She’s on TV3 in Red Rock, but switch over to RTÉ or BBC and she’s there again, this time in Eastenders. Liz O’Brien meets soap queen Denise McCormack
ACTOR Denise McCormack is a wanted woman — in the best possible way, of course.
This week she’s back on our TV screens, as hit series Red Rock returned to TV3.
Denise plays Bridget Kiely, matriarch of the much-loved, be it troubled, Kiely family. Flick over to RTÉ One — or BBC — and Denise is smack bang in the midst of all the action on Albert Square; she plays Ciara Maguire in Eastenders.
Currently, she’s on location, filming in Wicklow for a film to be released just in time for the Christmas market. But, while she’s busy now, Denise says she wasn’t always so sought after. That didn’t happen until she got her big break on gangland drama, Love/Hate.
“With Eastenders it’s such a big leap, going on to a BBC show. I suppose I am in demand, but it was Love/Hate opened a lot of doors for me,” she said.
“Before that I found it very difficult, so that wasn’t always the case at all.
“Because Love/Hate was so critically acclaimed and everybody watched it — and I won the IFTA (Irish Film and Television Award) for it — all of a sudden I was able to get into the casting, whereas before that it was very difficult.”
Before Christmas she started working on Eastenders; that means a commute to London from her family home in Bray where she lives with her fiancé, Barry, and sons, Sidney aged four and Harvey, almost six.
She catches a 3am flight to the UK; sometimes she makes it home at night just in time to kiss her boys goodnight, sometimes she doesn’t.
She’s not sure how long her role in Eastenders will last — scripts are distributed week to week — but she’s hoping she won’t be found “under a bus” anytime soon.
“I’ve watched Eastenders over the years, I don’t think anyone hasn’t. It’s a fantastic show, I mean how long has it been going, 30-something years? And it’s still as formidable and as strong as it was back then.
“There’s a real strength to it and a real strength of writing and it’s great that John York has come back as creative producer to put his stamp back on it; I think we will see changes with Eastenders and really positive changes.”
Recently, on RTÉ One’s Today show with Maura and Daithí, Denise told the presenters how she had worked with York on Red Rock.
When writing the part of Ciara Maguire for Eastenders, York phoned Denise and asked her if she’d like to audition. She did — she loved the part, she got it and now she’s working alongside Patrick Bergin — best known for his role as Julia Roberts’ menacing husband in Sleeping with the Enemy.
Bergin plays Aidan Maguire in Eastenders, and Ciara, new to Albert Square, is his estranged ex-wife.
“Patrick’s from Drimnagh as well, where I’m from, he’s a stones’ throw from where I grew up. We didn’t know each other; I had met him on Red Rock, but I’d never worked with him. He’s a lovely guy and a really fun person to be around.
“I remember myself and Barry (her fiancé) sitting talking to him about his castle — he has a castle!
“At the time we were planning our wedding... never happened, but potentially might down the road...when I have a bit of time.” Free time is something she doesn’t have in abundance; it’s one of the reasons why she doesn’t watch much television. However, she admits tuning in to the new season of Ireland’s Dancing With The Stars — this time last year she was one of the stars, not only that, but she — and professional dance partner Ryan McShane — was one of the bookies’ favourites.
“It was such a huge part of my life for four months last year, so I’m making sure to watch it on catch-up.
“I know all the dancers, they’re fantastic people and they do a great job, you know; they’re so positive — so, I’m watching it for that and I know some of the cast.
“Deirdre O’Kane – I’d know very well and I’m rooting for her!
“And Erin (McGregor) and Ryan are doing a great job, too.” Denise hasn’t danced since appearing on the show, but that’s not to say she won’t get back into it at some stage. She knows well it’s a handy skill to have as an actor — in the past she’s been asked to dance while auditioning.
“I had to twerk for Red Rock!
“It was in the script for the audition, so I gave it a bash. It is really hard... I can kind of get it for a couple of seconds and then I start doing something that just looks weird.
“The scene was in the pub, where I have a stand-off with Patricia Hennessy, but before that I’m quite drunk and I’m twerking up against Adam Weafer who plays David; that was hilarious when I was doing it.”
Red Rock is one week into series three. The show — set in and around a Garda station in a Dublin seaside town - heavily features two feuding families, the Hennessys and the Kielys. The Kielys are notorious for getting themselves into trouble and, if this week’s episodes are anything to go by there’s no respite in sight.
“It’d be a miracle if the Kiely’s got a break and I don’t know what they’d do with it if they did,” Denise said.
Now in hiatus, Red Rock first aired in 2015; Denise has been part of the cast since the start; working closely Paul Roe (Vincent Kiely), Stephen Cromwell (Keith Kiely) and India Mullen (Katie Kiely).
“We never had a bad day; I always went to work with a smile on my face, which is kind of rare.” She hopes production will continue, in time.
“It is something that Ireland needs; I think there was a gap in the market and Red Rock filled it.
“It’s a continuing drama and I think the 20-something episodes that we’ve done really show what the show is and the potential it has.”
Denise has been acting since she was 16.
Her on screen credits include Kitty in the fourth installment of the Inspector Jury series Old Fox Deceived; Echoes for Channel 4; a role in the Irish Film Board funded short film Time Traveller; she played Suzanne in Darren Thornton’s award-winning debut feature film A Date for Mad Mary; Hozz’in Nicky Larkin’s short Too Shall Pass; Becks’ in RTÉ drama Raw; and she was the original Farrah Phelan in RTÉ’s soap drama Fair City.
Her career in acting however, certainly hasn’t been an easy ride. Over the years she’s tried her hand at “every sort of job” to supplement her income and try to make ends meet.
“I did everything! I worked in call centres, I’ve cleaned the university, I worked in a pub — I think everybody’s bartended doing acting, if they haven’t waited tables, there’s something wrong, because it’s the nature of the business really.
“I went to university in Wales and while I was studying I cleaned the university.
“I also did work in a laundrette and I had to go through people’s pockets — once I found a set of dentures; that wasn’t very nice!
“Through all those jobs — being an actor and meeting people from all walks of life — I made great friends and have great stories from those times, so it’s almost like research really.”
If she could work with anyone in the film industry, top of the list would be Frances McDormand— one of the few performers who have achieved the Triple Crown of Acting: an Academy Award for Fargo (1996), a Tony Award for the Broadway play Good People (2011), and an Emmy for HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge in (2014).
“At the moment I’m loving everything Frances McDormand does, and I kind of watch her like a hawk. She’s a superb actress and I’ve always been impressed by her since Fargo, which is a film I absolutely adored; so if I could work with anyone I’d emulate her, I’d look up to her and follow her around.” This week Denise started filming in Wicklow for a co-production - between LA Studio Marvista and Ireland’s own MK1 productions.
Produced by Julie Ryan – also the producer of The Young Offenders – the film, directed by David Jackson, is aimed at the US market. Christmas Perfection will see Denise play the supporting role of ‘Sylvia’, mother to the protagonist daughter Darcy.
Red Rock returned to TV3 on Monday, January 22. The series is also broadcast on BBC Television and Amazon Prime.
EastEnders airs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays on RTÉ One.