Fionnula Flanagan reveals how a rescue dog saved from shelter ended up helping her
“She’s small and black. I’m training her as a service dog, and then she can me on the plane with me”
One would think that legendary actress Fionnula Flanagan is living the American dream, owning a house in the Hollywood Hills with the vegetation on her sprawling estate kept pruned by a herd of 20 goats.
But while the United States has been good to the Dubliner, who first moved there in the late 1960s, she insists the country has lately been taking a turn for the worse.
“No absolutely not,” she stresses, when asked if things are good there. “It’s a dreadful place to live right now. If you saw President Biden’s State Of The Union address the other night it was probably the only thing that has given us any sort of hope here in a very long time. We have endured…let’s not go there.”
Fionnula, who grew up in Whitehall on the northside of Dublin, keeps a house in Co Wicklow and shares her life with her little rescue dog Betty.
“We always had dogs here,” she explains down the phone from Hollywood. “We used to have big Airedales, like the dog in Annie, the black and tan dogs. They were wonderful. It’s not easy to put an Airedale into a sports car.
“Betty is in Wexford with friends of mine, because she was an emotional support dog. She’s small and black. I’m training her as a service dog, and then she can me on the plane with me. She’s a rescue dog, which I got from a shelter. People would have it I rescued her, but (the) truth (is) she rescued me. She’s wonderful, she can read my mind.”
Twice married Fionnula (81), whose last husband Garret O’Connor died in 2015, has two stepchildren.
“I also have five grandchildren. Then I have got three great grandchildren, the youngest of whom is called Fionnula,” she smiles.
“I don’t think I will ever marry again. That was a long stormy marriage (her last one), but a terrific marriage.
The polished actress arrived into the third series of Smother on RTÉ 1 in recent weeks as Caro Noonan, mother of Van Ahern (Dervla Kirwan) and a character Fionnula admits with a laugh is “a bit of a trollop”.
Viewers initially saw her flirting with Van’s new husband, and also warding off alcoholic Anna at the couple’s wedding reception.
Fionnula and Garret both struggled with drinking alcohol in their younger years and she is full of praise about the 12-step recovery programme.
“The 12-step programme insists that one of the reasons it works is because of its anonymity and I respect that,” she reflects. “It’s probably the greatest thing that America ever invented and which, of course, it will not be known for. But it has saved more lives and saved more families than anything else. But its great strength is its anonymity. Therein lies its strength and therein lies it longevity. It is undoubtedly the most successful recovery programme around. It’s free and has saved millions and millions of lives.”
She enjoyed her time filming in Co Clare.
“If you can endure and survive, we shot in February/March in Lahinch Clare, if you can endure the cold of Lahinch you can endure anything. It was lovely, it’s a beautiful,” she recalls.
“Because of Covid and winter time most everything was closed, so we had the whole hotel to ourselves.
“Dervla Kirwan worked years and years ago on a film we did in England. It was lovely to work with her again. They are a bunch of terrific actresses. So, I had a great time working on Smother.”
Fionnula also revels in threading the boards and especially enjoys the works of James Joyce.
But she’s appeared in TV series too, as diverse as Lost and Murder She Wrote, and will soon be soon in a prelude to the Hunger Games.
“You get so associated with people who watch the character. I remember being in London once and going down Regent’s Street and this man chased me and grabbed my arm and startled me. He shouted ‘that was your photograph on the desk’, in reference to a photograph of my character on Lost,” she smiles.
“It was a joy to work with Angela Lansbury because she was a professional, she knew how to produce a show (Murder She Wrote), so that was a joy all round. Last time I saw her I brought my granddaughter to see her in Blythe Spirit, which we was doing on stage here and we went round afterwards and had a chat with her, and she couldn’t have been nicer to my granddaughter.”
Fionnula went to an all-Irish speaking school, Scoil Chaitríona, back in her youth.
“Of course, it’s rusty now, I don’t get to speak it every day and for any language you have to speak it every day at least to keep it up,” she reflects.
“ I love the fact that An Cailín Ciúin has done so well and will probably continue to do so well, not just for the language but because it’s a wonderful film and it was a marvellous book.”
As well as an IFTA award Fionnula once also won a coveted Emmy. She ponders when asked where she keeps it.
“ I don’t know where it is, it’s around the house somewhere. I know someone who uses her as a doorstop,” she giggles.
“Someone told me they want to give me the Mary Pickford award, which is in recognition of making cups of tea or something, that’s from the Hollywood foreign press. Of course, to be the recipient of a Mary Pickford award (which has been given to the likes of Jodie Foster, Susan Sarandon and Vanessa Williams among others) is extraordinary and wonderful.”
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