I met Aidan on a volcanic mountain in Iceland
Camille O’sullivan tells Barry Egan about death by domesticity, motherhood, her boyfriend Aidan Gillen, and how she is unravelling all the time
‘IFIND only freedom in the realms of eccentricity,” Camille O’sullivan’s hero David Bowie once said. Eccentricity and Camille are, of course, well known to each other. When she first moved to Dublin from her home in Cork after qualifying as an architect in the early 1990s, her domestic arrangements were a direct window into her soul. “I had no table, no plates, a fork and a spoon,” she says. “I thought the whole thing of buying stuff was almost like being married. And when I got my first table I cried because I thought: ‘That’s it. I’m attached to a place’. My mum used to be distraught. ‘You live like a gypsy!’
“I’m a bit better now,” Camille says, adding that she has plates and a table at her home in Portobello, “but I’m still a little bit the same. You don’t think of the normal things. You think, ‘How many are going to get this song, this show or this production done?’”
Camille’s complex eccentricity also manifests itself when she builds giant gingerbread houses and other wondrous creations at home for her young daughter. “I made her a great Ferris wheel the other night. I will spend days on something. I got the Ferris wheel motorised. It is that size,” she says showing me a video on her phone of the child playing with her Ferris wheel which was twice her size. ‘‘I want to make a much bigger one for her. I have even started drawing the diagrams. She had her little friend lying on the Ferris wheel this morning. ‘Oh, it’s falling,’ she said. ‘‘She is definitely my daughter. Her friend had to fall off the Ferris wheel!” Camille hoots. “Aidan”, she says of her other half, actor Aidan Gillen, “was laughing because he was going away to do work and he went up to the living room to see it. He was like: ‘How did I miss that? It’s massive!’”
Camille O’sullivan is a massive enigma wrapped in a riddle, trapped inside the body of an enormously charismatic woman — “a kind of schizophrenic” half-french, half -Irish, Protestant born in London and brought up in Passage West in Co Cork by Denis, an Irish racing driver who grew up in England, and Marie-rose, a French artist from Bordeaux. Adding to her allure is that Camille possesses a particular penchant for black humour and blacker melancholy; and can on occasion belt out dark post-modern cabaret numbers onstage like some obsessed but gorgeous goddess from the Weimar Republic.
“I’m sorting my life out onstage,” she laughs.
Camille says that the lyric ‘There’s a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in’ from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem resonates with her on many levels. She thinks that’s because she “likes sharing the part of me that is unravelling and f ****d up. I think people are connected to the part of them that isn’t perfect, that is human, that is vulnerable, that is fragile — and fierce, and all those things,” Camille says, as ever, the words coming out of her in near-neurotic torrents.
You can see why she was cast to play Constance Markievicz in RTE’S Rebellion series in 2016 or why Yoko Ono chose Camille to perform Double Fantasy live at Meltdown, at the Royal Festival Hall, in London in 2013, alongside Patti Smith. Camille first realised she was like that in her teens when she “started getting shy about things. So I unravelled pretty much from my teen years. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy life to the fullest. I have a great laugh.”
Then, one day she concluded that the primary thing that “makes you interesting onstage as a performer is the side of you that reveals fragility. I don’t mean just softness. I mean the dark and the light, definitely. Not torment. There’s joyfulness, too.”
Yet, she is more drawn to the dark side. “If you look at all the greats: Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Hitchcock, Tom Waits, Bowie, Brel, Beckett or Shakespeare...it all ends badly,” she explains of the attraction of the less cheery side of life and artistic expression. “We all know there is going to be strife and murder. And through that there is some cathartic thing what is it to be alive and be human,” she adds, “and when somebody makes out that their life is Botoxed to within an inch and is perfect, you feel a bit that you want to collapse on the street and cry. And you think, ‘How come I have this issue? Why do I have this side of me that has sadness?’ Sadness is an OK thing. Look at Leonard Cohen. People go to Shakespeare to feel alive. It holds a mirror up.”
I am curious about when, precisely, Camille’s life is “f ****d-up” and “unravelling”? “Now,” she laughs. “I’m unravelling onstage all the time. I think I live more properly onstage than I do in my own life.”
Further to her ongoing unravelling, Camille is performing in Woyzeck in Winter, one of the highlights of the Dublin Theatre Festival, with Stephen Brennan, Peter Coonan, Barry Mcgovern, Rosaleen Linehan among others at the Gaiety. “It’s an old Buchner tale and Conall Morrison, the director, came up with the idea of mixing Schubert’s Winterreise with Woyzeck. It is basically about the pressures that are put on by society until they unravel. I unravel in this hurricane situation.”
“So,” she smiles, “it follows well that I am suited to the part”.
Be that as it may, Camille is a positively devoted and in-the-moment mother to her four-year-old daughter with her ex, Mike Scott of The Waterboys. She came yesterday to watch her mother in rehearsals for Woyzeck in Winter. Fascinated by it all, the child wanted to step up onto the stage. At which point Camille thought: ‘Ohmygod, don’t do this’.
“I don’t usually bring her to my shows but she said, ‘Mama, I want a little microphone’. Last week, she wanted to be a doctor. Now she wants to be a singer? I was like, what have I done?”
Camille and Mike Scott sometimes put on little shows for their daughter. “It is very natural for us as a little co-parenting unit that Mike and I have great fun with our daughter,” she says. “We do little songs for her and she sings them back to us. She has only recently starting taking out a little guitar and a drum thing and she will sing along to it. It is all about death. ‘And then on Monday they die’ she sings… And I thought, ‘Ohmygod!’”
Camille adds that her daughter did say recently when they were at the beach, “This is the sea!” It wasn’t lost on the four-year-old child that one of her dad’s most celebrated compositions is This Is The Sea by his band The Waterboys.
“And then she said when we were at the sea that day — ‘I’m a Watergirl!’
“She was at her creche recently and everybody was performing their show and she didn’t say a word,” Camille continues. “I was laughing, looking at her, thinking, ‘We’re singers and our own child is looking at her feet.’”
Camille can remember being in school in Cork “and being quite shy.” “Some people talk more to cover their shyness. I know plenty of actors and singers who are like that, and others who adore being onstage.”
Would she like her daughter to follow in the musical footsteps of her parents?
“She can be whatever she wants to be as long as she is happy and puts her heart into it.” Camille mentions that she had a recent conversation with Mike where it was discussed that they might write some music together. “Growing up I loved his music. It is brilliant still to hear him sing, especially when you know somebody is the father of your child. You talk to them and then they sing. He has an incredible voice. It is quite wild,” says Camille, who has an untamed voice on stage herself, before adding that Mike “would be very supportive of me. It is great that I turn to someone who is so good in the business”. Camille says that Aidan was at the recent U2 concert in Dublin when he heard the opening of The Whole Of The Moon by The Waterboys — which came on before U2’s arrival onstage. “And Aidan said that all he could think of was my daughter going: ‘Isn’t that lovely?’ So
Camille O’sullivan plays the role of Marie in
Woyzeck in Winter
Mike Scott and Camille O’sullivan