The real Charlotte
She rejected the Abbey Theatre's offer to be nude and raped on stage. But actress Charlotte Bradley has arrived at her views on the sexual depiction of women on stage and screen the hard way. The separated mother of three talks frankly to Joe Jackson (her companion) about simulating orgasm on screen, the reactions of her children (and companion), the calumniation of Queen Maev (mad with PMT) and the Irish Film Industry
AS AN interviewer, I've heard `The Killer' Jerry Lee Lewis snarl: ``You write a bad article on me, boy, and you're dead meat.'' Likewise, the equally bombastic Richard Harris finger-flicked a sheaf of papers in my hand and bellowed: ``You come here with all these questions, Jackson, but there are no answers. Do you understand?''
More threateningly, I've jostled with Danny Morrison, Gerry Adams and David Ervine at the height of the Troubles. But no interview has been as difficult, daunting or demanding as this little ``dance'' with Charlotte Bradley. Why? I wasn't dating Jerry Lee, Harris, Morrison, Adams or Ervine. I also haven't written before for the Sunday Independent.
So why take on this onerous task, which will, no doubt, lead to me getting the arse slagged off me? Partly because I suspect that in the mad, media rush to mark the first public screening, in Ireland, of the movie About Adam at tonight's Cork Film Festival, Charlotte's leading role may get lost amid hype about more ``marketable'' names such as Kate Hudson, Frances O'Connor and Stuart Townsend. And her story. Particularly given that her already critically-acclaimed performance, in such a major movie, is the culmination of a 15-year quest to establish herself as an actress. So apart from being my girlfriend, who the hell is Charlotte Bradley? Actually, a woman who's had to make some tough decisions during her life. And career. Some that were right such as deciding not to become a full-time Irish teacher, though she received her degree at UCD others that were wrong. Like marrying ``way too young'' at 22.
Born in Artane, Dublin, where her mother owned a pharmacy, Charlotte decided to leave Ireland just as her career in theatre was taking flight, thanks to her success in Passion Machine productions such as Wasters in 1985, with actors such as Brendan Gleeson. While living in Newfoundland she also chose a career as a singer, performing at music festivals with visiting Irish singers like Dolores Keane, rather than continue her career in acting.
In 1997, after ending her marriage and opting to raise three children on her own, Charlotte Bradley also left behind a lucrative role in Fair City ``rather than be typecast''. And, more recently, decided not to accept an offer to study at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Actor's Studio in New York, ``partly because of the kids'' a consideration that also was part of the reason she rejected the offer of a role in the Abbey's current production of Barbaric Comedies, which would have seen her ``nude and raped'' on the national stage.
With all this in mind, one can understand why she was mightily pissed off when Patrick Bergin said, a few months back, ``I'd love to work with Orla Brady, Charlotte Bradley and Fiona Shaw because there is not enough women's sexual juices in Irish films.''
Actually, before asking this interviewer to add the phrase ``women's sexual juices'', Bergin used a three-letter word more often used by kids on street corners.
Bradley, though she ``admires'' Bergin as an actor, sees his comment as ``too representative'' of the way in which women are ``reduced, ad nauseam'' in movies and society at large. ``When I read that comment I felt diminished and demeaned,'' she explains. ``I understand Patrick is saying that a woman's creativity is inextricably linked to her sexuality. And that he believes men, too, have been reduced to archetypes and stereotypes in movies sexual or otherwise. But it's not to the same ridiculous degree that women have been. In general, women are seen as either saintly, Madonna types or tarts.''
Charlotte Bradley also noted this ``reductive tendency'' when she read the script of Barbaric Comedies another reason she rejected the role, publicly stating that its depiction of women is ``relatively one-dimensional''. Specifically the character of Liberata, which she was offered.
Having since seen the play, Charlotte ``totally stands by'' her original point of view, arguing that ``in the end, she was reduced to not only a prostitute but an animal, enslaved by the male lead, down on her knees, eating meals under a table. But as for the rape scene, I actually felt it was handled sensitively. There was nothing gratuitous about it.''
THAT said, Gerry Stembridge's movie About Adam is being hyped as a ``Dublin-set sex comedy'' in which Stuart Townsend ``seduces three sisters in one family''. Mightn't that be regarded, by some, as a bit of a gratuitous and masturbatory male fantasy, Ms Bradley?
``Maybe, but I don't think Gerry sees it as that!'' she responds, laughing conspiratorially. ``Everybody focuses on the fact that Adam sleeps with three women. Nobody mentions his relationship with the brother, where there are definite homoerotic overtones.''
Yeah, well, as I said, I didn't ``date'' Jerry Lee, Harris etc, so what I'm really concerned about here is who Charlotte Bradley, playing the part of `Alice', was shagging on screen. Had the little hussy no shame when it came to simulating an orgasm for all the world to see? More seriously, did she consider the feelings of her children and, eh, companion?
``When I was offered that part, my daughter was 14, and I knew she wouldn't see it until she was over 16, when the film was released,'' Charlotte responds. ``But I did discuss it with her and let her read the script. Likewise, my two other children will not see me in that scene until they come of age. And I will have discussed it with them by then. But you can't make career choices, totally, in terms of your children.
``As for a companion, I didn't have one at the time, Joe, but I would discuss it with him now. If he wasn't a bloody journalist and might then print it in a paper for all the world to see ...''
I know, boys and girls, when it comes to pillow talk, it don't get hotter than this. Or maybe it does. For us men.
``... And the real point about that orgasm scene is that, okay, it is my face on the screen because it is Alice's experience that's being explored,'' Charlotte continues. ``But Adam, in that scene, is simply a prop to her development. He's used, in the way women have been used and are used in film. If I felt it was simply masturbatory fodder for male audiences, I wouldn't have done the scene at all.''
Charlotte Bradley admits that, in at least one movie which she now ``regrets making'', she was presented as ``masturbatoryfodder''.
But what about the fact that in other films Bradley was violated in a more obvious sense Dirty Old Town, for example, in which she was physically abused and finally shot in the head? Was she ever worried that scenes like those might upset her loved ones?
``I didn't think as deeply about all this when I started Dirty Old Town in 1995, which was when I first got into film,'' Charlotte admits. ``But I soon realised this kind of stuff did bother my children. Because one day they were visiting the set and there was a violent scene where I was shoved into a car, and they got very upset. So you're right to ask the question. Actors should stop and think of the impact these scenes will have on loved ones. But too often we don't, because there is so little work available that you just get on with doing the job.''
Given this scarcity of work, Charlotte, who worked on Fair City for eight months, playing Sandy, ``fully understands'' why many actors do ``stay in soaps''. After her marriage of ``fourteen and a half years'' ended, was she ever tempted to go for that option, if only to feed and clothe her kids?
``Absolutely, which is what led me to take the part of Queen Maev in the children's TV show Mystic Nights of Tír na nÓg for 52 episodes,'' she responds, adding that one of the dubious ``perks'' of this particular gig was that there was a McDonald's doll made of her character. Which I, of course, now sleep with. Every night. Yeah, right. But sorry, Sandy fans, neither Charlotte Bradley, nor her doll, has any plans to go back to Fair City.
TV fans may, of course, remember Charlotte Bradley for her co-starring role, with Gabriel Byrne, in the Irish-language movie Draíocht the opening feature film on TG4. She also plays a lead role in the forthcoming Trí Scéalta, which will be screened on the same channel in December.
Shifting back to the subject of the reductive roles given to women in film, Charlottesuggests that this tendency ``is not as evident'' in Irish-language movies. ``Look at early writings in the Irish language, from The Táin Bó Cuailnge to Cúirt an Mheáin Oíche and beyond. What have you got?'' she says. ``Strong, sexually aggressive, independent women. Yet what happened, say, in terms of The Táin, is that the character of Queen Maev was castrated in Anglicised translations. In fact, her sexuality is said to be the `reason' for her `madness'. In other words, the battle raid of Cooley was influenced by PMT. Give me a break! Though that's the kind of crap women still hear from men.
``Yet it is definitely true that old Irish myths are dominated by dynamic men and women. But Christianity and British rule put an end to all that. So maybe Irish filmmakers should go back to these great Irish myths for their female role models, rather than continue to perpetrate reductive views of women in modern movies. Particularly English-language movies.''
FOCUSING on the fact that Trí Scéalta doesn't ``minimise the role of women in modern Ireland'', Charlotte gleefully describes the movie as a three-part thriller that's ``sexy, different and a totally indigenous Irish movie that is universal in its themes one of the most exciting projects I've ever done''.
It will be a 90-minute feature film sold internationally and this aspect of Trí Scéalta excites her most of all.
``Throughout our colonial history there was a negative attitude to all things Irish,'' she explains, ``whereas now it's `cool' to be Irish. But that hasn't translated into actually speaking Irish and asserting our identity at that level. No major global success has been achieved with a movie in the Irish language. Maybe Trí Scéalta will change that. I hope it does. And fair dues to the Irish Film Board for backing it.''
That said, though ``very happy to praise'' the Irish Film Board, Charlotte Bradley agrees with Brendan O'Carroll's recent call for Minister Síle de Valera to ``initiate an investigation'' into the question of funding in relation to Irish films.
O'Carroll claims that ``corrupt producers'' can raise money from both the Irish Film Board and the European Script Fund and, basically, pocket that cash by ensuring movies aren't made. Because if they are made, y'see, the money must be repaid.
Make way for the curtain speech of Queen Maev. And my proud exit, with her, stage left.
``If what O'Carroll is saying is true, my response is shock and outrage,'' Bradley booms.
``I'd hate to think those finances actually were going into the pockets of `corrupt' producers. And if this is happening and people are being denied work, I would want a full investigation.
``I'd also like the Irish Film Board to explain these seeming anomalies, come back with hard facts that tell us where the money does go, and allay fears that this may be the real reason so few films are being made in Ireland these days. And why, ultimately, the Irish film industry is in danger of dying before it's even been born.''