First encounters: Marie Mullen and Garry Hynes

Marie Mullen, an actor from Sligo and a founder of Druid Theatre Company, and Garry Hynes, director and co-founder of Druid, talk of their friendship


Marie Mullen on Garry Hynes
Marie Mullen is
an actor from Sligo and a founder of Druid theatre company. She was presented with a special tribute award at this year’s ‘Irish Times’ theatre awards. She lives with her husband, Seán McGinley , and daughters Róisín and Maireád in Dublin

Garry was so mod in first year in UCG, when we met – she had this big shock of curly hair, a big afro frizz, and she was really confident. She had these striped pants and shoes with points on them, she was like a little leprechaun, her hands sunk deep into her pants, swaggering around. She was formidable, had plenty to say. She was a natural leader, and whatever she wanted to do, she was passionate about. I said yes to Garry for everything.

I auditioned for The Loves of Cass Maguire : there were only two of us for it, myself and a red-haired girl. She had a better accent than me but Garry decided to pick me. She always says, for the sake of enjoyment, that I looked like a big innocent culchie in my Tourmakeady coat.

I knew I wanted to try to be an actor from when I was in secondary school. In school in Tourmakeady, I’d played a 90-year-old man in a one-act play about two old fellas, sitting by the hearth. We had footlights and spotlights, Sr Pius came in and put stubble on us – I loved it.

Back in the summer of 1975, I said yes to putting on Playboy was because I was playing Pegeen. It was great having Mick [Lally] around, the three of us were very close: Garry and Mick were great talkers, interminglers of ideas; I was the listener and loved hearing them talk.

Sometimes Garry says if it wasn’t for the theatre, we wouldn’t be friends. We developed a relationship on stage that carried over into our personal lives. We were both single; I didn’t get married to Seán until I was 38, although I’d been in love with him for 12 years before that. Garry was my bridesmaid and she’s my daughter Róisín’s godmother. She’s seen the girls all through their growing up and she’s a great friend of Seán’s and mine.

Garry and I have a shorthand that people tell us about: we finish each other’s sentences. We’re not really conscious of it. She bounces things off me. I am cautious, I don’t want to stop her doing things, I just want her to think things through.

We have separate private lives, but we’ll call each other whenever, and the conversation picks up where it left off.

I would die for all the Druid people, we’ve been through so much together . . . they’d have my back and I’d have theirs.

I can be difficult in a rehearsal room: I can get upset if I can’t understand a text. Garry’s very patient, she’ll drag me along. It’s because she knows I’m trying to get it right, I’m not being a pain deliberately.

I hope for Garry that she keeps getting bitten by something: once she’s involved in something, once she’s hooked, we’re all in with a chance.

Garry Hynes on Marie Mullen
Garry Hynes was born in
Co Roscommon, moved to Galway when she was 12 and was a found er of Druid theatre company . In 1998, she was the first woman to win a best director Tony award

Marie and I differ on when we first met: we were both in first year archaeology in UCG and Marie says we met then. But my main memory is of meeting her in Dramsoc, of casting her in The Loves of Cass Maguire. It was the autumn of 1971 and we were both 17: I have a very strong memory of Marie wearing her Tourmakeady school coat. I considered myself very trendy and yes, I thought she was a culchie.

We became friendly fairly quickly, were co-conspirators all through college. I’m the one in any situation who gets up and says, “let’s do this”, perhaps without thinking it through. Marie will say, “are you sure?” That’s one of the reasons our relationship works so well. She will always remind me of something I haven’t thought of.

She has an extraordinary theatrical understanding, and having such a close relationship with an actor has given me an understanding of actors generally, an appreciation of their creativity and courage. I can’t imagine anything more awful than walking onto a stage.

We lead separate lives now. Marie’s married, rearing her family. When we’re not working together, it’s not a phone call every day kind of relationship. In the early years of Druid, 1975 to 1981/82, we all were living out of each other’s pockets. For the first couple of months we all shared a house, and then Marie and I shared for a couple of years. But life moves on, people marry, have families – everybody in Druid knew Seán [McGinley] and Marie were getting married before they did.

There’s no need for us to see each other every other week– I know Marie is there the second I need her, and I hope she knows that’s the same for me. I make her laugh, she makes me laugh, and for any friendship to work, that has to happen.

I’ll turn 60 in June, it’s July for Marie. The work we do in something like Druid Murphy is intense, but the sense of common purpose and togetherness you get through doing a major project like this, the energy that that engenders is extraordinary – you truly become more than the sum of your parts.

Marie is extraordinarily generous, warm, and modest, too modest; she can be a diva, too, at times. She puts a smile on people’s faces. We’ve been friends for 40 years. I feel privileged to have that kind of relationship with one individual, it’s been central to my life.

DruidMurphy, a production of plays by Tom Murphy, is on at the Gaiety Theatre until May 11th. A Whistle in the Dark and Conversations on a Homecoming continue on tour until June 22nd,