Smother star Gemma-Leah Devereux says it is a great time to be an Irish actor
“It’s a brilliant time in the industry in general, especially since streamers came in,” Gemma says
Smother star Gemma-Leah Devereux is reprising her role as Anna in the hit Irish noir drama.
The Dublin actor chats to Denise Smithabout everything from working with Hollywood A-listers to guilty pleasure Love Island and the pain of losing her beloved dog, Molly.
Just minutes before Magazine+joins a call withSmother star Gemma-Leah Devereux, the country is enjoying a record-breaking day for film with a staggering 14 Oscar nominations.
Perhaps it’s prophetic for the 32-year-old, who is already primed to go stratospheric. Within moments of speaking with the fiercely ambitious talent, it’s clear she has every intention of adding her name to the illustrious roster.
“I just read the Oscar nominations there: Brendan, Baz, Paul — it’s insane, it’s a brilliant time to be Irish,” exclaims the quick-talking Dubliner, stopping only to come up for air.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to be an actor and people would say, ‘That’s not really a career’. I always said, ‘Whatever. I am going to be an actor, that’s what I am going to do’.”
Hailed for her memorable performance as Liza Minnelli in the acclaimed Judy, in which she starred alongside Renee Zellweger, the Tudors star also earned critical acclaim for her portrayal of Ruth Shine in docudrama Citizen Lane opposite Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
Already amassing a stellar CV, the humble starlet insists there’s more to come.
“It takes a while to get where you want to get and I am still nowhere I want to be. Do you know what? I don’t think I will ever be where I want to be. Like any career you are in, you are always striving for the next thing.
“But it’s a real time in the industry where you can do anything you want, and anything can happen. And there are plenty more pinch-me moments for me to come.”
On home shores, fans of the RTÉ/BBC noir thriller will know the blonde bombshell from Smother, where she plays Anna Ahern, who finds herself in the middle of a whodunnit murder mystery when her father is found dead after a family party.
In good company, Gemma-Leah was praised for her standout performance alongside the likes of Dervla Kirwan, Seána Kerslake and Stuart Graham.
With her father’s killer masterfully unveiled in the first series finale, the nail-biting drama has thrown up more plot twists than an Agatha Christie novel and the final series promises to be just as explosive.
“I swear I am the worst person to be interviewed,” she laughs.
“I did an interview the other day and I said, ‘It’s the last season’ and the journalist was surprised and I panicked and thought after three years I have messed it up — I have given something away.
“Season three is going to be incredible, viewers are in for a treat. I don’t know how much more I can say but I will watch the first episode with my family; I have this thing where we make a big night of it and watch it together.
“At the start of the first season we took bets on who killed Denis, so every year we have made it a big night of it.”
Fictional deaths aside, there was real heartache on set when the adoring pet lover lost her treasured dog, Molly, during filming.
“She died during season two on the second week of filming.
" She really was my sidekick, I brought her everywhere. We were only shooting a week and I knew on the Monday that she was really unwell and by the Friday I had to put her down,” she recalls sadly.
“Because everyone is so close on Smother everyone knew her and it was the best place for it to happen — everyone was so sweet.
"Out of all the sets I’ve worked on, I am glad it happened on this set. It was devastating but you have to keep working.”
Explaining the allure of complex and complicated characters, both fearless and tenacious when it comes to inhabiting her roles, Gemma-Leah refuses to be typecast.
“All you can do is be attracted to characters that speak to you. Even with Anna, she was someone I had never played before.
“I always want to push myself and do different roles that people might not necessarily think I am right for, and I go into them and then I change their minds; that is the path I am trying to carve out for myself.
“Nowadays you can direct, you can write your own things and even on Smother season three, I was shadowing the director a bit because I would love to do something like that as well.”
Earning rave reviews for her turn as a world-weary stand-up comedian who is diagnosed with cancer in 2020 film The Bright Side, the rising star equates her onscreen success at least partially to her real-life anonymity.
“People were like, ‘Oh my God, you shaved your head for a role’ but I love getting into other people’s skin. I thrive on it and it is creatively so brilliant for me — it is like therapy for me.
"When you have someone else’s skin on, you can access so many things that maybe you wouldn’t normally allow yourself to access.
“If you start thinking about the camera and the people in the room looking at you and the fact that it’s going to be a film and people are going to see it everywhere, you can get pretty overloaded, so I don’t, really.
“I think I live incognito quite well, which I love because that’s the best thing: keeping your private life private and people not really knowing you and then being able to play all these people onscreen.
“I will go incognito for as long as I can,” she continues.
“I think keeping your private life private is very important, but I also think it’s for the craft — the more people get to know you, they can pigeonhole you. When people don’t know you, you can slip into roles a lot easier.”
Despite working alongside A-listers, including Bridget Jones herself and Love/Hate alumnus Tom, it was Dumbledore who caused the actress to fangirl.
“I have worked with Michael Gambon and I completely fangirled — and literally, I didn’t care. I was like, ‘Oh my God, you are Dumbledore!’ I just love Harry Potter.Whenever I’m feeling down, I put on Harry Potter.”
When it comes to downtime? “I love knitting,” tells Gemma-Leah. “I love painting, but I am terrible at it, I go to the gym a lot for my head and I do a lot of sea swimming.
“I always have a movie night once a week so I try watch an old movie.
“I said I would try and read more too at the start of the year. I miss books because I read so many scripts — that’s my detox, reading books.”
Does that mean the actress isn’t binge watching Love Island like the rest of the nation? “Oh, I love Love Island. I’m not dissing it! I watched it last year and I got sucked in, so I am staying away this year.
“I’m not on social media much. I think sometimes you are just looking at people and it’s not all real.
“There was this famous couple that just got married and I was like, ‘They are just amazing and they are so happy’, and then all of a sudden they got divorced and I was like, ‘What the f**k? They just got married!’ I think social media is great but you also have to take it with a pinch (of salt), that happy balance.”
Looking to the future, it seems to only be a matter of time before she blazes a trail through Hollywood. If there is one surety, it’s that there are only bright things ahead for the remarkable Dubliner.
“It’s a brilliant time in the industry in general, especially since streamers came in, because there is just so much more being made,” she smiles.
“The opportunities are there because there are so many female-led shows happening now. Right now I am OK if I ever fail, because failure is part of success.”
Smother season three is on 9.30pm on RTÉ One on Sundays
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