Fab­u­lous Phina

Phina Oruche started her ca­reer as a model be­fore land­ing a part in Foot­ballers’ Wives. She tells Ni­amh Walsh about her role as Marvel­lous in Taken Down and re­veals how the show made her re­alise things could have turned out very dif­fer­ently

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS -

She has strut­ted the cat­walks of Europe and Amer­ica with the likes of su­per­model Kate Moss, but af­ter a suc­cess­ful stint as a model, the small screen beck­oned for Phina Oruche.

The Bri­tish-Nige­rian ac­tress was a break­out star in Nineties se­ries Foot­ballers’ Wives as Lib­erty Baker, af­ter which she went on to star in Hol­lyoaks. She then landed her own ra­dio show on BBC, which she says gave her a plat­form and voice.

Now af­ter years off screen and be­ing a ‘full-time soc­cer mum’, Phina is back on screen with a star­ring role in RTÉ’s new drama Taken Down, in which she plays a refugee caught up in a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Phina tells how she was gripped by the script, in par­tic­u­lar the open­ing line of the in­tro­duc­tion to her char­ac­ter, Marvel­lous.

‘We coast through life with blink­ers on. And we have “lux­ury qual­ity” prob­lems. Every­body’s like that in the West, which is why peo­ple at­tack us. Our gen­eral bot­tom line is priv­i­lege. Now there are de­grees of priv­i­lege based on age, race, gen­der, birth, etc, but priv­i­lege is pretty much in our coun­tries. I never re­ally lose sight of that, but this was brought home again to me be­cause the open­ing line of the de­scrip­tion of my char­ac­ter

‘I did ex­pe­ri­ence racism in Dublin when I lived here’

was, “in an­other life she would be a TV pre­sen­ter”. So I read into that and thought, “in an­other life, could she be me?”, and that’s scary. Marvel­lous made me re­alise that she could have been me and she made me think “did my mother have to live like that in any way, shape or form?”’

Born in Liver­pool, Phina has lived in Lon­don, New York and Dublin, where she met her former hus­band and where she gave birth to her son. The cou­ple lived in the leafy sub­urbs of Dublin 4 and she was de­lighted to re­turn to Ire­land af­ter years away to film Taken Down. The drama se­ries cen­tres on di­rect pro­vi­sion for refugees, racism and crime.

While Phina has lived and worked around the world, it was in Dublin that she ex­pe­ri­enced a mem­o­rable in­ci­dent of racism.

‘I lived here ten years ago. My [now ex] hus­band is Ital­ian. I met him on a flight leav­ing Dublin. We were liv­ing some­where along Haddington Road and we were out in one of those posh drinkeries. That was my stomp­ing ground. We had lit­er­ally just had the baby and my mother was in the house. So he took me out as we were newly mar­ried. We were in this place – and he’s Ital­ian and I’m Bri­tish-Nige­rian – and this woman came up, and she was about 55, and she was like “how are youse, would you like a drink?” and we were like “no, we’re great, it’s grand”.

‘Then she went away and sud­denly came back later and she said, “you are not wel­come here, you’re not from here and you, you’re not an ac­tress, you’re a phoney”. And we howl laugh­ing about that to this day. That was when aus­ter­ity was start­ing in Ire­land when all of the cranes were start­ing to come down and the bub­ble had burst and ev­ery­one was try­ing to bail out. But I think the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are good. I worked on a ra­dio show seven years ago in Liver­pool, so I got to know the black com­mu­nity there very well. And there had been a shift al­ready be­tween Liver­pool blacks and the So­ma­lis who had come to live in Liver­pool. And I could no­tice that in­stead of a gen­eral wel­come there was al­ready a “they’re dif­fer­ent from us” sense hap­pen­ing amongst us, which I find sad and shock­ing.’

Phina makes her screen de­but on Taken Down tonight and she says she was thrilled when she landed the role.

‘I was de­lighted to get the role. She’s Nige­rian. Nor­mally I’m pre­tend­ing to be Ja­maican, Amer­i­can or English.’

While Taken Down is writ­ten by Stu­art Carolan and di­rected by David Caf­frey, Phina says she was bliss­fully un­aware of Love/Hate.

‘Had I known what Love/Hate was or watched it, I think it would have coloured how I came to this char­ac­ter. And once I got the part I still didn’t watch it, be­cause I didn’t want to go there, I didn’t want to get scared of David. I wanted all my cheek­i­ness and bad be­hav­iour in­tact. I didn’t want to fear him, or re­vere him. I re­vere him now any­way, but I didn’t want to have any pre­con­ceived no­tions.’

Now back on the screen and play­ing Marvel­lous, Phina has once again been bit­ten by the act­ing bug. And while she is rel­ish­ing her re­turn to drama, she says she doesn’t han­ker to re­turn to her Foot­ballers’ Wives days.

‘Foot­ballers’ Wives was great fun. I was play­ing an­other com­pli­cated girl, which I like to do,’ she says. ‘I don’t know if it’s com­ing back but I don’t know what’s to be gained by go­ing back. I would hope to go for­ward.

‘Taken Down was such a great project from top to bot­tom. I au­di­tioned with kids and I did this out­ra­geous dance at the end of cam­era and they cast me be­cause of the dance. It re­ally turned the lights back on for me for act­ing.’ Taken Down con­tin­ues at 9.30pm tonight on RTÉ One.

Role model: Phina as Marvel­lous in Taken Down (above) and as Lib­erty Baker (right) in Foot­ballers’ Wives

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