The Shape I’m In: Hilda Fay

MISS Hannigan may be a raging alcoholic who’s criminally cruel to the children in her care but for actor Hilda Fay it’s a role she’s wanted for more than 20 years.

“It’s a dream come true for me to play that part. It was definitely on my bucket list,” she says of her starring role in Annie at Cork Opera House, which runs until August 20.

“I auditioned for the part when I was 22 — I got down to the last two but I didn’t get it. I remember the director saying to me at the time: ‘You will get it, you will play that part eventually’.”

The former Fair City actor believes in submerging herself in a role and takes her work home where she has a “tough audience” with her two daughters, Pearl,7 and Nancy, 5.

“I’ve been going around the kitchen at playing Miss Hannigan in the buildup to this. In the show the orphans throw a rat at my dress — at home, they pretend to throw a rat at me and I’ll chase them around the kitchen. They just think it’s a hoot. It’s just mummy playing a game with them. They are my preview audience. Sometimes that isn’t so good cause they’ll say, ‘Oh shut up mam’, or ‘Stop singing mam’.”

Though playing the part of the villain, there are ways in which she can identify with Miss Hannigan. “She is in no way nurturing or stable but she finds the children challenging at times — I would definitely recognise that children can be challenging — if there is any way I would empathise with her it would be that.

“I don’t really want her to be a monster I want to portray her as a woman who can’t cope and is in the wrong job.”

What shape are you in?

Hopefully on my way to getting fit. I do a lot of bikram yoga. I’ve been doing it on and off for 11 years. It’s a 90-minute class in in a 40C heated room. It just really helps to lengthen your stretch and improve your flexibility which I love. Unfortunately, where I live in Artane the class has closed down so I joined a gym. I try to go about three times a week. I’m not killing myself. I do a 40-minute session and that way I reckon I’ll keep it as a regular part of my life.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I went paleo about three years ago. Basically, it’s meat, dairy and veg and you cut out all processed foods. I found that I had so much more energy, I felt my moods better. I lost a good bit of weight. My face looked fresh. I’m not on the diet now but I’ve cut out carbs and I’m trying to cut out sugar too. I’m eating a lot of greens.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I like a Chinese, egg fu yung, and I do like chocolate.

What would keep you awake at night?

I’m very good at sleeping. I’ve two young children so I’m very, very busy during the day with them. The minute they go to bed, I hit the pillow at half past nine — I’m exhausted

How do you relax?

The gym. If I’m getting into negative headspace or I’m getting anxious about something, 40 minutes in the gym relieves all that.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

My good old friend Anita Reeves. It’s her first anniversary around now. I miss her so much. She was one of the greats in Irish theatre. She was so kind and generous of heart and so understanding. I learned so much from her about the craft.

What is your favourite smell?


What would you change about your appearance?

I think you are who you are and I don’t mind ageing. I’m pretty happy with myself.

When is the last time your cried?

I cry every day. I’m really connected to my emotions. I’ll look at a film on the television and it’ll make me cry. I think I have these really special tear ducts because there’s a never-ending pool of tears.

What traits do you least like in others?

I don’t like bad manners and people who have a lack of empathy. I don’t like narcissism.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I wouldn’t be the most organised. I suppose that’s because if I’m doing a part I’m always thinking about the role. Sometimes I can live on a different planet. I can be a bit scatty. But I am married to an amazing man, Alan, the most organised man in the world.

Do you pray?

I do. I’m religious. I live beside a church and I will go in there regularly whenever I feel I need to talk to God and I’ll bring the children in.

What would cheer up your day?

My kids — seeing them happy. Having a laugh. My husband. I’m a big family person. That really cheers me up. Or a good movie.


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