Recommitted: 'The Commitments' star on why she shuns the limelight
When she was catapulted to fame as one of the stars of 'The Commitments' it made the young Angeline Ball a bit paranoid. Since then the actress has become increasingly media-shy, to the point of almost being reclusive. As she prepares to dust off 'Mustang Sally' for another ride, she tells Barry Egan about her life since then, from flirting with Marlon Brando to finding contentment with her French partner and two children. Photography by Barry McCall. Styling by Liadan Hynes
Angeline Ball is going to miss her flight to London. For starters, it takes her an eternity to find her car -- "a teeny, tiny, rented car which seems to be made of tin" -- in the hotel car park in Dublin's city-centre.
Then, as we finally get on the road, with The Commitments demi-goddess entertainingly at the wheel, just as we are starting to make some progress en route to catching her flight home, Angeline drops the clanger: she is frightened of big main roads and prefers to stay on the little ones. "I drive like an old lady and hate the fact that I need to step on it a little so as not to cause an accident," she laughs. "I prefer to drive slow, slow, slow . . ."
Despite detours occasioned by phobias of the fast lane, Angeline made her flight to London, where she had two children and a partner waiting for her at home in Hackney.
The last time I met Ms Ball was on an island in 1992. She was doing a few gigs with the band from The Commitments in Manhattan in New York. We all went out for dinner afterwards and went to see U2 at Madison Square Garden. "It was good fun as always, but I think the whole excitement and enthusiasm was running out by then," she recalls. "Mustang Sally needed a well-deserved break."
Angeline has a Monroe-ish mop of styled blonde hair. She is striking to look at. She says she hasn't had any jobs done; her lips look exceptionally bee-stung, but who am I to argue? She has a sexy, erudite, witty way about her, this 41-year-old Dubliner. People in the bar keep doing double takes. They don't see Angeline Ball from Cabra. It's scaldy Northside fun-blonde Imelda Quirke they think they're looking at.
We'll get to that later. We'll get to the times when Angeline Ball, becoming slightly paranoid, dyed her hair black at one stage so she wouldn't be recognised as yer wan from The Commitments. She remembers being stopped in traffic in Dublin a few years ago, when a bus pulled up beside her. The bus driver rolled down the window and said to the people on the street: "That's yer wan from The Commitments."
The star of The Commitments and the small screen was born on June 28, 1969, in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital -- we drove past en route to the airport the night LIFE interviewed her. Young Angeline first went to school in St Mary Help of Christians on the Navan Road, and then to St Dominic's College in Cabra, near where she grew up on the Northside.
Angeline Ball's Northside Story was one that began in her early teens with an unhappy event. Her father, James, died of a heart attack when she was 12. He was "relatively young" when he died, being in his 50s. "Obviously, it is life-changing, really, for a 12-year-old but, like anything in life, you have got to keep going forward. You take from life the positives," she says, "as much as it can throw the negatives at you." As to the deeper, more emotional effects her father's death had on her, Angeline says, "It made me -- I wouldn't say steely ambitious, but I would say driven, because we had to be, because we were quite poor then. You have got to think about how you are going to make ends meet. It made me independent."
Did it make you too independent too quickly?
"No. No, I don't think so," she says emphatically. "Because I think I was always under my mum's wing. But even at 22, when I did The Commitments, I was a young 22. I was quite naive."
You must have been sad that your father wasn't around to see his daughter's success. She nods her head. "Yeah. I think one of his neighbours or friends had said at the time: 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if he could be here?' And in a way, if you're spiritual, he was there." Angeline adds that in her 20s and early 30s she wasn't particularly spiritual, "but after having children I'd like to think that I am spiritual now".
She attributes that spirituality to seven-year-old Katie Rose and one-year-old Maxim. "He is a whirlwind -- a Tasmanian devil!" she laughs. "He still keeps me up at night. Even before I flew to Dublin last night, the night before and the night before that were hell with him keeping me up. He was following me round the house yesterday before I left. It was like he smelt that I was leaving. I must have sent off some sort of pheromone or scent that I was going.
"I think my kids have saved me," she says. "I haven't gone down that murky road of being an actress in LA on my own." Motherhood, she believes, changed her life as much as the death of her father did. "When dad died, we looked after mum and each other as a family. We became quite responsible. But motherhood made me quite selfless. I say to my daughter: 'When you were born, I was exhausted. It was a 12-hour labour. A natural labour. I stared into your face all night. I couldn't sleep. I just looked into your face all night.' She was born at 2am and at 8am I was still looking into her face. So I always tell her that story.
"They have changed my life. I am determined for them to be proud and to see their mum doing something, and
achieving something. Also, they make you want to go to work because you have got to go to work to support your kids. Also, I think if I'm a happy mum and creatively fulfilled, then I think I'm a better mum with them."
The father of those children is Patrice Gueroult. "We are not married yet, but we will be," she says of their relationship. "He is French. He is from near Marseille. He is not in the business, thank God. He is a graphic designer, an art director. He has a great eye."
And his eye caught Angeline's for the first time 11 years ago. "We met on a slow boat to Greenwich," she smiles. "Some people say on a slow boat to China. But we met on a slow boat to Greenwich, outside London, down the Thames. We had all gone out in a group of friends. So, he went to art college with Bronagh," she says referring to Bronagh Gallagher from The Commitments. "So it is thanks to Bronagh, really. I owe her my family!"
She can recall him looking "a bit like Captain Haddock. He had a blue polo-neck on and this beard -- you know, in this wonderfully arresting French way. Eleven years later, we are very, very happy."
What is the dynamic between the two of you?
"It is constantly -- it is never a dull moment together. It doesn't feel like 11 years together; it feels like two. We are both very exuberant. We both want to try and get the best out of life, and especially for our kids. With him, he'll look at the sky and say: 'Look at the cloud there.' He has an eye for the smaller things in life, and to appreciate that."
What is the difference between the public perception of Angeline Ball and the Angeline Ball that Patrice knows? "Now that's for him to know and others to never find out."
How would he describe you?
"Patient, kind, honest and loving and a bit kooky."
How would you describe him?
"A gorgeous man, my hero!"
What is the secret of your happy relationship?
"Talking and never taking each other for granted."
The quality she admires most in a man, she says, is honesty. She is honest enough to say that the period after The Commitments wasn't the easiest. In the immediate years after Alan Parker's movie in 1991, Angeline just "kind of rumbled on through". She adds that, "a lot of that period as well was trying to get over The Commitments, and the loss of anonymity. That really killed me. Alan Parker said in Chicago that 'we won't be able to go out the door when the film breaks in Ireland because we'll be recognised'. I thought, 'Don't be silly.' I didn't think that that would be a bad thing."
Did it depress you that people were recognising you for a woman that was nothing like you at all?
"It wasn't just that. It was people knowing who you are, knowing your name; everybody looking when you are in a bar and how many times you go to the loo and who you are with. And you don't know anything about them. A little bit of paranoia creeps in. There are other people, other actresses, who absolutely adore that kind of recognition. I am quite shy. I know that sounds really weird. I love working. I love work. I love to create a character, but, ask me to go to those networking events -- I hate it; I don't feel comfortable. I get nervous talking. It is not in my comfort zone. I was asked to go to Claridge's hotel in London for a Radio Times covers party and I couldn't think of anything worse. I sat home and had a cup of tea. I am not a network-y, schmoozy type of person."
There is a lot of truth in this interpretation of herself -- my own interpretation of her would be that she is complex and fun at the same time, light and dark, just like most artistic people, with a brain full of questions about life.
Angeline Ball has done very little press in the past decade. She is almost reclusive. She certainly didn't pop up in British lad-mags in the mid-Nineties as yer wan from The Commitments. There is nothing of note about her on the internet. Google reveals little or nothing about her. Spend a bit of time with her -- as I did in Dublin, and almost 20 years previously in New York -- you start to get a better picture of who she is underneath.
She can be, she says, quiet and introverted at times. The baby of the family, Angeline had two big sisters, Maria and Elizabeth. Losing a parent and an income had an effect on the finances of the family, she says. "But we managed. My eldest sister, Elizabeth, was around. She was working. And that was good. Maria was in school. I worked as well in the summer. One of my first jobs was with Initial -- they did towels for toilets and business. It wasn't a very nice job, but it was a summer job." She was also in the Billie Barry Kids. She has tapes from when she was four years of age, singing.
Like an actress in a long-running soap, Angeline Ball will quite possibly always be that character she played in The Commitments two decades ago. She readily admits that the part has been a curse as much as a blessing in her career. She has no doubt that she didn't get certain roles because of The Commitments, but she got others perhaps because of that movie.
She has vivid, joyful memories of the first day of The Commitments in 1991 when she and all the cast met in casting director Ros Hubbard's kitchen. "We were all young, excited and terrified." Angeline came to get involved with the project because she was, "one of the few who had a private audition through the Hubbards as I was already on the scene singing and dancing".
All these years later, Angeline is back where she started. The stars of The Commitments are reforming as a band to mark their 20th anniversary with a series eagerly awaited shows across Ireland. As well as Ms Ball, the reunion gigs will also feature, among others, Andrew Strong, Deco; Robert Arkins, Jimmy Rabbitte; Bronagh Gallagher, Bernie; Glen Hansard, Outspan; and Felim Gormley, Dean.
Angeline says the idea came about when "Darryl Downey, who runs RagLane Entertainment, approached us in view to doing an anniversary gig. Daryl rang me up quite out of the blue last year. I thought, 'Great, if you can get us all together' and it just all came together. I think everyone told him it couldn't be done, but here we are, all ready to rock 'n' roll," she says.
"In September we were all down in the Tivoli Theatre singing, and it was incredible again. We have been rehearsing for a month because people deserve 150 per cent. I am so excited about this, standing on the stage at the 02 Arena in front of 9,000 people at a sold-out show. I will think I have died and gone to heaven. It is a celebration. It is cathartic for a lot of us."
She says she doesn't think a sequel to The Commitments would work. "I think it is best left where it was," she says.
"It was a two-way street," she says of the effect Ms Quirke had on Ms Ball's career. "It opened the doors for me in some ways, and in others it shut them in my face. When I went to the States after The Commitments," she adds, "I was offered a lot of that type of role, or I was going to audition for them-- and I really didn't want it. I felt really uncomfortable. A lot of us would freely admit that we had a difficult time after The Commitments."
Of course, after The Commitments Angeline did plenty of good work that is different in lots of ways from Imelda Quirke. She was in John Boorman's The General. She received rave notices -- and an Ifta Award -- for her 2002 role as Nora in Any Time Now. In 2003, as Molly in Bloom, the movie adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses, she was phenomenal.
Angeline also worked with a certain Marlon Brando on the ill-fated Divine Rapture, the movie that collapsed just two weeks into filming in 1995. "I got paid," she remembers. "My agent got me paid up front." That was not the only thing that was up front about the movie shot in Ballycotton. She met Brando and he found her extremely charming, not least when he would summon all his acting genius to hit on her as she passed by on set. When she ran by him in one take he asked her: 'Could you just run by a little slower?'
Another time, she was walking through the woods when she passed Brando and his entourage. He stopped and eyeing her up said: "And in the woods too . . ."
"He was flirting with me -- I was dumbstruck. I went to gibberish, total gibberish! He had incredible blue eyes."
So does she. The 41-year-old looks younger than her years. In person, Angeline is never boring. In the face, she is a cross between Sophie Dahl and Beatrice Dalle. "I love French films. I speak French now, and I'd love to act in one." She laughs when I ask her if she is acting now.
Do blondes have more fun? "I think it depends on the blonde."
Do gentlemen prefer blondes? "Now that depends on the gentleman," she says.
Imelda Quirke is dead. Long live Imelda Quirke.
'The Stars Of The Commitments' play:
The Royal Theatre, Castlebar, Co Mayo on March 14;
INEC, Killarney, Co Kerry, March 15; The Odyssey Arena, Belfast, March 17; and The O2, Dublin, March 19
Matt Doody, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, D2, tel: (01) 611-1966
Bow Boutique, 4-5 Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, D2, tel: (01) 707-1763
Photography by Barry McCall
Post-production by Paul Canning
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Assisted by Zalie Kirwan and Aisling Wright-Goff
Make-up by Kate Synnott at Dylan Bradshaw, 56 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 671-9353, or see www.dylanbradshaw.com
Hair by Dylan Bradshaw
Assisted by Kellie Smith
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