Her husband may be ‘going out to war’ on the current Lions tour, but that doesn’t faze Amy Huberman, writes Róisín Ingle. The actor, writer and new mum fights her own battles – with humour and a smile
When you tell people you are interviewing Amy Huberman the response, from women anyway, is overwhelmingly positive, bordering on gushing girl-crush territory. “She’s gorgeous and she seems like such a good laugh,” they say. “She’s hilarious on Twitter” or “I’d like to go for a pint with her”.
Then, under their breath, they admit that the actor, author and wife of rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll is one of those women who makes them feel vaguely inadequate and that in darker moments, they long to see a picture of her in a bad tracksuit or have the chance to accidentally on purpose muss up her lovely hair. “But she seems so nice, I couldn’t really do it,” they say and then they get this kind of dreamy look in their eyes and sigh.
Huberman, best known for her roles in The Clinic, Threesome and A Film With Me In It, is the closest thing we have to a national sweetheart. The very notion of this makes her flash that big toothy smile. “I don’t even know what that means,” she eye-rolls. “Anyway, you only ever see the best version of people’s lives, you don’t see their dark secrets.”
Are there people who make her feel inadequate? “I do look at some people and think they seem to have it sorted, but it’s never celebrities, it’s people with ordinary lives, with proper routines, the kind of routine I sometimes crave.”
Her already vagabond existence, the unpredictable and insecure life of a jobbing actor, was shaken up in a new way with the arrival of her and O’Driscoll’s first child, Sadie, who was born on the day of a crucial Ireland v England Six Nations rugby match last February. “Before I had her I thought ‘how hard can it be?’, but it’s a different level of exhaustion,” she says.
When we meet in a Dublin restaurant, Huberman (34) is organising a trip for herself and Sadie to support O’Driscoll – “and let’s be honest about it, to get a bit of sun” – for the second half of the Lions tour of Australia. She can’t wait to go but the logistics of the three-and-a-half-week jaunt, which will take in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, are “frightening”, she says, laughing in that manic way that anybody who has ever travelled with a small baby for the first time will recognise. She has just discovered, for example, that she can’t get the formula Sadie is on in Australia. “So I’m saying to Brian, can you take a box of formula with you with your socks and jocks, and then there’s the sterilising over there and everything .”
There is also the prospect of three weeks home alone without O’Driscoll’s support. “I’m not going to lie, the thought of being on my own is terrifying me,” she says, ordering a spinach and bacon salad. There’s a roster of friends lined up to keep her company and do a bit of baby-holding and there’ll be “a lot of Skyping”.
In the meantime, she needs to make sure the flights she booked are flexible because if O’Driscoll is injured, the plans will change and she might end up not going at all. “They have around 10 games before we get there and it’s a fact that they’ll probably lose around eight players during the tour. It’s like going out to war.”
Huberman grew up in Dublin with her mother, a Wexford woman, and her father, a London-born Jewish “but not religious” fashion designer, who would go to the Bretzel bakery every Sunday for bagels while the rest of the family went to Mass.
She has two brothers, but hers is a “non- sporty” family and Huberman is not really a rugby person. She has a phobia of people chasing her which meant that basketball and hockey never really worked out at school. “I’d give the ball back rather than be chased, which I’m told is not conducive to winning.”
Before he left, O’Driscoll gave her a pop quiz on the players and their positions and she failed miserably. “I have actually had people shout at me at rugby matches ‘waste of a ticket!’ but they were kind of right; I mean, there I am chatting away,” she grins.
Amy “waste of a ticket” Huberman says that as long as she knows what matches O’Driscoll is playing and whether he wins or loses, she feels as though she has done her relationship duty.
When somebody tweeted that the nation should thank @amyhuberman for the fact that O’Driscoll was playing one more year of professional rugby, she was bemused. “It’s not like I gave him permission,” she smiles. “Of course we discussed it, like we would if I had a job, but I’m happy for him, he wasn’t ready to give up yet and he’ll be retired long enough.”
Her own work has taken a back seat since Sadie was born, but, without paid maternity leave, she has been keeping her foot in the door with regular voice-over work.
“It’s great, I just hand the baby to someone, do the job and then I’m gone back home. I won’t be doing any filming for a while though, because it’s 14-hour days and I’m not ready for that, although there’s talk of a third series of Threesome, but later in the year, which suits me.”
This week sees the launch of the paperback edition of her second book, I Wished For You, a tale of a female commitment- phobe turning 30 and questioning what she really wants from life. It’s full of Huberman’s earthy wit and thoroughly researched detail on vintage clothes from the old Hollywood era. “I knew it was going to be a trial writing it in between all the other projects I had going on, so I wanted it to have a subject matter I wanted to keep returning to.”
She loves writing but considers herself an actor first, “although it took me years to call myself that because I didn’t go to drama school and calling myself an actor felt a bit arsey”.
She is typically honest about the rejection and paranoia involved in her chosen career. Last year she went to LA to meet agents and “like something from an amazing dream or a hidden camera show”, by the end of her first week there, she had auditioned for NBC comedy pilot Animal Practice and had been offered the part.
“It was amazing but I was terrified because over there you sign a seven-year contract, and I’d only gone on a 10-day holiday, so I was ringing the husband saying ‘we might have to move to LA’.”
She knew that only one in four pilots actually gets made so she wasn’t overly hopeful. Then it was announced the series was getting the green light – but she was being replaced as the lead. “It was like, you’re in, we think you’re great . . . but not that great.”
She admits it was “harsh” but dealt with it in typical self-deprecating humour on Twitter and people seemed to love her more for it. She has about 95,000 Twitter followers and she is good at delivering entertaining, original tweets. “Someone, a bloke, actually asked me who writes my tweets for me, because you know there’s this stupid idea that girls can’t be funny,” she says, shaking her head.
She’s a fan of Caitlin Moran and went to see her in the National Concert Hall last month. “I love that she has made feminism accessible and funny instead of reductionist and angry. I hate the idea that feminism is a dirty word or that you should be afraid to call yourself one. It’s about saying women are great, it’s not about man-bashing or having hairy legs or refusing to wear make- up. It’s about women having the choice to do what they want and if that’s staying at home minding a baby, then fair play.”
Her role as the wife of a celebrated rugby star has resulted in what Moran would call “some sexism”. “One journalist wrote ‘oh, we don’t want to hear about your career, your life with BOD is much more interesting.’ That just makes me work harder and stick two fingers up and say ‘screw you’. Would you admire me more if I came out in a rugby jersey belted at the waist and just giggled? Eh, no, you wouldn’t.”
For the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, O’Driscoll was otherwise engaged so Huberman attended alone, in a Louise Kennedy creation, thinking “no biggie”. As part of the tight security measures, guests had to bring two bills sent to their home address. The only ones Huberman could find in her name were for a recycling bin and an invoice from pest control.
“So that’s what I showed to get into Westminster Abbey. Everyone else had standing orders from Harrods and there was me – bins and rats. And I wouldn’t mind but I would have seen more at home. I was sitting behind about 70 massive hats and a giant bowl of flowers.”
She is unusual in a celebrity – “I hate that word” – in that she deliberately avoids talking much about Sadie or new motherhood, and you shouldn’t expect to see a carefully staged family photo shoot appearing in VIP any time soon – or ever. It is a deliberate strategy, this setting of boundaries to protect her family’s private space.
“You don’t want people thinking you are precious, but before I met Brian I didn’t need to think about any of this, nobody was interested, nobody cared, so when people did start to care, I panicked a little bit.”
Initially, she was insecure about saying no to various media requests that she felt overstepped the mark. “Now I apologise far less. It works for some people, they don’t mind their children being part of it all and that’s fine, but I just think it’s very hard to come back from that once you go there.”
It’s not that she wants to deny her daughter’s existence. “She’s an amazing part of our life and we’re so proud to have her, but Sadie doesn’t have a choice in all this so let’s keep her out of it. It’s not cloak-and- dagger, but I like that nobody has really seen her yet and that we are keeping this part of our life to ourselves.” And with that, Huberman checks her Twitter feed, gets some spinach out of her teeth and is on her way.
The paperback edition of I Wished For You by Amy Huberman is out now