SIOB­HAN McSWEENEY

As much as we love Orla, Clare, Michelle and James, the real star of Derry Girls is the eye­rolling, smok­ing jacket-wear­ing Sis­ter Michael. The ac­tor who’s brought her to life, SIOBHÁN McSWEENEY, is in con­fes­sional mood when she meets STU­ART CLARK.

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The ac­claimed ac­tress on playing Sis­ter Michael in smash hit com­edy Derry Girls.

It’s the morn­ing af­ter St. Pa­trick’s Day and Siobhán McSweeney – star of Derry Girls, one of the big­gest Ir­ish TV drama suc­cess sto­ries in years – is feel­ing just a teensy-weensy bit del­i­cate. “A ‘teensy-weensy bit?’” the Corko­nian sighs, as we sit down for a nat­ter in her north Lon­don abode. “Look, I’m hav­ing Lu­cozade and Be­rocca for break­fast!”

A pub was re­tired to yes­ter­day af­ter­noon af­ter McSweeney marched in the St. Pa­trick’s Day Pa­rade with her Lon­don-Ir­ish Abor­tion Rights Cam­paign pals and not left un­til the wee small hours.

“There was a great turnout and the re­ac­tion from the crowds was far warmer than I ex­pected,” Siobhán says, perk­ing up a bit. “You had a few ee­jits say­ing stuff, but over­all it was great sup­port for the cause. Bron­agh

Waugh from Hol­lyoaks and Ni­amh McGrady from The Fall were also part of our group who were march­ing be­hind the Hare Kr­ish­nas. It was very di­verse.”

A long-time re­pro­duc­tive rights ac­tivist, McSweeney was joined last month by fel­low Derry Girl star Nicola Cough­lan in help­ing to de­liver a 62,000-strong pe­ti­tion call­ing for the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of abor­tion in North­ern Ire­land to Sec­re­tary of State Karen Bradley.

“There were 28 of us, sym­bol­is­ing the num­ber of North­ern Ire­land women who travel to other parts of the UK ev­ery week for an abor­tion. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional or­gan­ised it and there was a great turnout of MPs, me­dia and, most im­por­tantly, women who’ve been af­fected them­selves and are pre­pared to tell their sto­ries in or­der to help oth­ers. I can’t imag­ine how dif cult it must be for them.”

We’ll re­turn to Karen Bradley later, but let us now fo­cus our at­ten­tion on Sea­son 2 of Derry Girls, which four episodes in is prov­ing to be just as gig­gle­some as its pre­de­ces­sor. Bag­ging her­self some of the best lines – and out ts – has been Sis­ter Michael.

“Oh, she’s won­der­ful,” Siobhán says of her eye-rolling char­ac­ter. “What I love about Sis­ter Michael is that she has a life out­side of be­ing a nun. She has an aware­ness of the whole world. She’s not clos­eted away and she’s not ig­no­rant. You could ar­gue that she’s the only one

“I’ve never had an en­counter with a nun. Know­ingly. They may have been in dis­guise”

that has a proper han­dle on things. She ob­serves the world with a clin­i­cal eye rather than get­ting too wrapped up in things. She’s the sort of woman I’d re­ally like to go for a pint with.”

Asked whether she drew in­spi­ra­tion from a real life nun for Sis­ter Michael, Siobhán shakes her head and says,

“No, I was never taught by a nun. I’ve never had an en­counter with a nun. Know­ingly. They may have been in dis­guise. She’s drawn from Lisa McGee’s won­der­ful writ­ing. Pos­si­bly, I share a sim­i­lar short fuse or a lack of pa­tience. But apart from that, I’m not as well dressed or as fan­tas­tic as the woman, un­for­tu­nately.”

It’s like pick­ing your favourite child, but a quick Hot Press of ce straw poll re­veals Ms. De Brún And The Child Of Prague to be our fave Sea­son 2 episode so far. Was there much re­li­gious iconog­ra­phy in the McSweeney house grow­ing up?

“Oh yes, we had stat­ues,” she nods. “My cousins had one of those bless­ings you get from The Pope – they prob­a­bly sent a postal or­der off to the Vat­i­can for it. JFK was above the Aga. There are cer­tain marks of a time that are universal.”

With Sea­son 1 inspiring such ra­bid devi­tion, were Siobhán and the crew wor­ried that peo­ple’s ul­tra-high ex­pec­ta­tions mightn’t be matched this time round?

“Yeah, there was a lit­tle bit of that,” she ad­mits. “I don’t think it’s be­ing faux-mod­est to say that we were truly over­whelmed by the re­sponse to the rst six episodes. I’ve been around long enough to know there’s no mer­i­toc­racy in this busi­ness, so to have it recog­nised was bril­liant. When you love some­thing so much, you’re wor­ried that it might not go the full dis­tance but as soon as I read the rst script I knew we weren’t go­ing to be suf­fer­ing dif­fi­cult sec­ond al­bum syn­drome. That said, I was on Twit­ter at 9.15pm look­ing to see what the re­sponse was to the

Across The Bar­ri­cade episode!”

Which found Sis­ter Michael rock­ing a

se­ri­ous smok­ing jacket.

“Isn’t it bril­liant?” she laughs. “That’s Cathy Prior, our cos­tume de­signer.

She’s a ge­nius. From day one we’ve had a com­plete mind-meld. We bonded ini­tially over her lit­tle pixie boots. The best piece of life ad­vice I have is, ‘Get the shoes right and ev­ery­thing else will fall into place.’ We weren’t able to get Sis­ter Michael wear­ing an Aran jumper into the rst se­ries, but we man­aged it this time. And the judo out­fit! I felt a bit of a su­per­hero in that.”

Does she have a favourite Sea­son 2 mo­ment?

“How long do you have?” Siobhán dead­pans. “Any scene with Pe­ter Campion, AKA Fa­ther Pe­ter, is to be cher­ished. Just one look at him with his lovely hair! I had a pop-up part in Lon­don Ir­ish, which Pe­ter was the lead and equally won­der­ful in. Ian McEl­hin­ney, AKA Granda Joe, played my dad in a pro­duc­tion of Un­cle Vanya

in the Lyric The­atre in Belfast. He’s the best com­pany and al­ways the last fella to go home. His with­er­ing put­downs of Gerry al­ways have me shriek­ing with laugh­ter.

“I love the scene where Clare is hang­ing off the cliff and then a mass brawl breaks out below. That was so

much fun to shoot! I think Pe­ter says, ‘Don’t touch the hair, don’t touch

the hair.’ He’s such a bril­liant fuck­ing co­me­dian. The black­board scene, which is now be­com­ing iconic, was won­der­ful too.”

Nicola Cough­lan, AKA the afore­men­tioned Wee Clare, told us that the hardest thing about be­ing in Derry Girls is keep­ing a straight face.

“Oh, to­tally. All I have to do is look at Ma Mary and Aunt Sarah in those scenes where the par­ents are called in to see Sis­ter Michael and I’m off!”

Bron­agh Gal­lagher, who was an early can­di­date to play Sis­ter Michael, told me she’s de­lighted she had to drop out of the run­ning it be­cause she wouldn’t have been nearly as good as Siobhán McSweeney.

“I hadn’t heard about that,” she gasps. “Hon­estly, I’m fuck­ing hon­oured. I think her ca­reer is one to as­pire to. She’s ex­tra­or­di­nary. I’m re­ally glad she didn’t pur­sue it ei­ther be­cause I’d have given it to Bron­agh. What a great com­pli­ment, I’m over­whelmed.”

With 1.8 mil­lion tun­ing in to see the Sea­son 2 opener – add in catch-up and it’s now at around the 2.5 mil­lion mark – we should prob­a­bly stop call­ing Derry Girls a cult hit. Is Siobhán sur­prised by the mag­ni­tude of its now thor­oughly mainstream suc­cess?

“I used to get irritated when peo­ple talked about Derry Girls need­ing sub­ti­tles. Get over your­self; no­body’s on the moon here. I’m giv­ing out to every­body now! I think the Scan­di­na­vian dra­mas like Wal­lan­der and

The Killing started the trend of peo­ple be­ing will­ing to go with the story, and more im­por­tantly with the char­ac­ters. The best thing about Derry Girls’

suc­cess, which no one, least of all Lisa McGee, took for granted, is that there’s been zero wa­ter­ing down or hav­ing to overly ex­plain things. It’s 100% true to the story and the char­ac­ters.”

Derry Girl is not the only wickedly funny TV show that Ms. McSweeney is cur­rently to be seen in.

“The sec­ond se­ries of Porters has just started on Dave. It’s a com­edy set in a hos­pi­tal where there are var­i­ous ech­e­lons of hi­er­ar­chy, the porters be­ing the low­est of the low. Also join­ing the cast this year is Sinéad Keenan, a won­der­ful ac­tress who I worked with as well on Lon­don Ir­ish. I play a weird, de­ranged se­cu­rity guard – type­cast­ing again! – who’s a bit too de­voted to her job. She sort of thinks she’s Rambo. You know, one of those ones who couldn’t get into the po­lice force, but wishes she had. Bran­dishes a taser too lib­er­ally. Very dif­fer­ent to Derry Girls.”

Siobhán is also hit­ting the big screen as the in­trigu­ingly named Bor­ing Noreen in Ex­tra Or­di­nary, the tale of a small-town driv­ing in­struc­tor with su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers that also stars Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Clau­dia

“Any scene with Fa­ther Pe­ter is to be cher­ished. Just one look at him with his lovely hair!”

O’Doherty, Ris­teard Cooper and Mary McEvoy.

“I was un­able to go to the premiere of that, which is a shame be­cause it was at SXSW in Austin, Texas,” she rues. “It got amaz­ing re­views and rightly so be­cause it’s so funny. They sent me a lit­tle teaser trailer of what they were try­ing to do with it and, like when you get a Lisa McGee script, I was, ‘Right, what­ever you want, grand.’ I would have done any­thing for it. I’m lit­er­ally in one scene, so re­ally con­trib­uted very lit­tle to its im­pend­ing suc­cess.”

Have any other in­de­pen­dent Ir­ish

lms caught her eye re­cently?

“Last night I ran into Si­mone Kirby, who’s also in the up­com­ing Artemis

Fowl movie, and told her I was gear­ing up to watch The Hole In The Ground. I say ‘gear­ing up’ be­cause I’m a real wimp and live on my own and ap­par­ently it’s ter­ri­fy­ing.”

So she dif­fers in that depart­ment from Sis­ter Michael who was spot­ted last week read­ing The Ex­or­cist on the Der­ryBelfast bus.

“She’s much braver than I am in so many ways. A lm that I did pluck up the courage to watch and was scared wit­less by was With­out Name, the hor­ror lm set in Wick­low that had Ni­amh Al­gar in it. I slept with the lights on for weeks af­ter that!”

Re­turn­ing to pol­i­tics and Siobhán McSweeney gave An­drew Marr a run for his money in the as­tute ob­ser­va­tion depart­ment re­cently when she tweeted, “Karen Bradley is a DOSE.”

“Thank you for recog­nis­ing the foren­sic eye for de­tail I have,” she con­cludes. “Thatcher was malev­o­lent but in­tel­li­gent. Bradley is nei­ther. She’s just un­able. It’s a shame be­cause she’s a woman in a po­si­tion of power, and we don’t have enough of those, but she’s in over her head. If any­one from Prime Time or News­night is read­ing this the an­swer is, ‘Yes, I’d love to ap­pear on your show, just give my agent a call.’”

• Orig­i­nally shown on Chan­nel 4, Derry Girls is also avail­able on Net­flix

Sis­ter Michael with Jenny Joyce and some of her other Our Lady Im­mac­u­late Col­lege charges and (in­set) the banes of her life!

Sis­ter Michael with The Child of Prague (be­fore the be­head­ing)

Siobhán in her civvies

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