Tuesday 28 March 2017

Bondings: The perfectly cast couple

The script was rewritten after actors Jody O'Neill and Carl Kennedy got to know each other better, find Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

THEY say that mothers know best, but when Jody O'Neill's mother Geraldine tried to convince her in 2005 that her lodger Carl Kennedy, 34, was the ideal match for her, Jody wasn't having any of it.

Although from Cork, actress Jody was living in Dublin at the time, and fellow actor Carl was renting a room at her mother's house in Cork. "She spent four months trying to sell Carl to me over the phone," says Jody, "which was a bad idea, as I arrived down thinking I was going to hate this guy! She said he was really into food and good wine and was lovely and a brilliant actor, but I just wasn't interested at the time."

Jody's mother is outreach director of Graffiti Theatre Company, a Cork-based educational company for young people. Jody and Carl finally met when they both worked on one of its productions for primary-school children. Carl says that he thought Jody was gorgeous, but felt that she was avoiding being alone with him, which was the truth.

"I was hanging around with him and his friend Niall, and they were a great double act," she recalls. "I really liked Carl, so I was generally a bit tongue-tied whenever we were on our own, such as when we were walking back to my mother's house. We finally got together, and it happened over a very drunken Hillbilly's (a Cork fast-food restaurant) burger at all hours of the morning, as most good things do!"

After they got together, Carl and Jody moved to Dublin, and both pursued busy acting careers, which often took them around the country for weeks on end. Jody, whose parents separated when she was 17, originally planned to pursue a career in ballet, but changed to acting when the original plan didn't work out for her.

"I was dead set on being a ballet dancer until I was 16, but didn't get the funding to go to England to train," she says. "It seemed like a disaster at the time, but it was actually a blessing, looking back. I think I would have gone mental at ballet school for three years."

At 17, Jody moved to Dublin to study English at Trinity College, but decided it wasn't for her and returned to Cork to do a dance course. She then went back to Trinity to do its acting studies course, and started working as an actor.

Carl's parents were publicans, so he lived in Dublin, Laois and Tipperary as a child. The last pub his family owned was The Thatched Cottage in Ballycommon, Nenagh, but his parents sold it a few years ago and are now semi-retired. Carl studied English and philosophy at the University of Limerick, and he acted in college and amateur dramatic productions. He then studied at the Gaiety School of Acting, and pursued both acting and music careers, as he plays keyboards, guitar and bodhran.

Carl and Jody's relationship has flourished, and he says that he enjoys being with

her as she's really good craic and makes him laugh a lot. They're both food-obsessed, they say, and as they have only moved into a new place with a kitchen to themselves for the first time, they are spending a lot of time cooking and trying out new recipes. So far, they haven't got the quantities quite right, and often end up cooking enough for six people, they reveal with a laugh.

"Carl is a really talented actor, and I think when someone is good at something, it's a very attractive thing," says Jody. "We're not major drama queens and are not big arguers -- we sort things out really fast. The only thing is that he won't cut his hair, and I really like shaved heads on guys."

Carl's defence is that he had long hair when they first met. While they joke that he spends longer on his hair than Jody does, he says he will probably get it cut short soon and will let it grow back again.

The life of a jobbing actor is financially precarious at times, which is why Carl decided to take a job in a bank a few years ago and Jody in a cafe. However, after about two months, they decided that they couldn't hack it any more, as they loved the creative world too much. They opted to change the way they worked, so that they would be based in Dublin a lot more.

Carl trained as a sound engineer, and now does a lot of sound design as well as acting. He and Jody also provide a voiceover service. She provides the voice and he does the recordings and they also have their own theatre company, Peer to Peer, (www.peertopeer.ie)

Jody, now 31, began writing plays a few years ago, and her play, They Never Froze Walt Disney, was nominated for Fishamble's New Writing Award in 2008, and played at the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Cork Midsummer Festival. She honed her writing craft through participating in the Abbey's playwright programme for a year in 2009, and won the Pat Murray bursary, which enabled her to be mentored by Graham Whybrow, who was previously the literary manager at the Royal Court theatre in London.

Jody and Carl will be opening this week in Rough Magic's production of Neil Simon's hugely popular three-act comedy, Plaza Suite, which runs for three weeks at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire. It has a stellar cast, including Karen Ardiff, Nick Dunning and Eleanor Methven. Jody and Carl say the play is very funny, bittersweet at times, and catches the essence of people's relationships.

Jody plays Mimsey, who is due to marry her fiance Eisner, played by Carl, but develops cold feet and has locked herself into the bathroom instead. Which, of course, begs the question of whether Jody would like to marry Carl in real life?

"Well, we're not major traditionalists as we've already lived together for a few years but having kids would definitely be a big thing for us," says Jody, discreetly. The best answer, we all conclude, is that we should watch this space.

Rough Magic's production of Neil Simon's 'Plaza Suite' will run for three weeks from Wednesday, at the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire. Tickets, €20/€25, from (01) 231 2929. www.paviliontheatre.ie

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