Deirdre O’Kane is back to stand-up after six years of TV and film acting —and her midlife crisis is
centre stage says Colm O’Regan
DEIRDRE O’Kane is a little nervous. She is coming back to stand-up after a six-year break. “You worry about whether you are match-fit, coming back to the stand-up stage. But, actually, I did a fundraiser a few weeks ago and I realised it’s like riding a bicycle. Within a very short space of time, you’re back in the swing of things.”
And it’s not like she hasn’t been busy. In her most recent comedy hiatus, she released the critically acclaimed, powerful biopic, Noble, about the campaigner, Christina Noble, charmed a new generation of UK fans of Irish comedy, as the Mammy in three series of Moone Boy, and, most recently, finished a stint as Rosemary in the play Beyond Mullingar, in Bath.
She’s still on a high after that.
“I loved it, I just loved it. I needed it for my soul. It was the first big job after all the promotion of Noble. The crowds loved it. People came back a number of times. I have never had that strong a reaction to a play,” she says.
So why is she back to stand-up? “Well, to be quite honest with you, it’s been a relatively quiet year and I felt I needed another creative outlet. But, also, I’ve got loads to say about life at the moment.”
Which brings us to Deirdre O’Kane’s midlife crisis. It is usually the male midlife crisis that is presented to audiences. The mid-40s man buying a fast car and chasing younger women, in a search for meaning, is a topic that has often exercised writers, but she assures me the midlife crisis is alive and kicking in Deirdre O’Kane.
“I think it’s about that moment, for a lot of women, where you have children at one end, who need endless, 24/7 attention, and also as your parents are getting old and you start to think more about their welfare and their future. And, then, you have your own job and you just realise there’s very little ‘me-time’.” So not just in the middle of her life, but also also in the middle of everyone else’s?
“Oh, yeah and (she is at pains to clarify) it’s hard work for fathers, too, but there’s something about us mothers, I think a lot of us have it hardwired into us to be always on, always worrying. So my stand-up show is about that moment of realisation — ‘Wow, now I’m really an adult’.”
And while the male midlife crisis trope is all about chasing younger women — what’s Deirdre O’Kane been up to? This is where actor Mark Ruffalo comes in. Deirdre has been carrying on — hypothetically — with the star of The Kids Are Alright and Foxcatcher.
I make the mistake of asking what is it about Mark Ruffalo that has caused her to theoretically give up everything for the dishevelled star.
“What kind of question is that?” Her expression briefly darkens. “What do you mean ‘What is it about Mark Ruffalo?’ Have you seen him? But it is interesting you use the word dishevelled. I use that word a lot in my stand-up show, at the moment.”
She’s silent. I feel that Mark Ruffalo has come between us and I’ve lost her to him. She comes around after a few moments. “My husband (director Stephen Bradley) has Mark Ruffalo hair, so it’s obviously my look.”
“Dishevelled means the man is something of a poet — but they have to have the sensible ‘chip’ somewhere in their brain. I can’t be dealing with the madness”. If you haven’t seen O’Kane on stage, in theatre or comedy, or in movies like Intermission or Noble, you may know her from her warm and funny turn as the mother of Martin Moone, in the award-winning sitcom. What was it like ‘travelling back in time to the Irish home of the 1980s and 1990s? “The first thing you notice is the lack of technology in an Irish home of 25-30 years ago. People watched the television, or read, or talked, or just were bored. Now, all you see is screens everywhere. Kids now are glued to them and you don’t know what they are exposed to. Before it was easier — you knew a lot of what was on the telly. You could control what they were exposed to. Now, you don’t know what they are seeing,” O’Kane says.
Her own children are no exception to the all-pervasive glowing screen.
“They’re addicted to it. Particularly my son, Daniel, who’s six. He’s really good at it. He might make a really good career out of IT some day. But take his ‘device’ off him and he goes mad.”
“When we were making Noble, on the long-haul flight to Vietnam, I made the mistake of giving him the Ipad on the flight. Couldn’t get it off him, even for a little while. He’s still at the age where compromise is not really a concept. Screamed the plane down if I tried to take it off him. By the time we arrived in Ho Chi Minh city, we were like refugees from a war-torn country.”
Ironic, given the country she was visiting.
She laughs. “Yes, I can imagine they must have been thinking, in Vietnam, ‘are you the actress playing Mama Tina, who looked after all those children and you can’t get an iPAd off your six-year-old’? So, we’ve restricted screen time just to weekends now. I’ve had to put my foot down.”
And has that improved her children’s imaginations, like the young lad in Moone Boy? “I’ll tell you a good one. Stephen brought them on the train somewhere and they brought their books and were reading them, and, after a while, Stephen became aware that they were the only children in the carriage without screens. People were actually staring at them as if they were a museum piece — children reading books,” O’Kane says.
Flying iPad nightmares notwithstanding, will she ever take on a project like Noble again? “Never say never, but it was tough. It was Stephen and I working non-stop for a year, with no money coming back on it. It was all-consuming. It wasn’t the actual making of the film that was tough — shooting it was an absolute joy. It was getting it out there, getting it released. When you’re independent and not attached to a major media organisation, they just look at you as if to say ‘who are you again’? So if I was doing anything like that again, I would try to be attached to a big team.
“Ignorance was bliss, but I couldn’t go through something like that again without a lot more help.”
And if money was no object, does she have someone else she would like to portray, as she did Christina Noble? She smiles. “I do. It’s an Irish woman whose story I’d love to tell. Someone with an interesting past and present”.
She tells me the name, but swears me to secrecy, “in case someone else takes the idea first”. But take it from me, like a lot of Deirdre’s choices — stage, film, comedy, TV and Mark Ruffalo — it’s a good one. Producers: give her a call!
Deirdre O’Kane was in Ireland promoting Irish Life’s campaign to encourage people to take up life assurance. She appears in City Limits comedy club, in Cork, on Saturday Night, and at the Cat Laughs comedy festival, in Kilkenny, on the June bank holiday weekend. Further dates around the country to be announced.
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