Tuesday 26 September 2017

Fiona Bell: 'Our daughter was shocked - her daddy was kissing a woman on stage - she stared straight over at me'

Fiona Bell (47) is an actress. Born in Rosneath, Scotland, she came to Dublin in 1997. She lives in Howth, Co Dublin, with her husband, actor Conor Mullen and their two children - Cassie (8) and Keir (4) and their dog, Joxer

Actress Fiona Bell moved to Dublin in 1997. Photo: Dave Conachy
Actress Fiona Bell moved to Dublin in 1997. Photo: Dave Conachy

Ciara Dwyer

The alarm goes off at 7am. In the mornings, I love being downstairs, pottering around before the kids get up. I know it sounds a bit sad, but I actually like getting everybody's breakfast ready and making all the packed lunches. If I'm on form, I'll even make dinner for night-time. It just makes life easier for whomever is dealing with dinner. Sometimes I learn my lines in the mornings, too. At the moment, I'm in The Father at the Gate Theatre, and later in the month, I'll be back there for a second run of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

My husband, Conor, is an actor as well. If he's doing a play at night, I give him a bit of lie-in. Then, when the kids are having their breakfast, I'll have my shower. If I'm feeling like I don't give a toss about my health, I'll happily munch away on slices of buttery marmalade toast, with coffee.

But recently I did my back in badly, and I went to a Chinese-medicine practitioner, who is also a physiotherapist. He doesn't treat my back, but my gut. He untwists it .Then he tells me not to drink coffee, or eat sugar, and to try not to get too stressed! I walked into his consulting room the other day, and he said, 'What show have you been doing, and how stressful was it?' I told him that I had played Martha - the Elizabeth Taylor role - in Virginia Woolf. I had to bawl and howl, as she is totally broken. He explained that my body doesn't know that this is pretending. They say that your gut is your second brain.

Now I'm a good girl, and I have natural yoghurt with seeds. Then I try not to shout my way through the next 45 minutes. I try to be a nice mother, understanding and patient. We cajole the kids into eating breakfast, getting dressed and not watching TV. I drive them to school, and then I lash into work. I'll be rehearsing Virginia Woolf for a week during the run of The Father. That play is about a man suffering from senile dementia and his relationship with his daughter. It sounds really sad and grim, but it's not. There are laughs with stuff that happens between people when somebody can't remember anything.

Sometimes Conor is doing voice-overs in the morning, but if not, he's with the kids during the day. We also have an au pair. She works in the afternoons, because when the kids are in school, we don't need her. I couldn't work otherwise, because childcare here is nuts. We pay our au pair well, and treat her like a member of our family.

If you've got to wind yourself up to do a play every night, you might not always relish it, but Virginia Woolf is different, because it's a comedy. Yes, there are speeches that are scary, but it's great fun to play. It's so well written, and so insightful about what it's like to be a woman who is being denied life in several different ways. It's the most freeing part I've ever done. To play her, you have to let go.

I'm from Scotland, near Loch Lomond, and I came to Dublin in 1997 for a man. What else? I met Conor when we did the TV series Soldier, Soldier. I think people hear my Scottish accent and think that there is an aggression there, but there is not. People give out to me about my phone message. They say it sounds scary, but I think it is fine. Acting isn't in my family, but I always wanted to be an actress. As a kid, I used to watch black-and-white movies every Saturday afternoon - Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Ginger was a great actress, and I always thought she got overlooked a little bit. Also, I adored Westerns, and my big ambition is to be in one. At 15, I joined the Scottish Youth Theatre, and it went from there. Theatre gives you a home - and it's a big home, because you can do it in lots of different places. There's a bond between actors. Maybe I was looking for that, and that's what kept me in it for all those years.

Sometimes when you're in a run and the play is going well, it suspends time. Life stops, and there is a comfort in that. There is a coming together, a congregation of the audience and you. Something is happening. I'm not an extrovert and I'm not particularly eloquent, but being on stage allows you to do that.

Our daughter Cassie saw me in A Midsummer Night's Dream last year, and recently I brought her to see Conor in The Constant Wife. In the play, Conor kisses the main woman. Cassie sat and stared at me with her mouth open and said, 'That's my daddy.' I think she wanted the whole theatre to know he was her daddy, and that her mummy was sitting in the audience watching. I've kissed a lot of people on stage over the years, and I know exactly what it is - the kiss is technical.

After a show, I drive straight home. I rarely stay for a drink. If I'm in rehearsals and Conor is in a show at night, I phone him on my way home from work, and then spend the rest of the evening with the kids. Bedtime is a long, drawn-out affair, with stories and songs. Conor and I are a bit competitive about it. I sometimes hear him doing the bedtime story, and I say, 'I don't think you did that passage very well'.My Winnie the Witch is from Brighton, whereas his is much posher.

Sleep is very important to me. I go to bed at 10pm, knackered. I usually fall asleep with a script in my hand. Keir comes into our bed in the middle of the night, and he is a weapon. His body is solid, and every part of him seems to be able to hit some part of me. He usually pushes me to the edge of the bed. The other morning, I woke up upside down, right on the edge of our super-king-size bed, with Keir and Conor fast asleep.

'The Father' by Florian Zeller, in a translation by Christopher Hampton, runs at the Gate Theatre until October 22. 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' by Edward Albee, runs from October 26 to November 12. See gatetheatre.ie

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