Charlie Murphy: from Love/Hate to zen
As she gears up for a Christmas reunion with her extended family back in her native Wexford, Charlie Murphy pauses to chat about a ridiculously busy year
Charlie Murphy knows the Christmas drill: “Too many tins of Roses. Sweating in your jumper. Watching an old film on TV. Popping over to different people. Kettle is always on.
Run over the road to the pub. Days of eating cold turkey and ham. I love it! I love it so much. I love that part between Christmas and New Years. Can’t wait.”
As she gears up for an extended family reunion back in Wexford, she’s currently trying to figure out what to get all of her nieces and nephews: “When I was young I thought I would always know what kids were into. But no.”
Coming to the end of a ridiculously busy year, she has, one feels, earned those Roses. 2014 marked her first time treading the boards at the Abbey since her star-making turn as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, a role that won the Best Actress gong at The Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2011. She returned to the national theatre to take her place in a dysfunctional family comprising Sinéad Cusack and Ciarán Hinds. The triumvirate juggle dark secrets in playwright Mark O’Rowe’s brilliant, coruscating Our Few and Evil Days.
She clasps her hands together in delight: “I gobbled that script up!” she cries. “I couldn’t stop reading it. Such a treat. An amazing treat.”
I wouldn’t have cared to live in that house every night, I note. “No. No. But it was a lovely atmosphere,” protests Charlie. “It was a very happy experience with a lovely combination of easy-going people. No tensions whatsoever.”
She laughs: “No drama.”
She is rather a cool customer herself. Although she’s in her late twenties, she might easy pass for a teenager, an aspect that may not be unrelated to her laidback manner and laissez faire philosophy. No one with her kind of Zen is going to get worry lines: “It’s like having done an addition and you’re waiting for a call. If you make that call to find out what is going on, it’s not going to change the outcome. You can’t fret.”
But it is a famously insecure profession, right?
“Oh yeah. You never know. You always hope. You always wonder what’s next or about the shape of your career. Where you want to go? What doors will open? But those thoughts drive you forwards. You can’t sit on your laurels. You need to graft and chase.”
On her birth certificate, it says Charlotte, and although she says she has never had any tomboy tendencies to speak of, she’s always felt more comfortable as a Charlie: “Never girlie. Never boyish. Right in the middle.”
She grew up in Wexford between two playhouses – the Dún Mhuire theatre and the Wexford Opera House – and six siblings. She’s number four but she never felt like a middle child: “We were like two little families because there’s a five year gap between the first three and us. But since we all reached our twenties that gap isn’t as noticeable.”
Her dad is a Christian pastor but her religious upbringing has had no impact on her career choices: “It has never stopped me from doing anything,” she says. “I just chase good stories and see where that takes me. And sometimes good stories are darker stories. But that’s good too.”
Her first stage appearance came in an imaginative play written by a teacher at primary school.“I was Jane Fonda, ” she laughs. “I came on stage and did a few jumping jacks. It was a fairy story but with lots of other characters. So there was Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And there was St Patrick. I was St Patrick’s fitness instructor.”
She found herself gravitating toward local theatre groups, notably the Bare Cheek Theatre Company, who introduced her to more experimental material. She was particularly enamoured with the work of Sarah Kane and Enda Walsh.
“Plays like Disco Pigs and 4.48 Psychosis are my first loves. Because I was introduced to those when I was a teenager I have always felt something special for that kind of work and for those kind of weird worlds. It doesn’t have to be a drama. It can be a dark comedy. Or any kind of comedy. But I love the unusual.”
Lately Charlie Murphy’s unusual stories have included Happy Valley, arguably the best new BBC drama of the year, in which she plays a kidnap victim. Between that and the shoot of ‘71, a thriller set at the height of civil tensions in Belfast, the actor spent more than eight months in the north of England in 2014. It gave her a chance to catch up on old TV favourites: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and “Anything on National Geographic.”
Still, that’s a lot of time to spend among red bricks. So how did it come to pass that first time Parisian-born director Yann Demange managed to nab most of the cast of Love/Hate for a period film set in Belfast but mostly shot in Sheffield? Easy, says Charlie: “It’s true. It’s his first film. And I had no idea what he was going to be like to work with. But I completely fell in love with his incredible presence and energy. He captured something that I’d never seen before. The film is just relentless. The action. The adventure. So exciting.”
Right now, London is home: “It’s where I pay rent and its where all my stuff is,” smiles Charlie. But work commitments have allowed the actor to be back in Ireland during the broadcast of Love/Hate’s fifth season. It’s the first time she’s got to experience the hoopla around the RTÉ show that won her an IFTA in 2012.
“It’s been a real novelty seeing the boys while it’s on TV,” she says. “Because I’m always working away. And people are really sweet. They shout: ‘Careful now’ at you on the street. It’s always in good fun.”
Our meeting took place before the bloody season five finale of Love/Hate in which her character Siobhán, who turned Garda informant, appears to have been shot dead along with her uncle Nidge. When asked about the rumours about a Love/Hate movie, she coolly gives nothing away about Siobhán’s fate.“A movie would be interesting. But who is to say? Not us. We’re always the last ones to know.”