prior to its Broadway transfer. Amongst her additional US stage credits are The Cripple of Inishmaan, A Touch of the Poet and Arms and the Man.
Back in the UK, Molloyís other theatre credits, in the West End as well as at the National, Almeida, Donmar Warehouse and elsewhere, include The Seagull, Hinterland, Experiment with an Airpump, Arcadia, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Hostage, Death and the Maiden, Summerfolk, Hamlet, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and The Shadow of a Gunman.
Molloy has been seen on screen in televisionís Sex and the City, Midsomer Murders, Foleís War, Waking the Dead, State of Mind, The Fragile Heart, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Playboy of the Western World and the films Tara Road, Blackwater Lightship, Home for Christmas, Loaded, Bloom and This Is the Sea.
The actress is now starring in the UK premiere of the John Patrick Shanleyís Broadway hit Doubt. In a Catholic School in the Bronx in 1964, Sister Aloysius (Molloy) becomes suspicious of the nature of Father Flynnís relationship with the schoolís first black pupil. A verbal battle of wills ensues as Sister Aloysius instigates a campaign to remove the priest from the institution. Doubt received its world premiere in 2004 Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club. It later transferred to the Walter Kerr Theatre where it won four Tony Awards as well as a Pulitzer Prize.
Lives now in
Borough, near London Bridge.
What made you want to become a performer?
It was a complete accident. I didnít intend to become an actor at all. I was 16 when I finished school, and you had to be 18 to go to university so I had some time to wait. My parents struck a deal with me that I could do some acting provided I got into the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. They never thought I would, but in the end I did. I got in by luck because I spoke Irish, and they were doing a series of plays through the medium of Irish for the first time ever. My schooling had all been in Irish so I got in. I just didnít stop after that.
How did you end up moving to London?
I came with the Abbey Theatre to do a play called A Life by Hugh Leonard. While I was here, I was invited to join the RSC. Iíve stayed since then.
If you hadnít become a performer, what might you have done professionally?
I think I would have liked to have been an academic of some sort. There are a lot of disciplines I would be interested in - history, anthropology, psychology.
First big break
I donít think I have had that sort of career. Iíve had a lot of lucky things happen to me but no one big break. Iíve worked with a lot of new writers and I think thatís a privilege. Some of them have gone on to be very famous writers indeed, like Brian Friel for example. I was also very lucky to get to go to Broadway when I did, and then to get to go back twice more.
Career highlights to date
I would have to say the first play which brought me to London, which was Hugh Leonardís A Life. That was a big highlight. The first time I did Juno and the Paycock at the RSC I played the daughter and Judi Dench played the mother. Sometime later I did it at the Donmar Warehouse and then again on Broadway. Those times I got to play Juno and that was great. I guess also Dancing at Lughnasa because it was such an astounding phenomenon. I had never experienced anything like that. Itís amazing the kind of madness that a Broadway hit can generate.
What do awards mean to you?
They have a sort of mixed-bag appeal. One knows that a lot of the time itís luck to win something or be nominated because the pool was poor that year or you can lose something because there were a lot of comparable things going on. Itís almost like a lucky dip. I would like to say in one sense that they donít matter, but in fact they do matter on all sorts of levels. Acknowledgment is important. Within the business itself, it matters like a sort of credibility rating I suppose.
Itís hard to pick. I have been extremely lucky. I worked recently with Gabriel Byrne and that was fantastic. I have known him for a long time - we worked together a long time ago when we were very young so it was fantastic to work with him again. Judi Dench of course has to be a favourite. Iíve worked with her a few times. You can always learn from her. I feel mean picking people out because you learn so much from everyone.
Obviously Shakespeare, you can never get to the end of his work. I have done seven Brian Friel plays. I feel very at home with his writing and the way in which he approaches things, specifically the way he expresses things for women.
It always seems to be the last one because again, I know itís a wet answer, but I do think I have been very lucky. Trevor Nunn would be really high on my list. Iíve worked with him a few times. Sam Mendes I have worked with a few times too. Doug Hughes in New York I certainly enjoyed enormously. And this is my second time working with Nicolas Kent.
What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you? And the last?
It was at the Abbey Theatre and it was a pantomime. Abbey pantomimes were an institution in themselves; unlike any other pantomime you have ever seen or known. My parents used to take me to that every year. I think I probably went from the age of about four onwards. We also used to go to amateur plays when I was a child. I remember being utterly involved in the stories. The productions were probably terrible but that didnít matter at all. The thing Iíve seen most recently that had an impact was a production of The Merchant of Venice in Stratford. It was produced by a group of people called Theatre for a New Audience from New York. It had F Murray Abraham as Shylock and it was absolutely wonderful.
Whatís the best advice youíve ever received?
What you take in depends very much on what stage of life you are at. When I started out, Ray McKinley told me, ďthe most important thing you will learn about being an actor is how to be out of workĒ. He was right. Very often shows donít come up one after another. There are a lot of gaps, which are scary for all sorts of reasons. One thinks one isnít very good any more or worries because your income has stopped. It can affect your confidence. I learnt from that advice. I suppose what he was saying is be sure you have other things in your life that are really important and meaningful because it is such an unnerving business to be in.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I would probably swap places with my own grandmother when she was young. Iíd want to be her in about 1900 when she would have been in her late teens or early twenties because she was very involved in the womenís movement at the time. She was a pioneer in a small way in terms of female equality, female power and liberation. She did a great deal of things which I now realise were ahead of her time. She rode a bicycle and she became a secretary to one of the leading artists of the time, things like that.
Very often my favourite book is the last one Iíve read if I loved it. Iím currently reading Kate Atkinson whom I just adore, but I couldnít say she is my favourite writer of all time. I read a lot, as much as I can. I donít read while Iím rehearsing something because it gets in the way, but once things are up and running, I am on to something else.
Favourite holiday destination
The Beara Peninsula in the west of Ireland.
Favourite after-show haunt
It is a tiny little club off St Martinís Lane called Two Brydges. Itís very small and very cosy and quiet. Itís great.
Why did you want to accept the part of Sister Aloysius in this production of Doubt?
I had seen the play twice in New York and had worked with the director, Nicolas Kent, before. When I saw the play, I thought I would love to play Sister Aloysius.
Has the piece been changed at all for its British premiere?
Itís a different director and different actors obviously. But I suspect that not a huge amount has actually changed because it is really a play you can only do one way. It demands that you play it a certain way.
Thereís a lot of emphasis on point of view in Doubt. Do you personally feel that Father Flynn is the villain of the piece?
I think the whole point is that we should never know. The author poses a question and it is for the audience to be in ďdoubtĒ. I have to play that he is guilty, and he has to play that he is innocent. Itís then up to the audience to decide, or even to not decide. They should realise that these things are difficult to determine. It should be even-handed so you shouldnít know one way or another. You can take an attitude but you really shouldnít know.
Whatís your favourite line/moment from the play?
Thereís a tea party scene that I like. I would love to play it like Miss Piggy but unfortunately I canít. It always reminds me of her a bit.
Whatís funniest/oddest/most notable thing that happened in rehearsals?
The nunsí costumes are a bit unnerving. If youíre as old as I am and you went to school with nuns, it brings the whole thing horribly back. Itís disconcerting but fun trying to make oneís way around with those costumes. On a more serious level, it helps to understand what those women had to do to themselves and their personalities to be able to accommodate what those costumes represent. Their bodies were covered and shrouded so that they didnít look feminine in any way. They were to walk in a particular way and sit in a particular way. Itís very interesting to see what all those things do to you.
- Dearbhla Molloy was speaking to Kate Jackson
Doubt opened on 26 November 2007 (previews from 23 November) at north Londonís Tricycle Theatre, where it continues until 12 January 2008.