Irish actress Genevieve O’Reilly is aiming for the top

After appearing in the Star Wars films, the next biggie for Irish actress Genevieve O’Reilly is Tin Star, Sky’s new TV series, writes Esther McCarthy

Genevieve O'Reilly in Tin Star on Sky Atlantic on Thursday.

AS a 10-year-old girl, Genevieve O’Reilly stepped on a plane for the first time, her destination the other side of the world and a new life with her family.

Like so many Irish families in the 1980s, the O’Reillys made the move to Australia for a combination of reasons — lifestyle, economic and a sense of new beginnings.

“I remember the day we left Dublin, it was minus three degrees, and we got on the plane and it was so exciting — I’d never been on a plane before. It was a huge big adventure.

“We touched down in Adelaide and it was 42 degrees. I just had no concept of what that heat was. It was an immersive change, it was culturally so different. But my parents are wonderful people, and really, they sold it to us as a big adventure. I think they always thought that if it didn’t work they would go home. But they wanted to give it a go, as many, many Irish people have done over so many years.

“When we moved, it was mid/late 1980s, it was certainly pre-Celtic Tiger, it was a different time. My father was in computing, so he had the opportunity to go to Australia.

“My dad’s whole family, including my nana and grandad, all went within a few months of each other — and they were in their seventies. The older I get the braver they were to me. I had my cousins around me, we had this little family unit. Most of my family are still there.”

O’Reilly has inherited her family’s spirit of adventure. Upon leaving school, she moved to Sydney to study drama and pursue her dream of forging an acting career. She remained in the city for five years, notching up roles across stage and screen, before change beckoned again and she moved to London. “I’m a bit of a mongrel really!” she laughs.

The actress has enjoyed a fruitful career and notched up some impressive screen credits along the way, starring in such films as Avatar, Rogue One, The Matrix sequels and hit TV series, Spooks.

This week she will debut opposite Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks in Sky Atlantic’s new drama series, Tin Star. The 10-part series will centre on a family who move from England to make a new life for themselves in Canada.

O’Reilly with Tim Roth in Tin Star.

“It’s about a family who have come from London. Tim is my husband, we have two children, and we go from London to a very small town called Little Big Bear in the Canadian Rockies. It’s quite a majestic setting, very visually dramatic. It starts off there, it certainly has Western influences, it’s quite epic in its desire as a piece.

“My character is Irish. It’s a family drama but at the end of episode one, something quite dramatic happens and that propels the piece, and it becomes a bit of a revenge thriller.”

The team behind the series opted to film each episode chronologically, which is extremely uncommon for such a large-scale show.

“They did something we’ve not done before which was they shot chronologically, which was very unusual. The gift it gives to the performers was really special. We got to do that step by step.

“It provided a few challenges. We began filming it and they were writing it as we were going along. What that meant was that we could also, as actors, influence the character, influence how they were created. Really be a part of the hotbed of creativity of the character, which is something very unique and doesn’t happen a lot of the time. It was great.”

The series was shot on location in the Rockies, and their dramatic vistas are evident on screen, she says.

“We were six months filming in the rocky mountains around Calgary and little towns around there. I’d never spent much time in mountains, never gone to huge big mountain ranges like the Rockies. I was gobsmacked by the majesty of those mountains, the presence that they had on that landscape. Every morning we’d be driving to set and I’d just be looking at the different colours of the mountains that day, whether there was snow. The landscape
becomes such a tangible character
in it.”

O’Reilly in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

A recent career highlight was being cast to play Mon Mothma in the Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One.

It was a sweet casting for O’Reilly, who originally played the rebel alliance leader in Revenge of the Sith a decade earlier, only for her scene to be cut from the final version of the film.

“One of the producers, John, rang me, and I was like: ‘What? Are you for real?’ They said: ‘We’re going to bring her back’. It took me a while because I obviously didn’t know the story, how does it fit in with the timeline? It was such synchronicity, it was pretty special to be a part of that.

“Also to be in London in these huge big spaces where they built the sets. It was very different to my experience on Revenge of the Sith, and I know I wasn’t in Revenge of the Sith, in the end. I was certainly part of the process of it.

“Everything you see in the film was real, was there, you could touch it, you could see it. There were so many extras, it was so easy to kind of drown yourself in that world. We had a great time on that because although it was huge it was a bit like an independent film. I loved it.”

In fact, O’Reilly has taken supporting roles in some enormous films over the years, including Avatar and The Matrix sequels. Yet when she’s not working she lives in relative anonymity, and you get the sense she likes it that way.

“I think what allows me to jump into certain projects, what allows me to play Hazel Stewart in The Secret (based on a real-life murder case), is that you don’t know me. So I can be that character. There’s such a freedom within a certain sense of anonymity and what that allows you when you’re not recognised within the public domain.

“There’s such a fascination with celebrity. I think that’s a very different thing to being an actor. Also, to be fair, let’s be honest and say it’s not like I had the lead role in any of those films.

“I’ve had quite a wide spread of a career. But it’s not like I’ve had to negotiate what Sienna Miller has had to negotiate, or even Felicity Jones, for example.

It depends on the person, and the opportunities and it depends on how everyone sees you. I count myself as very lucky to be where I am.

“My goal has always been, from the time I was at drama school, about longevity. I’m still here and I’m really happy about that.”

  • Tin Star begins on Sky Atlantic on Thursday at 9pm


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