This much I know: Gemma Doorly, actor and writer

I’m an unbelievable optimist. I always try and find something to be grateful for, even when I’m having an awful time.

This much I know: Gemma Doorly, actor and writer

When they told me my character in Fair City (Sarah O’Leary) was being killed off after ten years, I was shocked. Then it hit me — what am I going to do financially? I was so used to the security. But I’m definitely living proof that when one door closes another one opens.

I would have never started writing if I hadn’t lost the Fair City gig.

I was one of those precocious, annoying kids, always singing and dancing. I became more shy as I grew up. I was aways looking for attention, singing Abba songs down the phone to anyone who rang our house. My parents wisely sent me to the Betty Ann Norton Theatre School early on to try to channel this energy.

There is no acting history in our family. My mum is certainly outgoing and dad is musical but he’s an accountant — there’s a long list of them in our family — but the acting seems to have come out of nowhere.

I’m the second youngest of four and was the third girl in our family. When my brother was born he was like the Messiah. His arrival had a big impact on me. I was four and apparently all I said when I first saw him was ‘oh shit’.

I went to the University of Ulster and did a degree in drama and theatre studies in Coleraine. Fair City was pretty much my first job out of college. I was there for ten years. So you could say I started to relax when the contract kept being renewed.

I’m bad at separating my work and personal life. I’m a bit of a workaholic. I find it hard to switch off.

When I was young, acting was a place to show off and have fun. As I have matured, I’ve come to love drama for the way it allows me to be an amateur psychologist and to delve into the reasons for a character’s actions.

To relax, I play a bit of golf. I’m not very good.

My biggest fear is flying. I did a course to help address the fear but I still feel nervous on a plane. And taking the underground in London. And I’d hate to regret anything.

My biggest fault is that I can be too rigid about work — I don’t chill out enough and have a laugh — I don’t know if I’ve enjoyed it all as much as I might have done up until now. The late Susan Fitzgerald, a wonderful actor and very generous person, gave me some great advice early on, she said ‘remember to have fun — it is fun.’ She was right. What a way to make a living. There is no better job.

I got the idea to write my first play when I was sharing a dressing room on Fair City with Claudia Carroll who was tapping her first novel out on her laptop. I thought, that looks like a good way to pass the time.

My first play was performed at the Fringe and then I wrote WAG, a two-hander that toured for over a year and that led to loads of opportunities, like this piece for Under my Bed — where they have invited well-known people from all walks of life to tell us what was under their bed as a child, with all the proceeds going directly to Barnardos children’s charity.

I’m disciplined when it comes to writing but it helps that my folks have a house in Wexford where I can hide myself away to get a draft done. Dialogue comes easily, I think actors know instinctively what sounds right, but I find structure and plot more difficult.

My biggest challenge has been making a living. My parents were anxious about it — always asking if I wouldn’t ‘do computers’ to have something else to fall back on.

If I could be someone else for a day I’d like to be Kim Kardashian — just to see what goes on inside her head for 24 hours.

If I could change one thing in society it would be our attitude to drink. I think we Irish overdo it. I’d like to see us change our relationship with alcohol through education and learning to drink in moderation.

My idea of hell would be to work as a pilot.

So far life has taught me that ‘we plan and God laughs.’ Because you can make all the plans you like but they will deviate. I left Fair City and broke up with my boyfriend at the same time and thought it was the end of everything. But I realise now when plans change, all that happens is that the trajectory of your life changes.

Eventually, I got used to being freelance. I’m certainly a lot more in control of my destiny because when you are an actor in a soap you are really just part of a big machine. I’m single and don’t have kids but am happy simply living my life in Dublin.

My advice to anyone who wants to get into this business is to work your ass off. There are no short cuts and there is absolutely no point in wanting to be famous for being famous.

Under My Bed runs from March 12-14 in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. A list of participants is available from undermybed.ie. Tickets are available from smockalley.com or 01-6770014.

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