Ripping roles put McKenna on the spot

Despite parts in RTÉ’s Raw and the BBC’s Ripper Street, Charlene McKenna still worries about working, she tells Rachel Borrill

AWARD-WINNINGactress Charlene McKenna faces a real dilemma this Sunday. Does she watch herself in RTE’s popular new series of Raw? Or tune into BBC1 and see herself playing a prostitute in Ripper Street?

“I know it’s insane,’ she says laughing. “I can’t quite believe it and it is very exciting. I like being diverse, I don’t want to get pigeon-holed as a one-trick pony.”

Now in its fifth season, McKenna, 26, really enjoys playing her character Jojo in Raw. She has been with the show from the very beginning and loves seeing how Jojo has evolved over the years.

“Since we left the last season, Jojo has been travelling trying to get her life together after the mess she was in and on her travels she picks up a nice little husband. So that’s where we start the new series, her returning home, married and in true Jojo style,’ she explains.

Whilst on BBC1, McKenna plays Rose Erskine, a “tart with ambition”, getting to grips with Victorian London after the Jack the Ripper murders. McKenna had to learn a Cockney accent for the role and cope with the daily ritual of being “forced into a corset.’

“But I loved it, she is quite flamboyant. She is a lot of fun to play, there are lots of layers to her,” she says.

Born on a mushroom farm in Glaslough, Co Monaghan, McKenna first realised she could act after a local woman asked her to audition for a role in Oklahoma for a production at the youth theatre.

Despite her success, McKenna readily admits she worries about when the next job will come. “I am trying to learn to relax, as I have been doing this solidly for eight years now. But I do still think: ‘Will I work again? Will I really?’ Then I have to say to myself: ‘Come on, don’t be silly.’

“But you are only as good as your last production. So it can be very scary,” she confesses.

Although there have been rumours that this could be her last season in Raw, McKenna is keen to stress that she would “never say never’.

“I do have other projects going on, so I just don’t know if this will be my last season. But Raw has definitely had an amazing impact on my career. Jojo is such a loved character and people are so positive about her. It has cemented me in the minds of the Irish audience,” she says.

Following the successes of Raw and more recently Love/Hate, McKenna urges Irish production companies and TV producers to be ‘brave’ and continue making hard-hitting dramas.

“I know it is very difficult because of budget cuts. But it is important to stay brave, to stay making dramas, to keep pulling the trigger and take the risks because we do have the talent. I think it is a case of speculating to accumulate,” she explains.

Is there anything she wouldn’t do? McKenna pauses, then states that it is very hard as an actor to say, as it all depends on the story.

“A full frontal? I don’t know if it is something I would do, but if a female version of Michael Fassbender’s Shame was made, would I consider doing it? I’m not scared of doing it. But it would absolutely have to be the right project. I wouldn’t just whip my clothes off for the fun of it,” she says, laughing.

She has just finished filming for Channel 4’s Skins. And now it is pilot season in Los Angeles, so that has to be considered too.

“I went from Ripper Street and Victorian London, to filming at a rave. Skins is young and so current. “It’s so different, but that’s what I like. It keeps you going, it keeps your game up,” she explains.

“Now I have to make a lot of decisions. LA or London? Where to be and where to go?”

*Raw returns on Sunday at 9.30pm on RTE 1. Ripper Street is on Sundays at 9pm BBC1


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