THERE’S an awkward moment as I’m being led in to meet actress Sarah Greene.
Her PR handler asks that I don’t mention Greene’s boyfriend, Poldark star Aidan Turner. But how do you skirt around that fact?
After Turner’s topless turn in costume lark Poldark, the Dubliner and his Cork girlfriend are officially a celebrity couple. Albeit a celebrity couple who really, really wish they weren’t.
“I don’t like that,” says Greene (29), contemplating life in the media spotlight.
“They just make stuff up. I was engaged last week, apparently. They can make up, whatever they want. If someone quotes a ‘source’ or a ‘friend’… it’s totally fictitious. That scares me. I worked in theatre for years. Nobody ever wants to know about your personal life. Why should they?”
So, just to be clear — she and Turner are not about to get hitched. Recent media stories about their engagement were greatly exaggerated. How would they find time?
With Poldark and The Hobbit under his belt — he was the dwarf who had that thing going on with the elf — Turner is headed for the big-time.
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Greene seems set to follow him — championed by influential producer, Harvey Weinstein, she won a part in the Bradley Cooper-Sienna Miller movie, Adam Jones (about a Gordon Ramsay-esque maniac chief), while, next week, audiences can see her in gothic romp, Penny Dreadful, when season two debuts on Monday.
She’s also just been nominated for an IFTA, for her role in Noble.
In Penny Dreadful, Greene is to play Hecate, a young witch with a taste for blood and vengeance. But Greene will not even confirm if she has been cast for series three.
How curious: she’s far more sensitive about Penny Dreadful spoilers than polite inquiries about Turner.
Still, Greene will at least go on the record regarding her fandom of Penny Dreadful, a lustily baroque mash-up of Victorian horror, wherein Dr Frankenstein co-exists with werewolves, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, and Dracula’s Mina Harker.
She didn’t watch the first season, but, when offered Hecate, immediately devoured a box-set and was struck by its depiction of women — especially Eva Green as cooly scheming Vanessa Ives.
“It’s about strong women,” she says. “Eva Green is just so powerful in that part.”
Greene grew up in Glanmire, just outside Cork city. She speaks in a modulated Leeside accent, lilting with the occasional American twang.
She had, she says, a thoroughly normal upbringing : her father works in telecommunications and played hurling for Glen Rovers; her mother was a housewife.
“I went to St Angela’s on [St Patrick’s]Hill and hung out at the Old Vic [a city centre snooker club]. I’ve always been very passionate about acting. I appeared in panto in the Everyman from the age of five.
“After school, I took a year off to save for drama school. I worked in Rossini [an Italian restaurant], and the Shelbourne Bar on MacCurtain Street, and as a make-up artist in Brown Thomas. I’m very independent, have always known what I wanted.”
Greene is lucky to have come along in a moment when European actors are in vogue in Hollywood.
“The theatre training is second to none in Ireland and England,” she says.
“You meet people who haven’t had theatre training — it is harder for people who worked in TV to go into theatre than the other way around.”
Indeed, it was after seeing her opposite Daniel Radcliffe, in a Broadway production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, that Weinstein, among the most powerful producers in Hollywood, asked her to lunch and offered her a role in Adam Jones.
It was, she says, “a bit mental”.
“When you are nominated for a Tony, you are on the circuit,” she says.
“He came to the Cripple of Inishmaan. He’s a really charming, lovely man — a great storyteller. They love the Irish over there.”
Contrary to media reports, she does not live in New York. Home, for the moment, is Dublin — though there is the inevitable trek every few months to Los Angeles, where she is signed to the powerful agency, CAA [she is also with the London agency that looks after Kate Winslet and Jamie Dornan].
It is common to decry LA as plastic and soulless. Greene, however, has a more nuanced opinion.
“Lots of people are trying to get into the industry for the wrong reasons,” she says.
“They get a little bit lost. It’s an awful business to get into if you want to be famous — you are going to get hurt, going to suffer massive depression. It’s the wrong road to go down — if you think you are going to be rich in this job, you’re not. You have to be careful with your money. Often, you’re completely broke. I’ve been on the dole a lot of my life.
“When you’re a little bit older, you can see through the bulls**t. I’m lucky — I know when someone is just bigging you up. After I met Harvey, the next day I rang someone and said, ‘Is he full of s**t or what?’ And they were like ‘No, it’s real — you just got an offer’. You do have to have your wits about you — especially as a woman. People will tell you exactly what you want to hear. If you aren’t aware of that, you will get taken in and you will get hurt.”
I make the point that while there are plenty of Irish leading men — Colin Farrell, Michael Fassbender and Turner — high-achieving Irish actresses seem rather thinner on the ground.
She isn’t having it.
“There are loads,” she says.
“We don’t get the same recognition. Ruth Bradley, Charlene McKenna, Victoria Smurfit, Maria Doyle Kennedy Saoirse Ronan. There are lots of women out there doing incredible work. Nobody knows it… we feel very lucky to be working and keep our heads down and don’t make a big noise. People are very quick to judge you — it’s hard to work if they know too much about your background, your personality. It’s difficult to play characters in that situation.”
Greene is refreshingly upfront about her insecurities. Despite her Tony nomination for the Cripple of Inishmaan, the first time she stepped onto the set of Adam Jones she had an out-of-body moment of wondering what, precisely, she was doing there, surrounded by A-listers.
“I would get nervous. I’m a normal person. You hold your own. You have to tell yourself ‘I have as much right to be there as anybody else’. Actors, by nature, are insecure. I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. It is good to question yourself, be self-analytical. You get a better performance if you challenge yourself. If you go around thinking you’re great, you’re never going to challenge or scare yourself.”