Thaddea Graham: Ireland's rising star on her new Netflix series, and her Chinese heritage 

The 23-year-old plays the lead character in a Sherlock Holmes-inspired tale set in 19th century London 
Thaddea Graham: Ireland's rising star on her new Netflix series, and her Chinese heritage 

Thaddea Graham and the rest of the cast of The Irregulars, on Netflix.

 Thaddea Graham has been generating buzz as one of Ireland’s rising young talents. But new Netflix series The Irregulars marks her biggest screen role yet.

The Sherlock Holmes-inspired series nods to one of fiction’s most beloved sleuths but takes a novel - and supernatural - twist.

Set in Victorian London, the series features Holmes, but is centred around a gang of troubled street teenagers who are manipulated into helping him and Watson solve their crimes. The lead character, Bea - played by Graham - is the gang leader, drawn into the job by a need for cash to care for her younger sister. Having already impressed in fellow Netflix series The Letter for the King, she is a beguiling screen presence.

“I think it's great that we have these iconic figures such as Watson and Holmes but in ways that we haven't seen them before,” the 23-year-old said via Zoom. As a self-confessed scaredy cat, she was surprised at the darkness of the show when she was first cast.

“When I auditioned, I didn't know what the show was in its entirety, because you only get little bits of the script. I got scenes that were Bea and Jessie having a chat, or Bea and Leo having a little flirt. I thought: ‘This is lovely, it's about a group of friends’. I got cast and I got given the full scripts, and I thought: ‘What the hell is going on?’ I didn't know it was going to get this dark. I didn't know it was going to be a supernatural thing. It felt like a real gift to not know what I was getting myself in for, and then being given such a rich world to explore.”

 It’s a dream role for a young actor, and as the tough and charismatic lead, the Co Down actress is impressive in what could well be a big breakout performance.

“With Jodie Comer and Killing Eve, I was looking at her and thinking that's absolutely the dream role. There's so many different parts of that character to play. You have the humour, you have a really dark side, you have the manipulation. I thought that's the dream and then Bea landed into my life.”

 Graham was adopted from China at 13 months by her Northern Irish parents and raised there by her family, who took great effort in keeping her connected to her country of birth.

“Actually, one of my first memories is sitting in the kitchen in my high chair, with toast soldiers and scrambled eggs, looking at a camera crew, because I was one of the first kids to be internationally adopted to Northern Ireland. I was on a Spotlight programme, so that's one of my first memories, and now I see it all the time.

“Mommy and Daddy really ingrained China in my upbringing. We'd talk about it all the time. And they took me back to China on holiday, so I could see the heritage and the place that I was from, and that culture, I do think, was really beautiful. They're incredible.” 

She has fond memories too of schooldays in the north where her background was embraced and celebrated.

“My primary and my secondary school were very supportive about my background. Every Chinese New Year in primary school, I would bring in little red packets. There's a tradition there that you give gold chocolate coins to the kids for luck. Mrs Hannon, my very first P1 teacher, would read us stories about China. I never felt out of place, I just felt like well, I am who I am. You are who you are. That's just it.”

A huge music fan who plays several instruments, Graham took part in amateur dramatics as a youngster but didn’t dare dream she could pursue it as a career. Instead she considered going into music therapy with children.

“I loved the idea of going down that psychology route, and I was about to apply for that for university. Mommy said to me: ‘Thadds what are you doing? You need to be somewhere creative. What about drama school?’ 

 “I looked at her and thought okay, good one. That doesn't happen in real life, that happens in movies and books.”

 Her mother offered to take her to check out some acting schools in the UK and, delighted at the prospect of a day off school and a trip to London, she agreed and was subsequently accepted.

She credits her parents with the call they helped her make. “I think they saw something in me that I didn't, I didn't have enough confidence at that stage that I could do it. I didn't think it was a real career. I feel so lucky.” 

  • The Irregulars launches on Netflix on Friday, March 26

Thaddea Graham and other members of the cast of The Irregulars, on Netflix.
Thaddea Graham and other members of the cast of The Irregulars, on Netflix.

How music has helped Graham get through lockdown

While many people turned to their favourite movie makers, musicians and storytellers during Covid restrictions, music-mad Thaddea Graham has been getting creative and making new tunes.

“I think it was creating music for me,” she said of the cultural pastimes most of value to her in the past year. “I was so busy with Irregulars, I didn't have a lot of downtime to just create. Having that uninterrupted time is really beautiful, to just be able to play and make songs that probably will never see the light of day.

“I actually never baked the sourdough bread. I don't have the patience for that. But I will spend hours sitting at Logic Pro Gen one harmony. I play piano and guitar and I bought an electronic drum kit at the start of the first lockdown. I started learning that. And then I recently started playing the mandolin and the violin as well. I had a bodhrán in the house and I thought: ‘This would be sick to play’ so I’m figuring that out.” 

 Another passion for her over the past year has been reading and learning more about trees. “I really started looking into trees, I love them, how they take what they need. They continue growing and they give back to the forest floor. I think we can kind of take a lot of that into our own lives, you know, don't take more than you need. Be more tree!”

 She’s also spent time on the card game We’re Not Really Strangers. “It's a game about connection. It's all about trying to connect with another person. And you can play it with a complete stranger, or you can play it with someone that you think you know really well. They also do a self reflection deck of cards, which I bought. It’s fascinating to look inwards. 

"We spend a lot of time looking out and trying to connect with other people but I think these three lockdowns that we've been through, a lot of people have started looking inwards as well. I think that's really important, to get to know yourself and see what you're really projecting and how you can grow. So I've been doing that quite a lot, which I know sounds very actory!"

More in this section

Scene & Heard
Newsletter

Music, film art, culture, books and more from Munster and beyond.......curated weekly by the Irish Examiner Arts Editor.

Sign up