Big break: Jessica Re­gan on her act­ing break­through

It’s an usual plot for a Com­edy – when a man re­fuses to have treat­ment for can­cer, his friends kid­nap him and force him to have Chemo. Ill Be­hav­iour airs on BBC to­mor­row – with UCC grad­u­ate Jessica Re­gan in a star­ring role. Jen­nifer Re­gan meets the risin

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

“My par­ents have al­ways nur­tured and en­cour­aged any in­ter­est I had. I think they were glad that I was go­ing to study and train and take it se­ri­ously

Let’s be hon­est, the word ‘can­cer’ isn’t ex­actly syn­ony­mous with ‘com­edy’. How­ever, Sam Bain writer and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the new BBC/Fudge Park se­ries Ill Be­hav­iour care­fully ex­e­cutes an in­con­gru­ously themed plot with a stel­lar cast.

The re­sult is a funny, provoca­tive and sus­pense-driven story about three friends who em­bark on a jour­ney that takes them to the ex­tremes of their friend­ship.

Ir­ish ac­tress Jessica Re­gan stars as Tess in the three part darkly comic thriller which pre­miered on BBC iPlayer last month al­low­ing UK res­i­dents to binge watch all three hour-long episodes much to the dis­may of those of us who can’t ac­cess BBC IPlayer on this side of the pond.

The good news is Ir­ish au­di­ences will be able to watch the show this week­end on BBC Two, which also stars Lizzy Ca­plan (Freaks and Geeks, Mean Girls and Masters of Sex), Chris Geere (You’re the Worst, Water­loo Road) and Tom Riley (The Col­lec­tion, Da Vinci’s Demons).

The story re­volves around Char­lie (Tom Riley) who is di­ag­nosed with Hodgkin’s Lym­phoma. He is young and healthy, the can­cer has been caught early and the prog­no­sis is good. Char­lie, how­ever is sus­pi­cious of con­ven­tional med­i­cal treat­ment and re­fuses chemo­ther­apy in favour of an al­ter­na­tive all-nat­u­ral ap­proach.

When his old­est friends Joel (Chris Geere) and Tess (Jessica Re­gan) fear he’s writ­ten his own sui­cide note, they hold him hostage and ad­min­is­ter chemo­ther­apy them­selves with the help of Na­dia (Lizzy Ca­plan), a sex ad­dicted al­co­holic on­col­o­gist, with a pen­chant for co­caine.

Born in Kilkenny, ac­tress Jessica Re­gan was raised in Tip­per­ary where she first dab­bled in youth the­atre un­der (the late) Mary Cum­mins. Her ap­petite for per­for­mance was fur­ther whet­ted when she per­formed with The Gra­nary The­atre as an arts stu­dent at UCC.

Since grad­u­at­ing from the pres­ti­gious Royal Academy of Dra­matic Arts (RADA) in 2007 her the­atre cred­its in­clude shar­ing the stage with Jeremy Irons in Long Day’s Jour­ney into Night at the Bris­tol Old Vic The­atre along with nu­mer­ous per­for­mances at The Na­tional The­atre in Lon­don. Her TV cred­its in­clude roles in pop­u­lar TV dra­mas Silent

Wit­ness and Call the Mid­wife.

This au­tumn, Jessica will fea­ture in the up­com­ing fe­male-led com­edy se­ries Nowhere Fast (RTÉ/Dead­pan pic­tures), writ­ten by and star­ring Ali­son Spit­tle and di­rected by Si­mon Gib­ney on RTÉ 2.

Her first ma­jor TV break­out role was play­ing Dr Ni­amh Donoghue in BBC One’s day­time med­i­cal drama Doc­tors, for which she won the Best New­comer Award at the 2015 Bri­tish Soap Awards.

While at The Gra­nary The­atre in Cork, Jessica per­formed a one woman show The

Yel­low Wall­pa­per (based on the novella by Char­lotte-Perkins Gil­man) di­rected by Cal Dug­gan and this, she says was the cat­a­lyst in her de­ci­sion to pur­sue act­ing as a ca­reer

“It was quite late in the day. I was about 20 at the time. It wasn’t re­ally un­til after The

Yel­low Wall­pa­per that I be­gan to think maybe I could do this for a liv­ing.

“I wasn’t sure if I had the abil­ity or the stom­ach for act­ing and The Yel­low Wall­pa­per helped me to fig­ure that out.” When Jessica told her par­ents that she was con­sid­er­ing ap­ply­ing for RADA, she says they weren’t sur­prised,

“In fair­ness to my par­ents, they’ve al­ways re­ally nur­tured and en­cour­aged any in­ter­est I had. I think they were glad that I was go­ing to study and train and take it se­ri­ously.

“It was ac­tu­ally kind of sur­real to go from pulling pints in Cork and do­ing a bit of stage man­ag­ing to all of a sud­den liv­ing in Lon­don.

“I made amaz­ing friends in UCC so I had a good nose for good peo­ple and Lon­don has been very good to me over the years in terms of op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Jessica is can­did when it comes to the pre­car­i­ous na­ture of the busi­ness but be­lieves that au­then­tic­ity and hard graft are skills that gen­er­ate fur­ther work.

“I mean, I’ve had long pe­ri­ods of un­em­ploy­ment and have had some suc­cess. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced both. When you are do­ing a job, you are au­di­tion­ing for the next job. If you are gen­uine, work hard and make your­self an as­set, work will breed work and that is the only way it be­comes sus­tain­able.”

BAFTA award win­ning writer Sam Bain (co-cre­ator of Peepshow) worked briefly with Jessica back in 2008 when she had a small role in one episode.

Her route to Ill Be­hav­iour be­gan when he in­vited her to come along to a read­ing for a new show he was writ­ing which un­for­tu­nately for Jessica had been al­ready cast.

Jessica duly agreed and re­calls hav­ing a great time with the other cast mem­bers around the ta­ble.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, she was of­fered an au­di­tion for the role of IT nerd Tess in the up­com­ing se­ries,

“Sam wanted me to think the part was cast al­ready so that I would be re­laxed. Peo­ple ask, ‘is it ever okay to lie?’ I can tell you, yes it is!

“I was never hap­pier to be played be­cause I walked in to that read­ing all ‘you’re wel­come!’ as op­posed to go­ing along with the need to im­press. I was al­most ob­nox­iously ca­sual that day,” she laughs

Jessica says she is very grate­ful to Sam Bain for the op­por­tu­nity to play Tess and is de­lighted to be part of the se­ries par­tic­u­larly as she agrees with the story’s stand­point on can­cer treat­ment,

“I be­lieve in sci­ence and medicine. Yes of course, I think any­thing that makes a pa­tient feel better or boosts their men­tal well­be­ing, by all means go for it but you can­not cure can­cer with car­rot juice. You just can’t.”

Through re­search­ing the role, Jessica was shocked to learn from an on­col­o­gist that a num­ber of pa­tients reg­u­larly turn down chemo­ther­apy treat­ment on the NHS,

“It is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand be­cause with the NHS, treat­ment is free. In the US un­less you have in­sur­ance which costs thou­sands of dol­lars, you won’t get treat­ment. So I found that quite chill­ing.

“At the same time, the se­ries doesn’t shy away from the toll that the ef­fect of chemo­ther­apy takes. Chemo­ther­apy is in­cred­i­bly ex­haust­ing and tough on pa­tients.”

The tu­mul­tuous na­ture of her re­la­tion­ship with on-screen best friend Joel is what pro­pelled Tess for­ward as a char­ac­ter, says Jessica.

“So much of Tess comes from the dy­namic be­tween the char­ac­ters Tess and Joel. Tess loves Joel so much but he drives her ab­so­lutely in­sane so there is that ten­sion of ‘I’m mad about you! You’re won­der­ful but I’m so an­gry at you all the time’. I think we’ve all been furious with peo­ple we care deeply about so that was great to tap in to.”

Jessica says she didn’t have to ‘dig deep’ to play the cardi­gan-wear­ing bur­geon­ing sci-fi nov­el­ist Tess as the sharply comic writ­ing spoke for it­self.

So, how much like her char­ac­ter Tess is Jessica?

“So­cially I’m prob­a­bly more con­fi­dent than Tess but in­ter­nally I’m more like her. I can be in a room and feel like an ab­so­lute bog mon­ster or some­thing but out­wardly I’ll be hold­ing court in a glam­orous dress!

“Tess is much more than a fe­male side­kick and I felt like I re­ally wanted to get her right.”

Jessica’s role as Dr Ni­amh Dono­hue on

Doc­tors in­formed the more tech­ni­cal as­pects of her per­for­mance on Ill Be­hav­iour.

“Work­ing on a show like Doc­tors which turns out so many episodes will just stand to you in any tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity.

“You are used to be­ing pres­sured for time and get­ting things done swiftly and ef­fi­ciently. You tend to go on set with the bulk of the work done.”

Jessica says she owes her suc­cess to hard work, per­se­ver­ance and sur­round­ing her­self with like-minded peo­ple,

“It’s im­por­tant to find your tribe and stick with those you feel se­cure around. Some say you find out who your true friends are when the chips are down but I think the same can be said when things are go­ing well.

“Mis­ery loves com­pany and some­times it’s eas­ier for peo­ple to be there for you when you’re not fly­ing high”

Jessica hopes that Ir­ish view­ers will en­joy watch­ing Ill Be­hav­iour as much as she en­joyed work­ing on the se­ries,

“It’s just a great yarn. I hope that view­ers laugh, feel the stakes and feel em­pa­thy with the char­ac­ters.

At the end of each hour-long episode, no one can pre­dict what’s next and that’s what makes it ex­cit­ing.”

Ill Be­hav­iour starts to­mor­row on BBC Two at 10pm

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