‘It’s in the bones’

Megan Cusack told David Hennessy about joining the cast of Call the Midwife, how she has missed Ireland since she moved to London and being the latest to join the Cusack acting dynasty.

Cork actress Megan Cusack has been playing Nancy Corrigan in BBC’s popular period midwife drama, Call the Midwife since May.

This year’s Christmas special sees the team at Nonnatus House faced with their busiest Christmas Day ever as the Maternity Home is filled with expectant Mums to be.

Miriam Margolyes will make an appearance as Mother Mildred who arrives to lend some support.

Megan says: “It was my first Christmas Special. So that was very exciting.

“Obviously Christmas is pure family time and Nancy has little Colette with her. So that was lovely.

“The best thing about filming the Christmas Special was getting to meet Miriam Margolyes because I am just a little bit obsessed. I was slightly star struck but obviously she gets rid of that in seconds because she is absolutely baffling and bizarre but in the most wonderful way. I was just taken aback. She’s bonkers and I love it. I aspire to be like Miriam Margolyes.”

It has been a crazy year for Megan whose recent work includes not just a breakthrough role in a BBC flagship show but also working with the theatre company Druid.

Megan said: “It’s a real crazy time for me.

“I was like insanely lucky to work with Druid Theatre Company.

“That was always like an end goal.

“That was like always like a pipe dream as an actor for me really.

“So I worked with them early on and it (the pandemic) struck as we were in the middle of our run.”

Megan was acting in the Galway theatre company’s production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard when Covid-19 first hit evoking much uncertainty for everybody.

“That’s when it all kicked off. I literally remember being beside one of the stage managers and she was a bit stressed.

“I was like, ‘Are you okay?’

“She’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s just this Covid thing’.

“I was like, ‘It’s not going to get to us’. Holding her hand, ‘Don’t worry. Don’t think about it. It will be gone in another couple of weeks’.”

Megan laughs at her own naivety now: “And we’re here how many weeks, months later?”

Megan would see out lockdown in London and Cornwall.

“I went back to London because we didn’t think it was gonna be so long.

“And then I couldn’t really get home because the way travel was and you don’t want to put people at risk.

“So I ended up in Cornwall with my flatmates and a couple of others.

“And then, DruidGregory happened.

“So again, I got to go and work with Druid. Mad, but also throughout a pandemic.

“And we did these series of short plays, Lady Gregory plays and a Tom Murphy and we got to travel around Galway.

“And I sort of felt a little bit in heaven.

“During this incredibly turbulent time, we had these few months of pure bliss really.

“Then I came back to London and I auditioned for Call the Midwife.

“And then the next week I was in getting my hair cut and getting costume fitted.

“So it was like a whirlwind.”

Megan says this Christmas period gives her the chance to ‘just take a little breather’ and actually digest all that has happened over the last period.

“It’s been mad.”

Last year Megan was not able to get home for Christmas. This year she will be back there and more than likely watching the Christmas special of Call the Midwife.

“I think it ( the programme) would be part of it.

“I mean, we always have a lovely Christmas.

“We do the midnight mass the night before. And then we do stockings in the morning. A swim. Lots of walking. Good food.

“It’s mad. 15 million people tuned in to watch it last Christmas. That’s a bit bonkers. That’s bizarre.

“It will be the first episode I’ll ever watch with my family.

“So I have a feeling there’s no getting out of it.”

Megan might try to avoid watching herself on screen as this is something she doesn’t enjoy too much.

“Though my mum is quite good at falling asleep on the sofa the moment anything starts. So it might be one less audience member and a little less pressure.

“Obviously whenever I come on screen, that’s when I’m going to offer everyone a cup of tea.

“I’ll do that, really take my time to try and avoid it.”

Megan describes Nancy as like herself in some ways.

Her character is a bit ditzy but with a warm heart and time for anyone.

Arriving at Nonnatus House was a big opportunity for Nancy, as it gave her a bit more freedom from what she had been used to.

As an orphan, she lived with other children and nuns, meaning she didn’t have much of an opportunity to express herself.

“We saw obviously in the last series that she had a lot more to her than was necessarily expected.

“You know, she kind of burst in in a whirlwind of brightly coloured clothes, and strong eye makeup.

“And she puts her foot in it, her bedside manner is lacking.

“But you can tell she’s a really passionate person.

“And then I guess until you know she’s got a daughter, you don’t necessarily know why she’s so passionate and strong willed.

“And what’s amazing in this next series is I think you really do get to, and me as an actress playing the character, get to definitely feed into some different emotions.

“She comes across some different characters in her story that really make her sort of stop and think and maybe take a different perspective on the world and how people are and why people are the way they are or why people are in the position they are in life.

“That was really interesting.

“My granny was a midwife. I absolutely would not be able to do it.

“We’ve got wonderful midwives on set and they tell you how to do everything.

“I just hope I’m never in that position because I don’t know what I’d do.

“You’d like to think that you would pick things up along the way but she’s not the best midwife herself so maybe that doesn’t bode well for me in in you know real life circumstances.”

When he heard Megan was playing someone erratic, her father didn’t think it would be much of a stretch for her.

“He basically was like, ‘That’s no stretch for you. That’s grand, they’re typecasting’, when it was about like erratic and bad with studies.

“There’s an episode where I just know he’s gonna howl.

“I’ve not told him about it yet but basically there’s holes in all of my tights.

“And you know, it’s just not very professional as a midwife.

“And I swear to goodness, if there was ever a pair of tights I had at home with no holes in them, it was a miracle and my mam was delighted.

“What is hilarious is even on set the people in costume have these tights that are unladderable.

“They’re non-ladder tights.

“Every single pair that I put on, I ladder. And then they had to ladder tights for the episode, and they couldn’t manage it.

“So they just ended up making me change tights throughout the day, just because they knew I would ladder them and there was no getting around that.

“So that’s definite similarity.”

Megan comes from a well known Irish acting dynasty. She is the niece of sister actresses Niamh, Sorcha, Sinead and Catherine Cusack.

Her grandparents were Cyril and Maureen Cusack and her cousin is leading man Max Irons.

So what is it like following such an illustrious list of your own relations into something like acting?

“It is always going to be there and they have been incredibly supportive.

“Though in fairness, my parents were like, ‘Electrician, plumber, hairdresser… You are always in work. What are you doing?’

“But obviously, it must be in the bones because you just couldn’t stop the call. It came to me.

Niamh Cusack Owen McCafferty Unfaithful

“I have let it in the past definitely affect me and then go, ‘There’s a lot of pressure and there will always be comparisons’ and all of that.

“But then also you have the flip side where if ever I need any advice or if ever I need any help with anything, I’ve got incredibly talented, warm, loving people that can that can help me with that.”

It’s strange to think that even in a family with the name Cusack it can come as a shock when a child declares they want to go into acting, as Megan did from a very young age.

“They’re just like, ‘Come on now, lads. Let’s call it quits. There’s too many of us now. The world’s gonna get bored’.”

Megan has been based in the Crystal Palace area of South London after moving to London six years ago to attend drama school.

After taking some time to adjust, she says she loves it now although she always loves getting home.

“I flew over to train in 2015 and I’ve been here ever since.

“I mean, I’ve done quite a bit of work in Ireland.

“Once I graduated I spent chunks of quite a few years back home which was lovely. Or back home in Ireland anyway, not west Cork.

“But I’ve been lucky enough to flip between the two which is nice.

“When I think about it, when I hear myself I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness, six years’.

“But I love it.

“It takes a while to get used to.

“I came from a tiny town in West Cork where there’s plenty of space.

“You come to somewhere in London and all space disappears, you get in the tube once and you’re like, ‘Oh, right. So we’re going to be super close, are we?’

“But it’s one of those funny places. I said it once and I’ll say it again that despite being surrounded by people constantly, it can be quite a lonely place, I feel.

“You walk around Skibbereen and you can’t take five steps without seeing someone you know, or having like a wee chat with someone or just even getting a, ‘Hey, how are you?’

“Whereas I feel like there’s a bit less of that over here.

“So I did find places, I worked at Borough Market and I loved that. There was a real sense of community there.

“And then I’ve developed a lot of friends through like odd jobs, and of course through drama school, and I think now I’ve a really solid crew.

“So I don’t feel that so much anymore.

“Apart from when every now and then I’ll be like, ‘I just want to be home with my folks and my sister and go for a swim’.

“But overall, I think I’ve settled in more so now.

“One of the girls I met at one of my odd jobs, she’s from Clare.

“We both have a real feel of when we’re both home sick, ‘Let’s go for a pint of Guinness. It won’t be as good as it is at home, but it’ll be something’.

“I love it over here. I don’t want to leave now.

“I’ll come home. I was in Dublin very recently for a shoot and there’s something special in the air there.

“Honestly, it’s a bit magical.

“And I was texting my dad going, ‘It’s just so special. Makes me want to go home’.”

The eleventh series of Call the Midwife is running now, on BBC One at 8pm on Sundays. also available on BBC iPlayer.