Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Friel's 'Fathers and Sons' takes Cassidy to new career high

Wicklow actress Elaine Cassidy chats to Stephen Milton about working with the legends of stage and scree

Stephen Milton

Published 03/07/2014 | 02:30

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Action!: The opportunity to work on a Brian Friel play is the pinnacle of Elaine Cassidy's acting career
Big shot: On ‘The Lost World’ set
Big shot: On ‘The Lost World’ set

The recent death of Bob Hoskins prompted a surge of memories for his former co-star, Elaine Cassidy – including one particularly valuable lesson. "He taught me how to skive off work," she poignantly details, recalling their time working together on the BBC's adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's prehistoric epic, The Lost World.

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"There was a huge sequence with dinosaurs, which took a couple of days to shoot. Bob, who was stood to the side of the scene, called me over and said, 'Elaine, you want to get tomorrow off work? Well, stand over here. The director won't see us and we won't have to be in tomorrow's scene. And then we'll get the day off work.'

"And, sure enough, like he said, it worked a treat."

Two years previously, the then 19-year-old from Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, landed her breakthrough alongside the Oscar-nominated star in the award-winning thriller, Felicia's Journey, and cultivated a strong bond that lasted right up to his untimely death.

"He introduced me to my first cappuccino, he taught me how to play Kalooki – and I then used to kick his ass, which he wasn't too pleased about. And I remember, towards the end of shooting Felicia, he said to me, 'I think this [film] is going to be quite good.' Now, I'd done just one film before and was so happy to be doing another, it never dawned on me that it wouldn't be good or not.

"But Bob did job after job with no control if it was a turkey or not. It just made me think, 'Will I ever get to the same stage and have the luxury of working on so many jobs and be able to think, Oh, this'll be a pile of shit'."

With an inspiring variety of films to her name and a selection of notable co-stars, from Nicole Kidman to Colin Firth and Cillian Murphy, even after 20 years as a successful working actress, it's hard to work out if, indeed, Elaine Cassidy can, or will ever, afford that luxury. Which is odd, considering a transatlantic body of work that easily outshines many of the household names Ireland has produced.

There may be no doubting the quality of her work, but she hasn't always enjoyed success.

Literary saga Fingersmith and crime drama The Ghost Squad both from the BBC stable, made little impact, while a lead in CBS's experimental glossy thriller, Harper's Island, her US break, was axed after one season. Even latest period soap, The Paradise, a return to the hallows of the BBC, was axed after only two series last year, failing to withstand the might of ITV's hugely popular costume dramas, Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge.

But the deceptively sexy, alabaster-skinned beauty, with a Master's in the soulful, pained gaze, doesn't seem to care.

"The way I see it, as an actor, if you want that security, there are jobs you can do to guarantee that a bit more."

Now a parent of two children – Kila, four, and seven-month-old Lynott, with husband, former EastEnders' actor, Stephen Lord – that laissez-faire ideology was admittedly shaken when she first became a mother.

"I became very aware that with all these decisions I made, there's somebody else who'll be affected by them. That fear of bringing in money. I'm used to living in a cardboard box, but that's an irresponsible [way to live] just for the love of my art. But that didn't last very long. Thankfully, I keep working and do jobs I love to do."

Indeed, the Wicklow-bred actress is looking at a roster of significant releases, including the US ensemble, The Loft, with Prison Break's Wentworth Miller and Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet, and a lead in Stephen Frears' biopic of disgraced former cyclist, Lance Armstrong, alongside Chris O'Dowd and Dustin Hoffman.

"I really wish I could tell you more about that one, but I'm not sure if I'll get into trouble or not if I do."

There are no such restrictions for current project, Brian Friel's Fathers and Sons, now playing to favourable reviews at London's Donmar Theatre.

Adapted from Ivan Turgenev's classic novel, it's a typified melange of pre-Bolshevik melodrama, imbued with that twist of signature Friel regret. Cassidy is Anna, resigned to an eventuality of loveless marriage, only for passion to find its way to her heart when it's all too late.

"I find her so sad," Elaine explains, "because probably one of the hardest things to live with is regret. She's made so many sacrifices, marrying a man older than her because he was wealthy, just for the survival of her and her sister.

"So, when she finds love, she denies it and only realises too late that she should have accepted it."

The opportunity to work on a Friel play, and earn his personal approval, is the culmination of her entire vocation, especially after she unsuccessfully auditioned for the playwright at the start of her career

"It wasn't quite the encounter I was hoping for because all I got was a 'Hello'. I left the room, went to the toilet, looked in the mirror with a really big smile and thought, 'I can tell my grandkids I met Brian Friel.' Happily, this has been a far superior experience as I was able to have a chat with him on opening night and get the acknowledgement that we have his approval.

"But I didn't mention the audition. I'm sure he wouldn't have remembered."

'FATHERS AND SONS' IS AT LONDON'S DONMAR WAREHOUSE UNTIL JULY 26

'Probably one of the hardest things to live with is regret. She made many sacrifices'

Irish Independent

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