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I was like 'will I get work again?'

Rising Dublin talent Ann Skelly, who stars in HBO hit The Nevers, talks to Esther McCarthy about her role , how she made it to the big time in TV and movies - and why it all feels so surreal


She's winning widespread praise for her new Irish movie, while the HBO series in which she stars - The Nevers - has become an international hit.

Ann Skelly has told how just a few years ago she was struggling to make a living in London and wondering what her next move should be, before destiny took a hand.

Now she's become one of our latest breakthrough stars, leading an on-form cast in the smart new Irish psychological thriller Rose Plays Julie, from writers/directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy.

"I've been very lucky with what I've landed," the 24 year old says of her recent run. In the movie she plays Rose, a student who has wanted to trace her birth mother (Orla Brady) ever since her parents told her she was adopted as a child. When it becomes apparent her mother wants no contact, the determined Rose vows to find her anyway.

"What drew me to Rose was I love that she's not an ingenue - I love the fact that she's just this twenty-something-year-old student, who when you're watching it, you're not entirely sure if she's got psychological problems. She's hard to read.

"I thought it was very interesting, the fact that she is at this crossroads ever since she learned that she was adopted, and her adoptive parents told her when she was eight."

Ann agrees that Rose is a complicated young woman and a tricky character to play because she's not your typical movie heroine to root for.

"I was a bit nervous about that when I was playing it, because there's a certain element when you're one of the leads, or one of the main characters, you have to bring the audience along. And if you're not exactly likeable, or if you're not someone that they can relate to, or project themselves on to, it can be a bit nerve wracking."

Ann was born in Killester in Dublin and though she moved to Wexford as a child with her family, she considers herself very much a true blue. Three years ago she moved to London in a bid to further her acting career, but returned to Ireland five months later to shoot Death and Nightingales. She found the experience lonely and difficult, but tried London life again a year later and has been based there ever since.

"I said I'd never move over again unless it's for a job, and now I've grown to love it."

She was also out of work, as production on The Nevers was shutdown as the pandemic hit. She is currently filming the remaining episodes of the series in London.

The large-scale show is set in Victorian London and follows people who have been "touched" and have manifested abnormal abilities. The first episodes, in which she plays gifted inventor Penance Adair, was a massive ratings success and alongside her is Northern Irish actor Laura Donnelly who plays the role of Amalia True, a mysterious, quick-fisted widow. In The Nevers they are both the champions of this new underclass in the universe, making a home for these outcasts and fighting off those who wish them ill will.

Landing the international series was a big step for Ann, and she remembers lying on the floor of her room as she took in the news after getting the call offering her the role. She recalls hoping she could get the part when she first made a self tape for casting agents, and realising it was a big job at the outset.

"You see this thing, 'self tape for a HBO series'. Why would you tell me it's a HBO series? That just is so much pressure.

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"And then I know that I'm not going to get it, and you're going to get someone bankable, and it's going to be a whole thing, so I'm like, 'f**k sake!'" she laughs.

She was wrong. The producers loved what they saw and following another audition, cast her in the role.

Strangely, working on such a show was on a wish list she wrote those few years ago when work was thin on the ground.

"I had nothing lined up, and I was like, 'Am I ever going to work again?' I wrote down a list of what I'd love and I was like: 'OK, so in 10 years, I'd love to have done or be going into a HBO series', because I had just seen Sharp Objects and I was obsessed with it.

"I started to watch loads of different HBO shows. Then I started to find a pattern of The Sopranos, Girls, The Wire, and so I really wanted to work with them. I mean, it was just surreal."

Close

Belfast actor Laura Donnelly plays Amalia True and Ann Skelly as Penance Adair in The Nevers.

Belfast actor Laura Donnelly plays Amalia True and Ann Skelly as Penance Adair in The Nevers.

Belfast actor Laura Donnelly plays Amalia True and Ann Skelly as Penance Adair in The Nevers.

Rose Plays Julie is now in cinemas

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