Dearbhla Molloy’s 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 Bloom’s 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 Warren’s 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, Molloy’s 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 television’s Sex and the City, Midsomer Murders, Fole’s 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 Shanley’s Broadway hit Doubt. In a Catholic School in the Bronx in 1964, Sister Aloysius (Molloy) becomes suspicious of the nature of Father Flynn’s relationship with the school’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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. I’ve stayed since then.
If you hadn’t become a performer, what might you have done
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 don’t think I have had that sort of career. I’ve had a lot of lucky things happen to me but no one big break. I’ve worked with a lot of new writers and I think that’s 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 Leonard’s 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. It’s 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 it’s 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. It’s almost like a lucky dip. I would like to say in one sense that they don’t 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.
It’s 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. I’ve 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 it’s a wet answer, but I do think I have been very lucky. Trevor Nunn would be really high on my list. I’ve 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 didn’t matter at all. The thing I’ve 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.
What’s the best advice you’ve 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, “the most important thing you will learn about being an actor is how to be out of work”. He was right. Very often shows don’t come up one after another. There are a lot of gaps, which are scary for all sorts of reasons. One thinks one isn’t 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. I’d 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 women’s 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 I’ve read if I loved it. I’m currently reading Kate Atkinson whom I just adore, but I couldn’t say she is my favourite writer of all time. I read a lot, as much as I can. I don’t read while I’m 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 Martin’s Lane called Two Brydges. It’s very small and very cosy and quiet. It’s 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?
It’s 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.
There’s 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 “doubt”. I have to play that he is guilty, and he has to play that he is innocent. It’s 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 shouldn’t know one way or another. You can take an attitude but you really shouldn’t know.
What’s your favourite line/moment from the play?
There’s a tea party scene that I like. I would love to play it like Miss Piggy but unfortunately I can’t. It always reminds me of her a bit.
What’s funniest/oddest/most notable thing that happened in rehearsals?
The nuns’ costumes are a bit unnerving. If you’re as old as I am and you went to school with nuns, it brings the whole thing horribly back. It’s disconcerting but fun trying to make one’s 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 didn’t look feminine in any way. They were to walk in a particular way and sit in a particular way. It’s 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 London’s Tricycle Theatre, where it continues until 12 January 2008.