Screening at the Berlinale: An Interview with Kerry Condon

Kerry Condon

Kerry Condon has impressed on stage and screen, adapting herself from the sweet but quietly manipulative Octavia in Rome to the freethinking Masha in The Last Station. This Tolstoy biopic is Michael Hoffman’s latest film, in which Condon stars alongside James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti and Helen Mirren. Kerry features at the Berlinale in the Irish short Hum by Rebecca Daly, which showed as part of the Berlin Today Award 2010 ‘Straight to Cinema.’ Beatrice Ní Bhroin talked to her about her latest works and how the Irish actress has achieved worldwide success without losing sight of her Tipperary roots.

I know you couldn’t make it to the Berlinale this year but have you attended the festival previously? It has the image of being more low-key than other major festivals, does this affect you?

I’ve never been to the Berlinale, but I’ve filmed in Berlin a few times so I would like to go. I have been to Sundance and was under the impression that was low-key too but it was awful. I thought it’d be independent films, relaxed vibe, all about art. It wasn’t at all. It was making me depressed. I aborted the whole thing on day two and went snowboarding for the rest of the trip.

How did you hear about Hum and what was it about this character that had a draw for you?

I heard about it from my agent and I really liked the writing, I liked it as a short story to read. I was also interested in being alone on camera a lot, not saying much, and thought it would be a good exercise in relaxing as an actor. I’m always drawn to sadness too and I felt that’s what was going on with her. She was down and kind of confused about the world, which happens to me a lot.

It was a very atmospheric film, is this more challenging as an actor?

It was challenging but I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t going to be. It’s not like I was going to make it for the money. I hoped it would come across atmospheric, but sometimes it doesn’t always come out the way you planned. So many things happen in the edit but I guessed from the lighting and the set that what I had imagined in my head was very similar to what Rebecca had going on in hers. I also played certain music to myself on set, to set the mood and remind me of what the tone of the film was, as I’d not much dialogue to work off.

Is it important for you to be involved in projects from Ireland?

Of course it is! I always get paranoid that people think I don’t want to do Irish films anymore, just because I’m working overseas. But that’s not the case at all. Like any project, it just has to be good and there has to be something in it that I want to do – to justify the commitment and energy. A film is forever. I did an Irish film last year called The Runway and loved the script. It was so sweet, funny and innocent and the director, Ian Power, was a joy. I got to see people that I knew in school on the crew, shooting. And to shoot inn my own accent too, it was a dream.

You recently appeared in The Cripple of Inishmaan in New York. How did you find being on stage again?

I always wanted to work with Garry Hynes, so it was so great to finally get that chance. I’ve done Martin McDonagh’s plays a lot before; they’ve totalled three years of my life so far. I love theatre and won’t ever give it up. The play was brilliant, the cast was the best and we were in New York. Living the dream, basically. I was so sad when we finished, I always am.

You’re based over in the states now, what are the advantages?

I moved to New York more for personal reasons. I was in London for 8 years and I was bored of it. I have worked here in New York a lot and have more friends here so I don’t feel as lonely and my mother visits me a lot more too. Work-wise, of course I’ve access to more scripts and Americans are so positive, any day anyone’s life can change. There’s no class system. They love my accent too, which gets me away with murder.

The Tolstoy biopic The Last Station is now being released as a major film with a stellar cast. It’s not your first big role but was it a long process getting to where you are now?

I don’t feel like I’ve gotten anywhere different. It’s still the same me in my head, regardless of my achievements. And I’m not really going to a destination, this is my job, and I’ll be doing it for as long as I can, hopefully. I always think I can do better, but isn’t that the way every artist should be? It is nice to be rewarded for my hard work by getting a great job. The hard work is looking for work, not the actual doing it, that part is just bliss.

Funding has been cut hugely in the last year making it tough on people starting out. Do you think the atmosphere for the arts in Ireland is unyielding?

Of course, just look at our history, always fighting. John McDonagh just recently filmed a great script in Ireland that should do us proud. I’m sure there are loads more too, like Hugh O’ Conor… And there are other art forms that we should be supporting, not just film. There are some great artists, painters, musicians. I love what Lisa Hannigan is doing. I was proud to have someone from Ireland nominated for the Mercury Prize. I am really interested in other art forms, just to get a break from the film industry.

What’s next for you?

All will be revealed in a matter of days. It’s going to be something great. It always is for me anyways.

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