HOW SINÉAD WATTERS WATTERS LEFT HER JOB MID-RECESSION AND GOT HER FIRST BREAK... GIVING CHARLIE HAUGHEY A CONSCIENCE
The demise of the Celtic Tiger led to the wrack and ruin of many a talented professional in Dublin. Developers, architects, builders and estate agents went to the wall while the rest of the country struggled to prove their worth in a shrinking job market. All, that is, except for Sinéad Watters. As the bubble burst Sinéad held the position of head of press and publicity at Aiken Promotions, Ireland’s second-largest concert promoters. During her tenure she was responsible for helping bring the likes of Justin Timberlake, George Michael, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Flatley here. It was a position that most would have killed for but in 2007, when others were clinging on to a stable, pensionable job, Sinéad handed in her notice in a bid to chase her dream of becoming an actor. Now, as one of the prominent rising stars from RTÉ’s three-part drama Charlie, Sinéad is finally reaping the rewards of her bold move.
‘Working on the likes of Justin was a great gig and that job was a great job,’ she recalls. ‘I had to be honest with myself though and acting was something I had always wanted to do and I just had to give in. It was a really tough decision because the boom had just stopped and the recession had kicked in. My friends kept telling me I had lost my mind but if I didn’t do it then I never would have. My family supported me but my mates kept telling me that people would kill for my job and I was about to leave it all for one of the most uncertain jobs in the world. All I can describe it as is an itch that was getting worse and the only time it would go away was when I was acting. It was a massive change but I don’t regret it at all.’
‘I was lucky enough to work close to a lot of really cool people. Pink was probably the coolest person. She was just not what you would think. She was so nice to everyone and just really awesome. Dolly Parton was not a let-down either, she was a legend to be honest, and everything I had hoped she would be, just so down to earth. I suppose number one had to be Bruce Springsteen though, he is such a gentleman. He wouldn’t let us call him ‘the Boss’. Nobody in his crew was allowed to call him that, he was just Bruce. He wanted as little fuss made about him as was possible and just got on with things. He was definitely the number one to work with.’
The catalyst for her road to Damascus conversion came on the back of an Easter workshop at the Gaiety School of Act- ing in 2006. Despite working backstage with some of the world’s biggest music superstars, she realised that her real passion lay on the stage instead of with Peter Aiken behind the scenes.
‘I did a short-term night course over Easter, just to see how I would get on,’ she says. ‘ So I threw myself in at the deep end and after an hour of the first class I knew this was the career I wanted. From there I just started acting courses and classes at night every night and it just took over. I had the bug and the day time work was becoming more of a second place for me, not that I wasn’t enjoying it, just that I wanted to act more. It was scary because I had rent to pay and bills and when I left the job the salary stopped. But I had to do it and I just didn’t care what anyone else thought.’
Initially Sinéad threw herself into education, jumping from course to course, networking and building up contacts. And her big break came in 2012 when she landed a spot in a fledgling course at the Factory, an actors’ studio now named Bow Street set up by director Kirsten Sheridan.
‘I did a year’s course and that was just incredible. She (Kirsten) is brilliant and she took care of us. Then we had John Kearney and casting agent Maureen Hughes and it became this hub of ideas and creativity and then you had these three powerhouses of the Irish industry and they were there on hand to give you advice and instruction. Maureen runs many of the major castings but she is also there if you
have any question s and just looks after you. I left the Factory two years ago and it has just given me a foundation for the industry which is invaluable.’
Despite the Factory suport, the acting scene proved to be a dog-eat-dog world. Undeterred, Sinéad took rejection on her chin and filled her spare time writing.
‘Irish people are great because they genuinely want to help you,’ she says. ‘If they can’t help you they will try and put you in touch with someone who can. But the bottom line is you have to put yourself out there and you can’t be awkward or shy and you have to swallow your pride and get ready to face rejection. It is harder for girls because there are a lot less female roles out there. You just have to work and keep busy. I write as well and I just recently finished a short film that I was also in called The Audition. It’s a short psycho thriller and it has gotten into several film festivals which is amazing.’
Even when the roles did come in, many of them weren’t suitable. Imagine the feeling of joy you must feel getting a job offer from the Game of Thrones family only to discover it’s for the role of a naked prostitute.
‘That was a bit of strange one,’ she says with a cheeky smile. ‘“We have a role for you in Game of Thrones. Would you be willing to go naked and play the role of a prostitute?” Eh, no thanks. You just keep on plugging away because you get a lot of rejection. That can be tough but you have to forget about it and keep on trying. What’s good about Ireland is that if you don’t have an agent you can contact casting directors directly. They don’t mind because of the Factory course, whereas you might not have that sort of access outside of Ireland.’
Sinéad’s big break came when she read for a part in RTÉ’s new drama Charlie. When she auditioned she had no idea that she would be sharing most of her screen time with Game of Thrones and Wire star Aiden Gillen. She plays the part of Jacinta, a shop keeper in Charlie’s constituency who forms an unlikely relationship with the Iron Duke of Irish politics.
‘ I think Charlie is my first real break,’ she says. ‘I have kind of done short films and then my own one but this is RTÉ, the national broadcaster. My mum keeps telling me that I have made it because I am on RTÉ. I auditioned for Maureen Hughes and it was one of those things. I only read one scene and did one take and that was it and it was over. I wanted to stay and do more just to show that I could take direction but that was that. So I left wondering if it went well or if they were happy at all. So I went and I had to forget about it because the majority of times when you leave an audition the answer is no. And you have to get on with it and process the rejection and try and learn from it and move on to the next one. But then Maureen rang me and told me I had the part and I got sent the script.’
As breakthrough roles go, Jacinta the shop keeper is up there. Unlike many of the parts, Sinead’s role is completely fictional, there to provide a foil of humanity for Charlie. She has been created to show that Charlie wasn’t all that bad. ‘My character is completely fictional,’ she says. ‘There was a shop in Donnycarney where he would go and get a paper for his mum. That much is true but I don’t think there was a girl there that he had regular dealings with. I think they wrote my character as the one person who gets through to Charlie. She is his connect to the real people of Ireland. He sees the stock in the shop has gone and all her friends have left the country and he keeps coming into the shop waving money around and has this bravado and Jacinta just has enough of it. She is wise to him now and she just brushes him off, which is a first for him. Then when she turns up at the house looking for money and tells him that the country is kip, he gets a glimpse of what life really is like for the working class Irish person and I think that’s what her role is. He gives her the money which is amazing but I think she brings out the best in him. I think that Jacinta shows a softer side of Charlie. He doesn’t want her to go because it shows just how screwed the country is because she is from where his mum lives and that is why he is compelled to help her. I think she shows that Charlie has a bit of heart despite all his many, many failings.’
And what was it like working with Aiden Gillen, one of the country’s hottest actors? ‘Jacinta is a great role although it is daunting acting alongside Aiden Gillen,’ she says. ‘If I hadn’t the training I did I don’t think I would have been able to do it. They prepare you for the big crews and being able to forget about all the noise around you and just to act. There is always the danger that you will panic and over-act and of course that was there for me but thankfully the training kicked in. If I didn’t have that to fall back on I probably would have panicked more. But he is just so lovely. I never saw him without the make-up so it was like I was always talking to Charlie Haughey. But when we were talking in between scenes he made me feel really comfortable and I just stayed true to the moment as much as I can.’
The third instalment of Charlie will be broadcast tonight on RTÉ and Sinéad has another prominent role to play. She is keeping mum on that but hopes that people will enjoy the character’s arch. Unlike Aiden Gillen and Tom VaughanLawlor, Sinéad will wake up on Monday and start over again, waiting tables during the day and acting or writing during every free hour.
‘Please God Charlie will open doors for me,’ she says. ‘I have been knocking on so many doors for so long and to able to tell people that I am on television at the moment really helps. You never know and I will go where the work is. If I have to go to London then so be it. You would assume that there will be more work in London but it is so massive and there are infinitely more actors going for the same roles and I would have to start from square one again.
‘I’m trying to get another feature at the moment. Jim Sheridan is doing stuff so fingers crossed. I auditioned for Red Rock but I didn’t get it. But they said that it was going to be on for two years and that they will be expanding the cast so who knows. But yeah, I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all. It is quite a difficult discipline, acting on a soap set. I think there is a need, from an actor’s point of view, to have another working set. Fair City is great and it is popular but there was definitely room for another set so I hope it is a success and that they grow more roles.’
Opposite page: A scene from Game of Thrones. This page: Sinéad in her Aiken Promotions role with The Eagles’ Don Henley and, above, with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips