From the southside to the dark side

Fri, Mar 18, 2011, 00:00

For the taut Irish thriller Rewind, Amy Huberman took a risk by playing a dark central role. She tells TARA BRADYabout holding her own in a room of men, being an anti-Wag and – most dauntingly – attempting ‘the accent down the road’

REFORMED addict Karen is a happy housefrau with a picture-perfect husband, an adorable tot and a suburban address when, without warning, her ex, Karl, shows up. A bona fide scumbag from Karen’s colourful past, he’s not leaving without her. Trouble ensues.

As Rewind, a taut, effective thriller from director PJ Dillon heats up, everyone on screen is required to get in touch with his or her inner bunny-boiler.

But wait. Isn’t that Allen Leech, the loveable cheeky chap from Cowboys and Angels, essaying the menacing Karl? It gets weirder. Amy Huberman – yes that Amy Huberman – plays the deceptively passive heroine, a character defined by desperation and traces of a low-born accent.

Huh? Isn’t she supposed to be a nice, middle-class girl? Isn’t she supposed to be the Nation’s Sweetheart? “It would have been easier and less daunting to play an American or Australian,” laughs the actor. “But when you’re doing the accent from down the road it’s terrifying. Especially when the film is for an Irish market. And especially when everybody knows you as a little southside girl. Talk about setting yourself up. The first day on set I felt like bricks were coming out of my mouth.”

She got better. Indeed, much of Rewind’s impact is derived from Huberman’s inverted Eliza Doolittle, a role she regards as the most significant in her career thus far.

“It was such a departure for me from anything I’ve done. I was so excited about going in to it. People keep asking me if I was out of my comfort zone, but I was more in my comfort zone than ever. I wanted the challenge. I wanted to test myself. This is what I’m supposed to be doing . . . Hang on.” She daintily leaps to her feet and runs to assist a waiter juggling a tray at the door.

They don’t call her Little Miss Sunshinefor nothing. Polite, impeccably presented and so very petite – can I take her home to my doll’s house, please? – Amy Huberman can likely be found in the phonebook under Well Brought Up. She rattles out words in her little songbird voice at a spectacular rate, yet fails to say anything remotely improper. She’s friendly and says “aw” a lot while maintaining a decorum that would put Audrey Hepburn to shame.

She is, to ply an archaic notion, ladylike.

That figures. She is the only daughter and middle child of Harold (who was born into London’s Polish Jewish community) and Sandra (from Wexford), and was raised in Cabinteely, surrounded by such genteel pursuits as pony riding and ballet.

“I only did ballet at school – reluctantly – because everybody else was doing it,” she says. “I am quite a girlie girl. But at the same time Brian often says it would take an awful lot to shock me. I can hold my own in a room of men. I don’t think anybody ever thinks ‘Oh, we can’t talk about that because Amy’s here’. So there must be a streak of tomboyishness in there.”

Brian, for anyone who has recently returned from a distant galaxy, is Brian O’Driscoll, the Irish rugby captain and Amy’s husband since last July. Prior to their much-googled society wedding, Huberman was already something of a recognisable household brand thanks to a regular role on RTÉ’s The Clinic. That didn’t amount to anything like adequate preparation for the scrunity of life as Mrs Captain Ireland.

“It’s not something I’d ever have signed up for, but it comes with the territory. The interest never fails to surprise me. Most people are lovely to us, and getting snapped going to the shops thankfully doesn’t happen too often. We do everything we can to ignore it and to protect the things and people that matter to us. I only talk to press for work. But it’s just a little inconvenience. It’s not the be-all and end-all. We kind of have a laugh about it. It won’t always be like this.”

We suspect her husband is right; there is something unflappable about Huberman. She smoothes down her leopard-print skirt, as if to prove the point, and points beyond the window where we’re sitting in the Shelbourne Hotel.

“I had a little Marilyn moment on the way here,” she smiles. “The dress went right up as I was crossing the road. I had to have a quick look around. ‘Please don’t let there be a photographer. Think I’m okay. Phew. Keep moving. Keep moving’.”

Taking on the radical career departure required by Rewind,she says, was not necessarily guided by a need to “prove something”. She admits, however, that her marital status has provided her with an additional impetus to succeed.

“It does make you want to make something of yourself. You don’t want to be seen as a fluffy wag.”

She has loved drama since she first took classes at Betty Ann Norton Drama School. Acting did not initially appeal as a profession, however.

“I was never a stage brat. I was insanely giddy as a kid – my mom used to call me The Foghorn – but not precocious. It was never about trying to be in movies or the glitzy side of things. I just loved doing workshops with my brother. I loved getting medals for reading your little poem at speech and drama exams. I loved being creative. It was all the small things that won me over.”

She read social studies at UCD but inevitably fell in with DramSoc. By the time she completed her Master’s programme in media studies she had already landed a recurring role on the domestic GAA drama On Home Ground. Her brother Mark, meanwhile, had embarked on his own thespian career with work on Band of Brothersand Pure Mule.

“Even at university I never thought of it as a viable profession. I thought people who were actors had to go to drama school, and I knew I wasn’t going to do that. It was too huge an expense to ask my parents to cover. But then my brother came out of Trinity with a science degree and became an actor. So that got me thinking.”

Were her parents concerned that they might have two adult dependents on their hands? “I know! Are you proud mom and dad? It can be hard on them because jobs aren’t always there, and you have to move around. But as long as we had an education and as long as myself and Mark are happy, they’re happy. Dad comes from a job where he worked for himself. He was a designer. So we’re used to the idea of going it alone. We weren’t hippies, but in our house there was certainly an ethos of go out there and try it.”

After university she moved to London where, between jobs, she kept herself occupied by writing Hello Heartbreak, her debut novel. Living outside the country at the moment when we all got together and decided that Ireland really, really hearts rugby, she scarcely knew who O’Driscoll was when they first hooked up in 2007.

“Art and sport are very different worlds,” she says

If Rewindwas a gamble for a woman whose name is on the guest list for Will’s and Kate’s royal wedding bash, it’s one that has paid off rather handsomely. Her unrecognisably dark central turn has already won her an Ifta and a constellation of glittering reviews. She is just happy to see the film finally making it in to multiplexes, however.

“It’s such a relief. We shot this two years ago. But it’s so hard for Irish films. It’s hard to get them made. And it’s even harder getting them released. It’s an uphill struggle. And it’s such a pity, because I love Irish films.”

In particular? “No. Probably not. I love thrillers and comedies and period drama. I leave almost every movie thinking ‘I loved that’. I’m easily pleased.”

She’s keen to get back to writing, and has her “fingers and toes crossed” for a recently completed UK comedy pilot, but between radio, TV, charity work and being Mrs O’Driscoll, her life is “completely mental”.

“I have no routine any more. This week I was out at a radio play, then down in Limerick for Concern. It’s all go. And I love it. But it was a lot easier to write when I had nothing to do and my head was a bit less frenetic.”

She has, moreover, certain wifely duties to attend to. “I’m wagging it this weekend. I’m going to Cardiff. Where are my pom poms?”

Is it not as glamorous as it looks? “Er. No. We’re there in jeans and runners. No boxes and sunglasses for us. The girls are so lovely. It’s always a really fun weekend.” That all sounds disappointingly unwaggerly.

“I know,” she says. “I’m a failed wag. The tanning thing doesn’t work for me. I’m not using a sunbed; they’re so creepy. And when I’ve had the fake tan done I look mental. Fake lashes make my eyes water and every time I put them damn things on I can feel my head dipping with the weight.”

It’s a good thing she can act.

Rewindopens next Friday (March 25)

Rewind the tape The different faces of Amy Huberman

By the time she completed her Master’s programme in media studies she had already landed a recurring role on the
domestic GAA drama On Home Ground 

Prior to her society wedding, Huberman was already a recognisable household brand thanks to a regular role on RTÉ’s The Clinic