Explain a little about Derry Girls.
It’s about teenagers growing up during the Troubles and … There are moments where the backdrop being the Troubles is where the humour comes from in the show.
You play Orla. She’s a little bit different to say the least?
Yeah! I would describe her as being very free. She has no inhibitions. She doesn’t stop herself from thinking. She doesn’t judge herself or others and I think she’s a really lovely character.
Is it fun playing someone who is so different from the norm?
Yeah, it’s very fun. Lisa and Mike are very kind in letting me play. I think with all of us we get to play so much and obviously in particular for me I have no worries in the world. Even the trouble we get into I find the enjoyment in it. So, it’s incredibly fun. It’s fun to eat sweets all day! It’s great.
The first series was an absolutely phenomenal success. When did you realise it was going to be a hit?
I think honestly probably when it was a hit. I know with so many things it can go either way. I knew it would be a hit in Ireland as soon as I read the script. It’s so brilliant and I think the success is really down to the script and to Lisa. But I didn’t know it would reach everybody outside of Ireland. I didn’t know they’d be able to laugh because the jokes seem so detailed for us. It was a surprise! It was a real surprise but a welcome surprise and I’m so happy for Lisa and everyone.
Back home it’s been the most extraordinary success. It’s been the most watched show ever in Northern Ireland. Why do you think that was? Everybody likes watching where they’re from on TV but it’s more than that, isn’t it?
Yeah, I think it is more than that. We hit a sweet spot with all the elements: 90s, for one, people find it very cool right now, the music and the clothes; and everything that was done aesthetically, and the way it was shot. It’s beautiful. And the fact that it’s a female led comedy. This season we have 11 women talking roles in one scene. I don’t think that’s ever been done before in a comedy. That’s amazing. That’s been a real pull. I think it’s just fun and a breath of fresh air.
Do you think it’s important for people from Northern Ireland that this is a show about the area that emphasises the normality of people and so on?
Yeah, yeah, and how strong everybody was at that time, and the kids, and the bravery, they knew no better. Definitely. I think it’s great for Northern Ireland. I’m so glad that Derry in particular and the whole of Northern Ireland and Ireland have taken to it because it could have gone the other way. That would have been awful!
When you say it could have gone the other way, was there a part of you that was worried it could have been controversial?
No, not at all. That’s one of the great things about Lisa as well – she gets it so right in terms of the line. People have been offended very little. Even though it seems rather offensive, I don’t know how she does it, but she gets it right on the line. I knew from the scripts that it was going to… I knew at home it would go down well and wouldn’t be called controversial, but I’m also delighted that everybody else, in the States and everybody, enjoy it. It’s great.
You mentioned the States – you guys are Netflix stars, aren’t you?
We’re Netflix stars, yeah! I was just in New York and people were coming up to us. That was a very bizarre thing. People don’t even come up to me in Dublin.
Really, people were coming up to you?
Yeah in New York because I think it just came out on Netflix. Very weird feeling. It’s great it’s going down well over there. I hear they need subtitles!
I heard the same, I love that! It must be a pretty weird experience particularly back home where so many people are going to recognise you. Does it help that as a cast you’re all going through this experience together.
Absolutely, oh my God, definitely. Definitely. It’s so great to have them in that respect. We all started in similar places. It’s great. We were there in Derry and we just couldn’t stop smiling. We were the Beatles for three days while we were filming this time around. The response at home, it is weird but as well we Irish people handle it as kind of like, you know, pat on the back. They don’t like too much of a fuss!
Obviously the five of you have got really close and love working together. Tell me a little about working with the cast who play the generation up from you guys.
It’s just amazing really. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t learnt from each of them. Like Tara Lynn and Kathy… I mean Kathy Kiera Clarke, who plays my mum, I’m so close to her and she’s just incredible. Those two women are just incredible to work with and I’ve learnt so much from both of them. Obviously, Tommy Tiernan has been a hero growing up, and Ian McElhinney the same. So, it’s really amazing to work with such incredible actors.
A big part of the show is the music. Are you a fan of 90s music?
It’s great. I think that’s really one of the great things about the show.
You played a pivotal role in the brilliant ending to the last series. That’s just been voted TV Moment of the Year by Radio Times readers. How does that feel?
Amazing! That is amazing. It’s really special. I remember reading that for the first time and being quite nervous. I thought “Oh gosh I’m going to have to get this right because I don’t want to ruin the beautiful writing!” But yeah, it’s a great moment. I cried the first time I watched it on television. It’s beautifully moving and that is all Lisa.
Saoirse says that they had seen you spend a lot of time practicing your dance.
I was, every time… I really wanted to get it right. I was just terrified. I actually turned into Orla because I knew how the scene was going to intercut with the adults in front of the television. I practiced a hell of a lot and made the girls practice with me. It was very intense. But yeah, TV moment of the year! So hard work paid off.
What was it about that scene that made it so powerful? Why did it strike such a chord with people?
I think because of the contrast with the kids having no cares in the world and the reality of what’s actually going on so close to home is why it struck such a chord. And also, I think where we are now.
Where do we pick up the gang in series two?
We pick by meeting a group of Protestant boys and I suppose we’re up to our old antics. That’s where we begin.
When you had to get up and perform it in front of a large number of extras, does that make it more nerve wracking?
Yeah but great! It was quite real in that respect. The extras as well, what often bothers me is they are often the age we’re meant to be playing. But I think it probably helped me feel more odd and Orla like.