Cork actress Sarah Greene is back on the small screen with Dublin Murders. She talks to Esther McCarthy about returning to her homeland.
When Sarah Greene was little, she went to the panto in Cork with her family, pointed to a performer on stage and said to her mother:
“I want to do that.” It was the first eager step in what would become a career that has led her all the way to the big and small screens and the Broadway stage.
“It was the panto, I think it was Red Riding Hood,” she smiles at the memory.
“I was only about five and my mum found me classes.” Within weeks, the youngster from Glanmire was singing and dancing under the care of legendary Cork drama teacher and director Catherine Mahon-Buckley, preparing to perform at her first Feis Maitiú.
“We did the song from Annie, ‘A Hard Knock Life’ and I played Pepper, I think. It was my first time on stage and that was it.”
She spent many more years at Mahon-Buckley’s CADA Performing Arts School, developing the skills but also the confidence to consider a career in acting.
“I stayed with Catherine until I was 19. I got through all the different levels, I wanted to finish it because I’d gone so far. In my Leaving Cert and Junior Cert I didn’t do panto, because it does take up a lot of your time. I worked on props that year.
"I was just there for show time. I still wanted to be involved and I loved it. I had great craic doing it.
"What Catherine’s brilliant at doing is honing in on what your talent is but also giving you a real respect for the people behind the scenes. How it all comes together, one team one dream, we’re all there to make something.
On leaving school, Greene grafted her way through the ups and downs that are part of an acting career.
Breakthroughs came in 2013, when she received Tony and Oliver Award nominations in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan with Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway and the West End, and in 2015, with a striking onscreen performance in Noble.
More stage and screen work, including a run on TV hit Penny Dreadful, followed, but the past year or so feels like a game-changer for Greene.
She shone in support in Dublin Old School and featured in the hit famine revenge thriller Black 47. Most recently, she was exceptional as the title character in the terrific, Roddy Doyle-penned Rosie, the story of an ordinary Dublin family fighting homelessness.
Next week, she’ll make her debut as the co-lead in Dublin Murders - one of autumn’s most anticipated drama series, airing on RTÉ, BBC and in the US. Shot in the Irish capital over a seven-month period, with eight hour-long episodes, it marks a major commitment from the broadcasters, and Greene is enthusiastic about it.
This series is adapted by top screenwriter Sarah Phelps from two of crime writer Tana French’s novels, In the Woods and The Likeness.
She plays top murder squad detective Cassie Maddox, who works with Rob Riley (Killian Scott), leading a cast that also includes Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
“When Cassie came out of Templemore she made a deal and said: I’ll go undercover if I end up on murder.’ So she ends up on a murder squad, a woman, in 2006, at a young age and is partnered up with Rob and they’re just thick as thieves.
“She’s really smart, she knows exactly what she wants. She suffered massive trauma in her childhood. She used a coping mechanism which she brings into her everyday life and into her career. Rob’s character also suffered a trauma.
"And I think that’s what kind of binds them together, that shared guilt of surviving.
“It’s a psychological thriller. It opens with the murder of a young ballerina, in a place that would bring them back to a historical case. A place that they have a connection to.
"Then another young woman is murdered in the same area and they have to work to see if that’s also a connection, and it brings them on quite a journey.”
Following a lengthy stint in the US filming TV series Ransom, Dublin Murders marks her fourth consecutive project in Ireland, and she’s happy to be landing strong roles in her home country.
“I love working in Ireland, I’d take every job that they give me here because I love coming home.
"The crews in Ireland are just the best in the world. It’s lovely to walk on to a set and have a relationship with the majority of people who are working with you. That’s quite lovely because you’ve shorthand, and you just feel safe, like you’re in good hands.”
The past eighteen months has marked a good run forGreene, who has spoken frankly about coping with periods of unemployment and rejection in the past.
"She has recently been filming the highly anticipated adaptation of Sally Rooney’s hit novel Normal People, but after that readily offers that she has no firm work lined up. It’s part and parcel of being an actor, she believes.
“Rejection’s really difficult in any aspect of life and you know if you’re going to 20 auditions and not getting any of them, it does take a toll on you, on your mental health and then you’re watching your bank balance.
"It can be a really lonely job and a lonely life. Even when you are working, the majority of the time you’re in a hotel room somewhere away from your family and friends and missing out on weddings and births, and you remind yourself of those harder times.
Normal People sees her star in another bestselling adaptation, playing lead character Connell’s mother, Lorraine, in the small-screen version of Rooney’s novel. It will tell the story of the complicated relationship between teenage sweethearts Connell and Marianne from their schooldays in the west of Ireland as they prepare to go to college.
The first six episodes of the 12-part series, shot in Dublin and the west this summer, are directed by Room’s Lenny Abrahamson.
“It’s been a dream of mine to work with him,” she says. “I think that’s going to do really well. I read the book at Christmas, just over a day it took me to read it, I devoured it. And so when I got the call I jumped at the chance.
“Sally’s heavily involved in writing the scripts as well and you’ve a really good team of people.
"This is a story for young people. It was just exciting, there was an energy in the air because this young talent is incredible on that set. Much of the time when I was on set I was behind the monitor with Lenny watching them.”
She agrees that it’s an interesting time for female Irish talent, with numerous filmmakers producing strong work and actors like Jessie Buckley and Niamh Algar breaking through in high-profile projects internationally.
“You know, women are kind of rising to the top in every industry and being seen as equals.
“Jessie Buckley, I think she’s phenomenal and obviously you have Saoirse who paved the way for all of us, Ruth Negga, Seana Kerslake.
"And Niamh Algar is just doing incredible work so it is a really exciting time, witnessing all these careers rising to the top.
“Ten years ago I don’t know if people were writing for women as they’re writing for them now. But people want to see female stories and it’s important that we are represented on the screen.
“So yes, it’s a really exciting time and we’re being recognised internationally, Irish cinema and Irish TV, because of platforms like Netflix and stuff like that. It feels like a moment, definitely.”
Dublin Murders starts on RTÉ One on Wednesday 16 October at 9.35pm with a double bill. Plus catch-up on the RTÉ Player