By David Hennessy
She has shared the screen with greats such as Dustin Hoffman, Helen Mirran, Sean Penn and the sadly departed Heath Ledger. Irish film fans will recognise Tipperary actress Kery Condon from her appearances in films such as Intermission and Angela’s Ashes. She has also starred in HBO’s historical epic, Rome and the short lived but well received racing drama, Luck.
After coming to London as a teenager to follow her acting ambitions, Kerry originated the role of Mairead in Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, she would also travel to New York with a later production of the play. In 2009, she appeared in another play by Martin McDonagh, The Cripple of Inishmaan, for which she won a Lucille Lortel Award and a Drama Desk Award. She was also, at 19, the youngest actress to play Ophelia in Hamlet, making her the youngest actress to ever play that role for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Currently based in America, Kerry has been back in London recently to film Dom Hemingway with Jude Law and Richard E Grant as well as appearing in Irish film, Gold, with James Nesbitt and David Wilmot.
“I had a great time,” Kerry says of her recent return to London where she lived for seven years. “It was so nice. It’s funny when you go back to a place, it’s like you never left.”
Kerry tells us about her role in Dom Hemingway: “He(Jude Law)’s like this sort of gangster with a foul mouth and no real principals with his family but I thought there was an appealing side to him. It wasn’t like one of those scripts where you’re like: ‘This guy’s horrible, why am I going to stay watching this movie?’ You felt a little sorry for him. My first scene, I was supposed to be drunk at this beautiful house in France was with Richard E Grant. I swear I had a moment of ‘Oh my God, it’s Withnail’ so basically. She (my role) seems like a hooker maybe. It’s not really defined so I think it can be up to yourself to decide whether she’s actually getting paid or just having fun. When she opens her mouth and talks, you realise that she’s really sweet so she sort of affects Jude Law’s character and he ends up turning his life around. I hope it will be great because I had a lovely time on it and everyone was so sweet not that that equates success at all but I think if you have a good time making it, that’s kind of all you can really be happy with. You can’t really control anything else but it was great fun.”
Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan can soon be seen in London again and it was playing Mairead in another of his plays, , in 2001 that holds great memories for Kerry: “That was a great time. God, it feels like so long ago now. I went and did the play again in New York. That was the first big thing and I guess people saw me in that. I got to record a song (The Patriot Game) with The Pogues for it and lots of great things happened off the back of it.
“Also just to originate a play is such a privilege: You get your name in the book and you kind of establish the tone of the play, how it should be done. I totally knew it at the time because the part itself, you so rarely get a great part like that. Mairead was just so smart and the dialogue was so funny. We’ve all been friends for years since. David Wilmot, I had worked with him before and I’ve worked with him loads since and Martin, I see him all the time, we’ve all stayed great friends because it was a long time, it was a long commitment and it was a big deal for Martin, it was quite a big play for him.”
Domhnall Gleeson joined the cast when the play went to New York years later with Kerry back in the role of Mairead: “It was great to do it in New York because we had hoped it would go to New York after London but of course, September 11 happened and it wasn’t the right time for it all, so the fact that it came up again was really lucky. To get to go and do a play in New York is such a privilege, I think.”
It was her performance in Martin’s The Cripple of Inishmaan that saw Kerry pick up prestigious awards such as the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Actress but the mention of this makes her laugh: “I think when I went up to make my speech, the microphone was too high so I don’t know if anybody heard me. It was so embarrassing. I’m like Curb your Enthusiasm, I’m like that guy. When I saw that, I was like: ‘Thank God, there’s somebody else in the world who is like me’: Everything seems to go wrong. It was a bit like that. Of course it was (a proud moment), just to get recognised and there was other really great actresses that had been nominated too Meryl Streep’s daughter Mamie Gummer was up for it too. I was really happy to get it.”
Of course in between acting in Martin’s plays, Kerry appeared in his brother John Michael McDonagh’s Ned Kelly, playing the outlaw’s sister. Although it was a great part for the young actress, it is sad to look back on after the loss of the film’s star, Heath Ledger: “I suppose it’s all a little different in hindsight now that he’s not here. The whole thing seems very sad to me now. I did see him, we did meet up in Los Angeles and everything so now when I think of Ned Kelly, my heart sort of just hurts a little bit because of the way things turned out. He was just a sweetheart. It was all lovely but when people die, you just think about that. You think about the end.”
Having done much theatre and film, the television series Rome, also starring Ciaran Hinds, gave Kerry the chance to develop a character over a series that ran from 2005 to 2007: “To get to do an English accent was a big deal because I’ve always wanted to be versatile and had only done my Irish accent up until that point. Having to do naked scenes also, I’m so grateful I did that so early on because it’s not a big deal for me at all now. It doesn’t have to pornographic every time someone is naked, it can tell a story, an important story. Those were the times in Rome, they didn’t have catholic guilt. To learn that early on: That you have to put your own personal issues aside and also, you don’t get money for nothing. My family, every time I’m in something, they are like: ‘Jesus, are you going to be naked in this again?’”
Kerry’s next television role was playing the jockey Rosie in Luck in 2011. After growing up with a love of horses herself, was this the dream job for her? “It was. There were millions of reasons why I was so lucky to get that. I got a license to gallop horses a race track and then when we finished the show I adopted one of the horses so I got a horse. It was really great.”
Although Luck, which also starred Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, was well received, it was short lived. PETA called the care the horses involved received into question and the show was cancelled. Kerry passionately denies the horses were ill-treated: “Do you know what it was? It was the way it ended was awful. I really felt so sorry for those people at the race track, that they got tarnished by the film industry. It’s like we came into their industry and they were so kind to us and then they got all this bad press from people who don’t even take care of race horses. These people love horses, what are you talking about?
“Anyone who works on a race track loves horses because they have to get up at 4 o’clock every morning to be with them, everything they said was complete and utter lies. That was the bit I hated the most: That they accused those people of utter lies and PETA didn’t even adopt one horse. They didn’t even ask what was happening to the horses, they didn’t give a f**k. They just wanted their name in the paper and that was that. I will not support any animal charities, I’ll just have my own animals and take care of them.”
Kerry acted in Terry George’s Academy Award short film, The Shore. Is it true that Kerry couldn’t celebrate the win as she had a long day of filming Luck the next day? “Yeah, and do you know what? Nobody ever saw that episode because they cancelled it. I left right afterwards, all those parties were going on and I had to be up at 5 the next day. Those things, everyone thinks they’re great fun but it’s work, nobody’s really having a great time. I don’t feel like I missed out on that much. I had to prioritise.”
For the full interview, see the June 8 print edition of The Irish World.