Hollywood parties? ‘The whole thing would make you sick’
Tipperary woman Kerry Condon's first lead role, in Sharon Horgan’s Women on the Verge, brought new pressures
Kerry Condon: “Sometimes I would scream at everyone, for some sort of attention, and then feel mortified about it”
Kerry Condon’s Los Angeles is not the one we might envisage. There’s not much glitz, glamour or gossip in LA’s countryside, where she now lives, looks after two horses and a dog, and owns a car that’s left purposefully desert-dusty to befuddle the scenesters. When she is pulled into the gravity of Hollywood parties, as last year when she appeared in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri, it’s with a delightful dose of normality.
“Three Billboards parties were easier because I’ve known Martin since I was 17, so it was like going with a friend and we could make it a simple in-and-out thing,” she explains. “But there are a lot of people [at those parties] who are very despicable: not tipping, or barely acknowledging, a waiter, and changing costumes like fucking Judy Garland. The whole thing really would make you sick. But you see that all over the world, not just in Los Angeles.
“I went to one Three Billboards party with one of those stupid clutch bags that fits bloody nothing,” she says. “I couldn’t take my phone with me, I had to hide my house keys because even they wouldn’t fit, and I just took $20 to get me home. But no one was tipping the waiter. I mean, we were getting free everything – you pay for nothing at those parties – and not a single person had tipped the waiter. I felt mortified. So I gave them $20, then realised I had no way to get home.”
What did she do?
“I asked some fella I’d slept with two years ago if he’d give me a ride home. A disaster move. Disaster move.
You’d need only spend five minutes with Condon to realise she’s unlikely to be swayed by prevailing winds. She knows her own mind and is refreshingly direct about what’s in it, making her a riot to talk to, though you’d imagine she may have inadvertently offended a few souls along the way.
Living in LA for the past eight years, the Tipperary native has proved it’s possible to carve out a successful career without playing the fame game. She’s flown under the radar while starring in high-profile productions, thanks to her acting superpower: reimagining her whole person to take on a role, accent included. It wouldn’t click that Frank McCourt’s “first love” in Angela’s Ashes became Mike’s daughter-in-law in Better Call Saul, who both were the single mother Sean Penn befriends in This Must Be the Place, and she was also Octavia the Julii in HBO’s Rome, as well as the creepy Irish vagabond in The Walking Dead, and all of these are the voice of Friday in recent Marvel Studios movies.
The Horgan factor
Women on the Verge – not related to Pedro Almodóvar’s film of the same name – may change her profile. It’s the long-awaited series from Sharon Horgan, who was also responsible for Motherland, Catastrophe and Divorce. Co-writer is Lorna Martin, who wrote the column-turned-book it’s based on, with a touch of Maeve Higgins for added quips.
It follows the lives of three Dublin women – Condon, Nina Sosanya and Eileen Walsh – and a cast of supporting characters such as Horgan herself, Emmett J Scanlan and Jonathan Forbes as the trio grapple with modern-day realities such as less-than-ideal relationships, working in shape-shifting industries and making nice with your co-parent’s new family. It’s as if the Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope girls tried being adults.
“The storylines are believable. It’s not like they’re dressed in designer clothes, with amazing apartments, and they’re complaining about their lives,” Condon says, alluding to the show’s other obvious comparison, Sex and the City.
It doesn’t help comparisons that Condon’s character, Laura Donegan, is a journalist, although she’s charged with the less-than-glam field of obituaries (on Beyoncé: “If she dies before me, I’ll kill myself”; on Gandhi: “I haaate Gandhi”).
Both shows share one thing, however: they both marvellously show off the city they’re set in. A good thing too, as Women on the Verge will air on W in the UK alongside RTÉ here, with other territories in the offing thanks to the show’s universal themes.
“We filmed in Dublin when the heatwave was on,” Condon recalls. “We were really lucky, and it looked glorious, like a Maeve Binchy novel with people jumping off piers and eating ice creams. It was like going back in time to the ’50s.”
Condon was offered the part without auditioning. Horgan kept tabs on her work from a distance after seeing her in a 2005 production of After the End by Horgan’s friend Dennis Kelly, the only time they previously met. The win is all the more impressive as Women on the Verge is Condon’s first lead role, which taught her its added responsibility: setting the on-set tone for other cast members, while dealing with the heaviest workload of them all.
“I tried to be open to running through lines with everybody, even those coming in for a day’s work. But it was very draining. I had so much dialogue and I only had a day off when it was the weekend, when I had to learn lines.
“Sometimes people wanted to chat and I just didn’t have it in me. In a guest role, you’re supposed to just come in, do an amazing job and go home. But I felt there was a little bit more chat.
“I felt guilty about that sometimes, I felt like I was being rude. I still am dealing with the fact I had to just remember it’s not my fucking problem if they think I’m rude. I can’t chit-chat about kids or where I live or this, that and the other. I felt like people thought I was a bitch sometimes. It’s funny, though, because I doubt a leading man ever thinks that.”
Her work ethic was instilled from an early age while growing up in Thurles, where her father bred horses. “We were always encouraged to get up and do stuff – help around the house, ride the horses and look after the animals,” she says. “We were never allowed to loll around in bed.”
It pays off in her performance in this six-part series, but “the more you do, sometimes the less you’re appreciated”, she notes.
“Some days on set I’d find myself going, ‘For fuck’s sake, can I get some fucking compliments?’ I’d get needy because people just presumed, oh, Kerry will come in and be great, so we’re going to pander to this fella who’s coming in for a day and debating about his jacket because he might be cold for a bit, but Kerry will be grand.
“So sometimes I would sort of scream at everyone, for some sort of attention, and then feel mortified about it. At the end of the week I would email the director [Annie Griffin], and say ‘Jesus, Annie, I’m real sorry if I was a grouch’. Friday evenings would be when I’d get grouchy, because I’d be wrecked, so I’d get snappy. But she was nice about it, saying it came with the territory of playing someone ‘on the verge’, who’s a bit unstable and looking for love or confirmation. So I didn’t really care, to be honest with you.”
While there’s much for everyone to identify with in the show, her self-assurance when it comes to her own love life means it’s not an issue she shares with the trio of leading ladies.
“It was easy for me to play, but it’s a different in the sense that I don’t have envy, or I don’t feel there’s a lack [in my life].
“I’ve never had any interest in getting married and I’ve frankly no interest in having children. I have a boyfriend but listen, will he last? Who knows. I don’t get hung up on that. The sex life and love life are part of me as a woman, but there’s loads of other things in my life as well. I’m really good at taking care of my animals, I’ve loads of friends, I’m a good actress. It’s not the be-all and end-all for me.”
Indeed, her animals fulfil her maternal side, she explains, with the caveat that she might well change her mind in the future.
“To me, having a child is such a big, huge responsibility,” she says. “I’d want to do it to the best of my ability, which would mean not being an actress any more. I wouldn’t like my child be with a nanny while I’m at work – I already bawl leaving my Jack Russell when I walk out the door.
“I don’t think you can have it all, and I don’t want it all. It just seems like a really life-changing thing, and I don’t want that.”
Certainly, there’s enough to keep her hands full. She’ll be filming a fifth season of Better Call Saul, and Avengers 4 is coming out next year, too. We’ll also see her in Dreamland alongside Margot Robbie.
But not one to conform, she’s laissez-faire about what the next few months holds.
“I haven’t decided. I might take some time off. Just ride my horses and make soup for the rest of the year,” she muses. She may have meant it in jest but this being Kerry Condon, we know to expect the unexpected.
Women on the Verge begins on RTÉ2 on Thursday, October 11th, at 10.30pm