‘I’m a strong per­son but very soft un­der­neath’

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - INTERVIEW -

Vivi­enne Con­nolly re­turns as schem­ing man-eater In­grid in ‘Fair City’ next week. She tells Barry Egan about act­ing, age­ing and life af­ter di­vorce

THE bitch is back. Strong wom­anc um- ma­nip­u­la­tive man- eater In­grid Glee­son is about to re­turn to Fair City af­ter a five-year ab­sence. The long-run­ning RTE soap rang Vivi­enne Con­nolly in April to ask about her avail­abil­ity and in­ter­est in re­vis­ing the role. The phone call came on the day of her son Ben Ju­nior’s Con­fir­ma­tion — his grand­fa­ther is Ben Dunne. “And it was funny be­cause Katie,” Vivi­enne says re­fer­ring to her other child by ex-hus­band, su­per­mar­ket heir Mark Dunne, “had only said a cou­ple of weeks be­fore that she’d love it if I was back on Fair City as she was so young the last time and wasn’t al­lowed to watch it.”

“I was on Fair City in 2011 and 2012,” says Vivi­enne. “I come back for a while to stir things up. I can’t say much more than that at the mo­ment! You’ll have to tune in,” she laughs.

How did In­grid ac­quire the rep­u­ta­tion as a wicked, schem­ing hussy?

“I think be­cause she was hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with an­other guy, and then came back and took Louie, her ex, back from Carol, broke up their mar­riage at the al­tar — and headed back to Amer­ica with him. That will prob­a­bly do it ev­ery time!”

Act­ing came to her ini­tially. In 1997, Vivi­enne, who was then one of Ireland’s fore­most models, was work­ing on The Late Late Show fash­ion awards.

“The cam­era­man on the show, Tim Law­less, was friends with Bren­dan O’car­roll, and Bren­dan was do­ing a play called The Course and he was look­ing for some­one to play a cer­tain role and Tim sug­gested me for it.”

Vivi­enne au­di­tioned for the part and got it. “We played in The Olympia for six weeks and then in the Ev­ery­man in Cork. It was great fun.”

De­spite this, Vivi­enne left act­ing “for a while” (ac­tu­ally a decade) as she was mak­ing more money modelling. She took it up again in 2009, train­ing with The Ir­ish Film Academy with Rachel Sarah Mur­phy and then in­ten­sive train­ing with Terry Mcma­hon and David Scott. It was in Novem­ber, 2010, in Oedi­pus at Dublin’s Smock Al­ley, that Vivi­enne’s per­for­mance as an­other strong woman — Jo­casta, the Queen of Thebes, who along with her hus­band King Laius, binds their child’s an­kles and sends him off to the wilder­ness to per­ish — caught the eye of Fair City pro­ducer Brigie de Courcy, who was in the au­di­ence. “She asked me to au­di­tion, which I did, and was lucky enough to get the part of In­grid.”

Asked to de­scribe her char­ac­ter, Vivi­enne says: “In­grid is all about her fam­ily and kids. She will go to any lengths for her kids, she is a no-non­sense kind of per­son but I think she has a vul­ner­a­ble side.” And you? “Me? I am like her in that I will do any­thing for my kids,” she replies. “I’m a strong per­son with a great sense of fun. I’m loyal and hon­est and al­ways seek­ing new ad­ven­tures.

“I’m a strong per­son, but I’m very soft un­der­neath. My dad al­ways said my blad­der was too close to my eyes, be­cause I cry so eas­ily.”

To the best of my mem­ory, the 1913 au­thor of A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, Mar­cel Proust, has never been of­fi­cially ref­er­enced on Fair City in its 28 years on the na­tional air­waves. Be that as it may, Vivi­enne Con­nolly’s mem­ory is pos­i­tively Prous­tian. She can re­mem­ber go­ing to her granny’s house in Lim­er­ick, at four years of age, for Christ­mas.

Her granny’s name was Anne but peo­ple af­fec­tion­ately called her Bunny. She was, “a fab lady, who never drank or smoked. She was an amaz­ing cook.” That Christ­mas, in Lim­er­ick, the cook­ing was ex­tra spe­cial, as was the fes­tive at­mos­phere around the house. All her cousins were there too — Olivia, Cor­nelia, Dar­ren, Gil­lian and Shane — “and I made ev­ery­one kneel in front of the crib on Christ­mas morn­ing and pray and say happy birth­day to Je­sus be­fore we opened our presents. I re­mem­ber want­ing to ac­knowl­edge the mean­ing of the day,’’ smiles Vivi­enne be­fore laugh­ing.

“Or, maybe, I was pray­ing Santa had brought me the right presents.”

Grow­ing up in a four-bed­roomed house on two-and-a-half acres in Kilmeaney, Co Car­low, Vivi­enne Lee Con­nolly was born on Novem­ber 23, 1972, the mid­dle child in a fam­ily of five (be­tween older sib­lings Derek and Lorna, and younger sib­lings Carl and sis­ter Elaine). She went to school at St Leo’s Con­vent nearby. The daugh­ter of Liz and John, who ran a dry clean­ers and drap­ery shop in Car­low town, she de­scribes her child­hood as “very happy, very care­free, fun, lov­ing”.

“It was a very close-knit fam­ily, which gives you strength.” Vivi­enne was very close to her aunts and un­cles, Ber­nadette and Ger­ard Bourke, Teresa Leni­han, Anne Walsh et al. “They spent time with us and played games which I think gives a child self-es­teem and self-worth — to know that th­ese peo­ple en­joy spend­ing their time with you, as your time is the most pre­cious gift you can give to any­one,” she says.

“They would all play rounders and cha­rades with us — the boys against the girls. There was good, healthy com­pe­ti­tion and a few oblig­a­tory rows thrown in, gen­er­ally over the rules. It was al­ways fun and we en­joyed wind­ing each other up, and even the peo­ple who didn’t want to play at the start ended up join­ing in and en­joy­ing it.” Her par­ents have been mar­ried for what seems like for­ever. Vivi­enne’s high-pro­file mar­riage to Mark Dunne ended in 2010. They went for their first date in The Barge Pub in Ranelagh, Dublin, in 2000 and were mar­ried on De­cem­ber 3, 2005, in Ash­ford Cas­tle. They were legally sep­a­rated in April 2011.

Did the break-up feel al­most ex­tra painful on some lev­els be­cause Vivi­enne ex­pected and wanted to have the same long mar­riage as her mum and dad?

“Yes it did, be­cause I never ex­pected to be in that sit­u­a­tion and ob­vi­ously the hard­est part was its ef­fect on the kids. As I said, my fam­ily are quite tra­di­tional, so it was tough on ev­ery­one.”

Vivi­enne pre­vi­ously told me: “And with­out be­ing self­ish, that was one of the things I couldn’t get past for a long time: I felt very self­ish. I kept say­ing to my sis­ters — ‘How can I do this to my kids? Take their fa­ther away? Take that whole unit away?’ That’s the one thing I al­ways miss, the fam­ily unit, be­cause I had it.”

I ask her how she dealt with that emo­tion­ally? “You just have to go with what feels right at the time, trust your guts and do your best. Some­times you just have to learn on the job and that’s what I did. I thought it was bet­ter to bring Ben and Katie up with two happy par­ents rather than in an unhappy en­vi­ron­ment where they were never go­ing to flour­ish.

“Peo­ple kept say­ing me ‘you’re so brave’. My re­sponse was, there is a very fine line be­tween brave and stupid. I just did what I had to do and it was the hard­est thing I’ve ev­ery been through. I wouldn’t rec­om­mend it to any­one,” she says.

“But I wouldn’t rec­om­mend stay­ing in an unhappy mar­riage to any­one ei­ther. My­self and Mark have two very strong per­son­al­i­ties, I think that’s one of the rea­sons it didn’t work out.”

Why, in hind­sight, does Vivi­enne think they broke up?

“Nei­ther of us was happy and it just wasn’t work­ing any­more. I would rather leave it at that. Mark de­serves his pri­vacy and so do the kids. My­self and Mark get on great now, thank God. He is a great fa­ther to Ben and Katie and they were our pri­or­ity through all of this.”

She says that be­ing a mother to Ben and Katie — born on April 22, 2004, and Au­gust 22, 2006, re­spec­tively — is “the best and most sat­is­fy­ing job in the world. It can also be one of the tough­est. It has made me re­alise what life is all about, there is noth­ing more pre­cious than your chil­dren. It has made me value my time a lot more as you see just how quickly it goes by,” Vivi­enne says, adding that Ben started se­condary school last Thurs­day.

Above: Vivi­enne Con­nolly pic­tured with her chil­dren Katie and Ben — then age three and four — in 2009. Left: As In­grid in ‘Fair City’ in 2011. Right: In her early modelling days

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