Crash-course to adulthood

Shelley Marsden talks to 6 Degree’s Jamie-Lee O’Donnell

Hard-hitting BBCNI/RTE drama 6 Degrees, back for a second series next month and currently filming around Belfast’s student hotspots, follows the misadventures of six ‘freshers’ who descend on the city from throughout the UK and Ireland as they crash through their first – and now second – year at university.

It doesn’t skimp on the boozy, hedonistic realities of student life, which is perhaps the secret to its success. Like Skins but for a slightly older generation, its creators don’t hide behind Hollyoaks-esque storylines and as we follow this group of young people come of age, we get a realistic insight into student culture today – the good, the bad and sometimes, the very ugly.

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell plays one of 6 Degree’s six students – the straight-talking Eva Maguire who, though confident and spontaneous on the outside is very much the product of a troubled upbringing, and shows emotion with difficulty.  Busy running from one adventure to the next, her tendency to never look before she leaps creates havoc all round her.

““She’s a dream to play”, says Jamie-Lee of the feisty character she embodies so well. “She has so many levels to her personality, she’s quite a conundrum.  She’s been through a lot in life and it’s made her quite hard and closed emotionally.

“When she’s forced into a shared flat and has to interact with the other house mates, various situations and people encourage her to face her demons – which didn’t always have a pleasant outcome.  I love playing her, I really do; it’s a great challenge for me as an actress to keep that hard exterior on show as well as allowing her vulnerable side shine though every now and again.”

This is the striking brunette’s first professional acting role. The Derry native didn’t go to drama school, but knew she wanted to act as far back as she can remember: “I had a very vivid imagination as a child and just adored escaping into my own little world.” As for the role of Eva, she heard about the auditions and turned up thinking she didn’t have a “hope in hell” of getting the part. Three auditions later, she got it.

Jamie-Lee believes the show’s success is down to the warts-and-all nature of the issues it confronts, which have included sexuality, cyber-bullying, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She says: “It doesn’t shy away from topics some people may find sensitive or traumatic.  It deals with these issues in a very real way that hopefully people can relate to. The storylines are completely relatable, and as a viewer you’re dying to know what happens next. That makes it a winning formula.”

“Plus, the characters are recognisable as people we all know somewhere, and the dynamics between them make it interesting as these people are forced together and need to find a common ground to survive, which obviously doesn’t always play out that way.”

What’s her favourite scene so far? “It’s in Series Two, so I can’t give away too much!” laughs Jamie-Lee. “It’s the moment in which Eva is finally open about her feelings and is extremely vulnerable with another character, hoping she’ll finally give her acceptance she craves.  You’ll have to watch to find out what I mean though. Of course, some experiences on set are the opposite of good fun, like the one which involved me sitting in a horrible location in a puddle for hours…  again, you’ll have to watch the series to find out why!”

The actress, though she herself moved to Manchester after she wrapped on series 1, is excited about how the North is shaping up as a creative place for actors and filmmakers: “I think programmes such as The Fall are shining a much needed light on this part of the world and the talent that exists here, both in front of and behind the camera.  It’s a really beautiful historic place too, with great locations for filming.”

For the full article, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 24 August 2013).

6 Degrees is back next month, and can also be viewed on BBC iPlayer.



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