Fair City's Star: I love playing Mondo but he became a burden
Despite consistently high ratings, Fair City still polarises the country. Quite simply, you either love it or you hate it.
But even the haters can’t argue with the fact that nearly 600,000 people (often more) tune in four times a week to catch up on all the affairs, cons, illnesses, murders, funerals and weddings in ficticious Carrigstown.
This September marks the 25th birthday of the Dublin soap – and despite taking a six-year break to “try other projects” George McMahon’s Mondo is still one of the most-loved characters the soap has ever produced. You may never have seen a single episode in your life, but you hear the name Mondo and you instantly think Fair City.
So when RTE announced last September that the cheeky chappy was making a comeback – and that he was bringing his lady friend, Kerri-Ann, home with him – Fair City fans got very excited indeed.
“I swear to God, it was just like I had never left when I walked on set for the first time in six years,” the 29-year-old actor tells sundayworld.com.
“A lot of soap stars want a big exit when they go, but I just wanted to keep my options open. When, after a few years, they told me they’d have me back I was chuffed. I was young and I’d been on the soap for years, so they told me to go and sew my wild acting oats. But I didn’t know if they’d want me back.
”Although he has been relatively busy during his hiatus, George admits that it has been also been difficult – he struggled for long periods of time to find work. Sitting back into an oversized couch in the bar of the slick new-look Kelly’s Hotel on Dublin’s George’s Street, the location for our exclusive photoshoot, he maturely admits: “I got a part in Stardust [the 2006 TV mini-series] as soon as I left Fair City, and I thought: ‘this is going to be easy’...but then things dried up.
“Because I was younger and more naïve, I was pissed off that people kept referring to me as Mondo. It became a complete burden, if I’m being honest. I wasn’t even getting auditions because of the fact that I was Fair City’s Mondo.
“If I went for an audition and didn’t get the job I’d have felt a lot better than not getting the audition at all. I was willing to try all types of acting – and I wanted to do it all – but things dried up quickly.
“I was getting theatre work bit by bit and I’ve been doing panto for 10 years straight, so I always was either working or planning to work in the not-too-distant future. But I still think I was held back because of the Mondo thing,” says George, who first joined the soap in 2002.Pre-Fair City, the Dubliner made his mark in Custer’s Last Stand-Up, a BBC/RTÉ co-production series which won the BAFTA for Best British Children’s Series in 2001
“We’re a small country and very few people managed to get the kind of role in Fair City that I had, but I genuinely think it held me back at times. Put it this way: I was never called for any part in Love/Hate, and sure anyone who is anyone is in that,” he says with a huge laugh.
“But now, six years on, I have matured – and I know that Mondo is a blessing. Within months of leaving Fair City, I set up the George McMahon Performing Arts Academy in Celbridge [Co. Kildare] near where I live.
“It’s going brilliantly and the kids are amazing, I get a huge kick out of them. I think a lot of the initial interest in the Academy is purely down to the fact that I am Mondo, so yeah, you could say I’ve finally accepted he is going to follow me everywhere.
”George, who swapped city life for farm strife to take part in – and win – RTE reality show Celebrity Farm in 2003, adds: “When I was in Fair City first there was no Twitter or anything, so I was a little worried that Mondo’s return would get me a lot of online slagging. But everything has been great so far, everyone who talks to me has nothing but nice things to say.
”The Mondo that has arrived back in Carrigstown is a different person. He is now a flash businessman, with the dolly-bird accessory on his arm. But soon after his return, it became clear that all was not as it seemed.
“Yeah, he put on a bit of a show when he got back, but it was all fake. Kerri-Ann wasn’t fake, but everything else was. He loves her, but I don’t think they’re going to have the easiest of relationships this year.
“If they do survive, I want them to have the tackiest wedding ever, just like something Jordan [Katie Price] would do. That would be right up their street and it would be great craic to film,” grins George.
The dolly-bird is Kerri-Ann Boyle, played by Jenny Dixon, from Drumcondra, Dublin, who landed her debut TV role when she was asked to play Mondo’s missus.
“I auditioned last year for a different part, but I didn’t get it,” the 30-year-old stunner tells sundayworld.com. “I was disappointed, but I just put it down to being one of those things. It wasn’t to be.
“That role I tried for ended up being quite a small part, so it is amazing how things work out. Kerri-Ann is a way better character, she is so much fun. I don’t think she is as much of an airhead as some people think, but she does has her moments.
“I got a call last summer [from Fair City bosses] saying they had a part they thought would be perfect for me, so I jumped at it. I didn’t have to audition again, but I did have to meet with George and prove to them that there could be a chemistry between us. I knew him years ago from the acting scene so it wasn’t hard to get on with him.”
The Dubliner first came under our radar two years ago when she was pictured at Hugh Hefner’s The Playboy Mansion. The former biology teacher is a regular guest at the world’s most famous house – she pops in when she’s on any of her many trips to L.A. each year. But Jenny won’t be donning bunny ears any time soon –she knows that a role in Ireland’s biggest soap is the springboard to a life-long acting career.
“I have done so many short films in the past and I was wondering if I’d ever get my break. Then I got Kerri-Ann. She’s so much fun to play – and she is seen by 600,000 viewers four times a week here. It’s insane how well the show does given all the TV channels that are available.
“I’m so proud of her and I want her to succeed,” gushes Jenny. “But she is not making it easy on herself. She definitely loves Mondo, but as this year continues, obstacles get in the way of their relationship.”
Suddenly, Jenny realises she might have said too much. She clams up and refuses to divulge any more details about future storylines. Spoilsport. She changes tact: “Kerri-Ann has a future in the show, so hopefully I ‘ll never have to go back to teaching biology again. And if I do have to go back to the classroom, at least then I will do so knowing that I gave acting a good stab.”
Kerri-Ann knows a thing or two about biology as well... “Kissing scenes on Fridays can take a while,” she says with a huge smile. “The cast and crew are all very close, and there is a real giddiness on set, especially on Fridays as the weekend draws nearer. Do you remember the scene where Mondo and Kerri-Ann were getting it on in the house and Kerri-Ann was wearing a sexy cop outfit? That was filmed at 10am on a Friday morning and it took ages.
“It was fun, but I’d say there were a few people just willing us to nail it so they could move on to the next scene.” She adds: “Then there are other scenes that, when you’re filming them, you’re completely in a bubble. There could be dozens of people around you in the studio but you only think it’s you and your co-star.
“Then the director says ‘cut’ and you walk out of the scene and someone tells you it was a great shot and you feel great. Those are amazing moments too, along with the fun kissing scenes with George, of course.”
Catch all action in Fair City, Ireland’s most watched soap, every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm on RTE1.