A suitable job for a woman

Ger playing Mavis in Love, Billy at The Lyric in Belfast. Photo: Steffan Hill

By David Hennessy

Ger Ryan is recognisable to any fans of Irish television and cinema, having been three times nominated for an IFTA and taking the award for Best Actress for her work on RTE mini-series, Stardust. After beginning in the theatre, one of her first screen credits was the pawnbroker before taking the role in Paula Spencer in RTE/BBC mini-series Family in 1994, also written by Roddy Doyle. She was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award for her turn in the memorable drama about a Dublin family before Amongst Women in 1998 earned for both IFTA and RTS nods. She also played Margie McEvoy in all three series of Jimmy McGovern’s star studded and award-winning drama, The Street with Timothy Spall playing her husband Eddie. Ger can now be seen in Hummingbird, a new film featuring Jason Statham.

Known for playing action roles, Hummingbird is something different for Statham with the Transporter star playing a tortured former soldier and displaying more pain than audiences have seen from the actor. Ger tells The Irish World that it was its sentiment and theme that appealed to her and made her want to play the Mother Superior.

Ger begins by saying: “When I read it, I thought: ‘There’s a heart to this. I really do have a philosophy about things so I really don’t want to do mindless stuff. It always worries me that certain people put themselves out there as peace and love ambassadors almost but then do extraordinarily violent films that have absolutely no heart to them, because I think you have to take responsibility for the images you are creating even though you are a cog in that creation. Ultimately you’ve got to stand by your body of work.”

The Irish World asks if Ger was impressed then to see Jim Carrey distancing himself from Kick-Ass 2 saying he could not be associated with it in good conscience? “Yes, I did and I think that was extraordinarily brave because there’s an awful lot of people out there who think actors are puppets or pretty people who just don’t give a damn about anything but the vast majority of working actors, not the stars now, are citizens. They have the exact same life experiences, they have families, they have bills to pay, they vote. Contrary to that awful celebrity culture that puts people out as mindless clothes horses or whatever, the reality is that the actors that I know and meet are extraordinarily well read. You’ll find an enormous amount of them taking to heart the things that they work on and they really want to portray aspects of humanity. I thought: ‘Fair play to you’.

“When an actor puts themselves forward as a spokesperson for something, you can expect them to be slapped down: ‘What do they know about it?’ Well, they live in the same reality so I was delighted. I think there is a lot of taking the money and running. The choices that every person makes in everyday life are the choices they have to live by.”

Ger recently made a return to the stage when she played the part of Mavis alongside Joe McGann in the new Graham Reid play Love, Billy: “I had missed theatre but since I moved out of Dublin ten years ago, it just wasn’t feasible. It was just the most wonderful experience because it kind of reminds you of why you wanted to be an actor because let’s face it, most of us who started in the eighties, it was nothing to do with fame or money. Theatre is just brilliant. It’s a real actor’s medium, you’re in direct contact with the audience and it was a new play. That’s always exciting.

“I spent nine weeks in Belfast. It’s a wonderful city and it’s buzzing. Sadly the media concentrate on two or three streets but the rest of the city gets on with it and it is an amazing city to visit. It’s a very hospitable city. It always has been though, even in the dark times.”

Ger in a scene from Love, Billy with Joe McGann. Photo: Steffan Hill

Playing Margie McEvoy in The Street, Ger saw the drama win a BAFTA, a RTS award and two International Emmys. It was created by Jimmy McGovern who has also brought us Cracker, The Lakes, The Accused and Hillsborough. What was it like to work with such a visionary? “Jim McGovern is amazing. He’s got a philosophy and he writes about people. It’s not like marketing forces: ‘We need to have a teenage drama, we need to have this, we need to have young women taking their clothes off…’ That was basically where television was going for a while. People want stories. You either want to be taken out of your own existence or you want your own existence kind of reflected back. That’s what they want.

“When you’ve got a writer based drama that is not written by committee- For example, Love/Hate. He(Stuart Carolan)’s got control over where that story is going so there’s no interference of non writers saying ‘you can’t say that’, ‘you can’t really do that’. That level of interference happens all the time where they water down scripts so they don’t upset anyone. Drama is about upsetting the apple cart, art is in general I think. It’s about looking at something anew and creating some kind of reaction. Jimmy McGovern is that kind of person. It was a brilliant thing to work on.”

Ger with the IFTA she won in 2007 for her work on mini-series, Stardust. Picture courtesy of The Irish Film and Television Academy (www.ifta.ie)

Ger has often found herself playing the “mother” in TV dramas such as RTE’s Raw or in the film, Intermission. Does she think it is time for greater variety of female roles in drama? “Yes, women are far more interesting. It still happens, even now in the best of dramas, that they don’t even consider jobs to be genre neutral. You’ll have the mother or the girlfriend or the wife and I mean those titles, very rarely are women the protagonist. It’s very rarely from their perspective. I don’t know why that is.

“It would be nice if it was recognised that 50 per cent or over of the world’s population are women and they do have journeys. When I look at scripts, I automatically go: ‘Why couldn’t that be a woman?’ ‘Why couldn’t that one be a woman?’ It would completely turn it on its head simply because the actress would come in with a different viewpoint.

“Twice, I’ve been given a part that was originally intended for a man. I sat in all the open auditions that Alan Parker is so famous for when he does films and I was reading opposite all the men for The Commitments. I remember him saying to me: ‘Is there any part in there for you?’ And I remember thinking ‘no, I’m too old or too young’ but then I sent him a note saying: ‘Actually, there are..’ And I gave him a list of parts that could be women. I said ‘the journalist could be a woman’, I just went through all the different parts. I don’t think I said the pawnbroker but anyway, he gave me that part instead. I had been hoping for a bit more of a glamorous part but I got that one,” Ger says breaking into a laugh. “And then with Keys to the City which was an interesting project, there was a part for a drug dealer that was originally written for a man and Laura Way asked me would I do it and I said: ‘You bet your arse!’

“That’s what I mean, an awful lot of parts could be but there’s no thinking along those lines. I’m in the business long enough, it doesn’t annoy me anymore- It’s just boring. There’s an enormous amount of stuff, I wouldn’t be bothered my arse watching simply because it’s the same old same old. I want something interesting. My life is far more interesting than any of the women I’ve ever played.”

Hummingbird is out on DVD now. Ger can be seen in forthcoming films The Callback Queen, The Food Guide to Love and Love, Rosie.



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