Friday 23 February 2018

Method to her gladness

Sarah Bolger has made the transition from child actress to adult star. She spoke to our reporter about love and finding confidence

Sarah Bolger in Halal Daddy
Sarah Bolger in Halal Daddy
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

'Fitting in has never been so complicated," reads the tagline from Halal Daddy. It refers to the warmhearted culture clash comedy about a British Indian trying to make a life for himself in Sligo, but the sentence might be equally applicable to one of the film's young stars - actress Sarah Bolger (she plays the man's Irish girlfriend).

Browsing through clips on YouTube I become convinced that there are two, or possibly three doppelgangers trading on her name. Depending on the context of the interviews her accent can transform from Southside Dublin to perfect American and back again. Combined with the vastly superior lighting that one generally sees on American television it becomes genuinely difficult to know if it's the same person you're watching. She has a chameleon like quality. Today she has tinges of both accents, but she explains to me that rather than fitting in - she is currently in LA working - her rounded vowels are functions of method acting. "You know what it is, when I'm playing a role sometimes I just tend to stay in that role. It's easier to maintain. We just shot a pilot in a very thick American accent. I feel like the character lives in me. Of course my family tease me about it."  

Still, if ever a young person had a reason to sound American, it might have been one of the little girls in In America. Sarah, then nine years old, was cast in the 2003 movie after her sister Emma, who had already won a part in the film, urged the director, Jim Sheridan, to take a look at her sister. Sheridan was instantly taken with Sarah and rewrote the role, which had originally been intended for a 14-year-old, for her. Sarah went on to win the Phoenix Film Critics Award for best young actress for her turn as Christy. "I had been in a couple of films, so I had been acting even before In America," she explains. "The unusual thing was that the role in the film was originally for an older girl but I can watch the movie and enjoy it. So much of my childhood has vanished but that is there on film and I can take it in. I have fresh eyes when I see it. I have such wonderful memories from the filming."

The role made her a name in the industry, in one dream-like moment Tom Cruise sang happy birthday to her at an awards show - but she continued with her schooling attending Loreto Beaufort in Rathfarnham - and completed her Leaving Cert. On breaks in study she continued to work steadily and travelled the world with her parents and sister, who herself continued to act. Sarah won roles on home-produced dramas such as The Clinic, Stardust and Tara Road. Gradually her career built and The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Tudors and, more recently, Into The Badlands have made her a bona fide star. As a teenager her poise and precociousness surprised even her parents, but says she gleaned the confidence to move in an adult world from her grandmother. ''My grandmother was a huge influence on me. She allowed me to be my flamboyant self as a kid. She babysat me; auditions came later, by later I mean six years old. She sang and played piano and I'd sit beside her. I don't know how confident I am, but I think you need it to survive in this industry."

The transition from child actor to adult is notoriously difficult but Sarah never seemed like a candidate to go off the rails. She's spoken about her deep religious faith - she is Catholic - and tells me that one of her favourite things about acting is "sitting on my own in a room, reading a role and studying a character". However, when the world knows you mainly as a rosy-cheeked youngster, it sometimes becomes necessary to announce you now may carry an R-rating, like Miley Cyrus did with Wrecking Ball. Two years ago Sarah, then 23, posed in lingerie for Esquire magazine and gave what the magazine billed as 'sex tips'. Like the accent, she says that this was a performance rather than any expression of her essence. "What's wonderful about acting is that you get to play different roles. For instance in Amelie I played a young mother. Some of the photoshoots you're playing a role. I like to be able to look at a photo and say wow that isn't even me. I enjoy being able to project."

Sarah's turn as Maeve, the girlfriend of the Indian protagonist in Halal Daddy, is one of the highlights of the film. Where Handsome Devil dealt with homophobia and Sing Street tackled class, Halal Daddy seems to be the movie which touches on contemporary issues of racism and immigrants in Irish society. The film stars a who's who of Irish talent, including Colm Meaney and Deirdre O'Kane. "Conor McDermottroe (the director) is such a gentleman and sweetheart. I feel that in cities all around Ireland there's huge diversity. People can find love together whatever their background - I think that's one of the messages of the film."

Her younger sister Emma has also worked as an actress but she dismissed any notion of competition between them. "She's a wonderful actress but she hasn't acted in a while now. She's gone to UCD and is very much taking the academic route, she's very bright. There was no sibling rivalry, that missed us."

She is the same age as Saoirse Ronan and is full of praise for her contemporary. "I know her and we kind of run into each other frequently whether it's in LA or Dublin. It's always amazing to see a familiar face and, of course, to hear the Irish accent in the corner. It's a great time for Irish film; we have such a diversity of talent. I'm so proud to be an Irish girl."

Sarah is represented by Hylda Queally, the legendary Hollywood agent from Co Clare, who is also the godmother to Kate Winslet's daughter. "She's a powerhouse agent who is respected and loved. She has such a work ethic. The main thing is that I trust her taste. I can't possibly always know what project is right, but she knows the producers, she knows their other movies, she knows what's coming up. I always listen to her and being Irish is an instant bond with us."

She's been linked to Pretty Little Liars star Julian Morris, who wrote to "my gorgeous Sarah" on Instagram but she says they are not an item and she doesn't have a boyfriend at the moment. "I couldn't imagine falling in love with someone on set," she laughs. "But then maybe that is one of the messages of Halal Daddy. You never know when and with whom you'll find love."

'Halal Daddy' is in cinemas nationwide

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