Jamie-Lee O’Donnell interview (who plays Michelle)

Category: Interview

Explain a little about Derry Girls.

Derry Girls is a coming of age story about a group of friends who are finding their way through life and their teenage years in the backdrop of the Troubles. It’s a fun-filled comedy. We have lots of laughs and a lot of important relationships.

You play Michelle – she’s a force of nature isn’t she?

I’d say so, yes!

Explain a little bit more about her.

Michelle really thinks she’s maybe just a bit too big for the place she was born in and she’s ready to take on the world one swearword at a time. She’s really feisty, really ballsy, doesn’t really care about authority, just sort of up for anything and up for a laugh.

The first series was a phenomenal success. When did you realise it was going to be a hit?

After the first episode came out, the response it got right away. Even in the adverts, after the first half of the first episode, the response was unbelievable on social media and stuff like that. That’s usually the way people give feedback so after the first episode people took it to heart really quickly and loved it.

In particular the response was extraordinary back home, wasn’t it?

It was huge, people absolutely loved it.

Do you find you get recognised everywhere when you go home?

Yes I get recognised all the time. Every day.

What’s that like, getting used to?

It’s strange, it’s quite strange. It’s nice when people love the show and want to chat about it, but it’s something that takes some getting used to, people knowing your name and who you are.

When the show went out were you worried it might prove controversial back home?

No, not really, not at all. Lisa’s written it so brilliantly, and portrayed the relationships so brilliantly, I had absolutely no worries at all. I just hoped people would like it as much as we enjoyed making it. I’ve no negative thoughts about it at all. Lisa had done such a good job and I really enjoyed making it, so I had no worries about it.

Did you do anything by way of research? Did you talk to family and friends who had been through that whole time?

It’s such a known thing in Derry. Kids born here two years ago know about the Troubles. It’s not that long ago in history that it happened and people went through it. You don’t need to do any research because the stories are always there. Everyone knows all about it. People have heard it passed down from generations, even before the Troubles. Kids as I say born a couple years ago will know about it in their lifetime. They’ll understand it and have the background as well. It was only a couple of decades ago, it’s not like it was the 1800s. You don’t have to go into the archives to find out. Because people are still living who went through it.

The show is now on Netflix internationally – how does that feel?

I’m really proud of it. It seems to be going down well. I’m just delighted that a show, such a female-lead comedy and about Derry, is doing well across the world. It’s amazing.

You’re from Derry yourself. Does that help? Do you think people from Derry have a particular sense of humour or specific characteristics?

I think people in Derry do. Probably extended across the whole of Ireland I imagine. It’s very much tongue in cheek and seeing the silver lining, seeing the good in things. It’s a sense of humour to pull you through and get you through difficult times and finding humour in places that aren’t necessarily funny at first glance. I think that’s very much Derry humour. Humour is almost like a coping mechanism and everybody’s up for having a bit of craic to try and pull through and see the brighter side of things.

Is the town very proud of the show?

Yes, very much so. Everyone’s really delighted with it as far as I’m aware.

Michelle isn’t exactly welcoming to James. Do you think there’s any affection lurking underneath it all?

The thing is, Michelle she comes across like… he’s obviously this massive inconvenience in her life, I suppose, especially in series one when everybody gets a Ukrainian to live in the house except Michelle, because James took up the spare bedroom. So, he is an inconvenience in her life, I suppose. But I think she does love him. I think all the characters do love James. But it’s tough love, they’re trying to toughen him up. If he’s going to live in Derry and go forward being one of the Derry Girls, it’s tough love that they give him. I think she thinks she’s doing him a massive favour by toughening him up and trying to get him used the ways of the world in Derry as opposed to England.

Where you anything like Michelle as a teenager?

Not really. She’s pretty out there. She’s pretty boisterous and pretty crazy. I can’t believe somebody being still in school and not listening to any rules and setting things on fire. I wouldn’t have been that mad.  I don’t think anybody was. I would have been quite outspoken but was nowhere near as mad as Michelle.

The show is full of music from the 90s. Do you like the music? Do you listen to it to get into character?

I definitely do love the music. The soundtrack is fantastic, it really is. Definitely the music I’m in to. We listen to music throughout filming and stuff as well – Nicola had a Derry Girls soundtrack she made on her Spotify while we were filming season one. So, it was always good to get into that and have a wee bit of craic.

The last scene of the last series had an incredible impact and won the Radio Times award for TV Moment of the Year. What did you think of it? Why do you think it had such an impact?

I think it was so poignant for what was going on at the time and so important. I think out of the entire series, with the Troubles being the backdrop and everyone being able to get through and get on with their lives and push through and find the silver lining and find the good in the bad, I think that was the point where there was the realisation that the Derry Girls were living in a bit of a warzone and it was difficult at times and sometimes you couldn’t avoid it. Because that’s in the backdrop with the fresh new hope of the young people dancing and enjoying themselves, the juxtaposition of those two scenes was so interesting and so important historically and what it means to be from Derry.

Can you tell us anything about season two? Is it true it’s moving towards the period of the ceasefire and the Clintons’ visit?

Yes, the Clintons visit Derry. I think it’s just with season two everyone’s really gotten into the characters from season one, so I think Lisa sort of hit the ground running with everybody and it just sort of jumps straight in back where we left off with all the madness and the banter and the good times with the girls and the family. I suppose there’s just plenty of madness through the six episodes.