"Jamie claims he has two left feet but every time we had to do it, he was perfect and I was messing up."
Here the 42-year-old Irish star opens up about fusing personal history with the film and how she was initially terrified to work with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench and how researching her role made her emotional about her time growing up in Ireland in the 1980s .
Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh,
Belfast tells the semi-autobiographical story of Buddy (Jude Hill), a young boy who lives in Northern Ireland during the tumultuous late 1960s. Alongside his working-class family that includes his parents (Jamie Dornan and Balfe) and grandparents (Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench),
Here Magazine+ catches up with the star of the show.
What made you want to be a part of this film?
“First of all, the script was just so beautiful. It was the first time I had read something about the north of Ireland that wasn’t about the ideology but about the people and the love of family and love of community. The first time I read it I totally teared up.
"Then, obviously working with incredible people like Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh was amazing. This is such a beautiful love story to Ken’s childhood and the place where he grew up. It’s just so special and that is primarily the reason I wanted to do it.”
What was it like with Sir Kenneth and Dame Judi Dench?
“I was intimidated the entire time! Actually, Ken did this beautiful thing on the first day we all got together. He got us all just talked about our families, our childhoods and just growing up. It was such a wonderful way to get everybody to relax and to get to know each other. Although this film is about Ken’s childhood, he brought all of our personal experiences into it. We got to know each other on such a personal level very quickly because of the shared anecdotes and stories. That’s why Ken is as brilliant as he is because he knows how to do things like that to bring everyone together.”
Did this being such a personal story change the way you prepared for your role?
“Ken has said that this is the script version of his parents so he very much gave them over to us. He didn’t stop us at any point by saying something like, ‘Actually, my mum didn’t do that.’ Or, ‘My dad wouldn’t do that. Do it this way.’ He gave us a lot of freedom. You were allowed to just play and he was very encouraging.”
Did you have to adjust your accent at all for the role even though you are Irish?
“Yeah. I grew up on the border and the Belfast accent is much stronger. I grew up listening to it a lot on television so it’s a really fun one to do.”
How aware of the conflict were you when you were growing up?
“No one who grew up in Ireland during the 1980s were unaffected by that time. I was born in Dublin but we all moved to Monaghan when I was six-weeks-old because my dad was a guard and was stationed at the border. So the troubles affected my family’s life even though I didn’t live in Belfast. Just doing all of the research for this film and watching all of the footage from that time, was a very emotional thing. It feels so personal and you live through a lot of the things that went on. It was great doing all that research and watching all that footage for the accent, but also just to get the feel of that time.”
Did you face any particular challenges on set whilst shooting?
“There was a few. Luckily not all of them made it in (laughs). On one of our first days, we were going for rehearsals and someone said, ‘You’re meeting Jamie to have a dance rehearsal.’ The two of us showed up and we were like, ‘Why are we having a dance rehearsal?’ Jamie claims he has two left feet but every time we had to do it, he was perfect and I was messing up. That was pretty challenging.”
You also get to play a strong female character in Outlander. Is that something you look for in all of your roles and are you as confident in real life?
“I have just been very fortunate to step into those shoes but I learned during the first week of shooting for Outlander that I needed to stand up for myself. I don’t know where that confidence came from. I had zero right to be as sure or as clear of how I wanted to play those characters as I was. There was a lovely woman, she had been hired as an acting coach for Outlander. It was a very American concept and I think everybody was rightly nervous because I had such a minuscule CV. They had hired this woman and she was giving me advice but I was like, ‘That’s not how I want to play this woman.’ I think everyone has their own idea of what a strong female character is but I don’t think it’s just being bossy and shouty. There was a tendency with the writers to always have characters like Claire Randall just bulldoze her way through scenes and not be affected by things. The stuff I really fought for was to allow her strength to also be vulnerability.”
How is it being back working with Sam Heughan on Season 6 of Outlander?
“Great. I love working with Sam. We clicked from the moment we first met. We’re very different people but we seem to have a similarity in how we approach work and certain other things in our lives. We work really well together and I’m really excited about next season of Outlander.”
How do you think the industry has changed since you started out?
“I came into Outlander at an amazing time for women in the entertainment industry. It was this real golden age because there are so many other shows where they had these central female characters who were complex and very different. Whether it’s Nurse Jackie, Homeland, even Downton Abbey had so many great female characters who were a very different. I think the last ten years has been a real moment where it’s become like a third wave of feminism in a way.”
Finally, how would you sum your time making Belfast
“Honestly, the entire time felt like this magical little bubble. Ken builds this really loyal, loving group of people around him and he is that way to them. The whole thing just felt so fun and joyous. I know there’s parts that are heavy but filming it was just such a great experience. We just had so much fun. It’s just so great to see that it’s now being shown on screen.”