'You could absolutely argue that Irish society hated women for years' - Sarah Greene steps into the spotlight
After an uneven few years, Sarah Greene has come of age as a major Irish talent with ‘Rosie’. Hilary A White meets Cork’s brightest star
Sarah Greene’s time has arrived. By the time you read this, Rosie, the new drama she stars in, will have begun its task of moving the conversation around this country’s housing crisis up a notch. In it, the Cork actress plays the young mother of the title trying to juggle the usual responsibilities and logistics that come with being a parent to young children. The only difference for her and husband John Paul (Moe Dunford) is that they’re homeless.
Written by Roddy Doyle with an eye on the hidden practical headaches of this nightmare, it is required viewing for the nation because, as is so often the case, its fiction facilitates our understanding of reality.
Paddy Breathnach’s film is a hard-hitting piece of social realist filmmaking but also a tender and beautiful portrait of a woman trying to keep the family show on the road from the tight environs of her car, all the while being kept on hold by the emergency accommodation helpline.
“Everyone deserves a home,” the 34-year-old nods. “It’s very hard being a mother or father and not being able to provide for your family. Your job as a parent is to keep them safe and protect them, and when aspects of that are taken away it puts these people in an awful situation. These are good people, like most of the families faced with this. It’s through no fault of their own, it’s through repossession or landlords selling and there’s just nowhere to rent, it’s too expensive. The country has got so greedy. So yeah, it was a very important role for me to take on.”
But for Greene, Rosie is destined to be a special film in other ways. After bit parts in fare such as The Guard (2011), the Corkonian’s immaculate craft and elfin, Armada looks came to wider attention when she starred in the Abbey production of Alice in Funderland (2012) before her West End turn in The Cripple of Inishmaan in 2013 nabbed her Tony and Laurence Olivier Award nominations.
Since then, we’ve seen a somewhat uneven ascension on the big screen (supporting roles in Noble, Dublin Oldschool, Black 47, the Bradley Cooper flop Burnt) and the small (Rebellion, Ransom, Penny Dreadful). Despite seeming ubiquitous and winning a couple of Iftas along the way, there was always a feeling Greene had yet to find her place in the landscape and capitalise on the buzz. Rosie, a front-and-centre powerhouse performance, has put paid to such talk.
“Well I am, yeah,” she agrees in sing-song Leeside when I put it to her that she’s been picky about the work she takes on. “Choice is everything. Unfortunately, we do a lot of fluff. There’s three boxes — profile, money, heart — and if the project ticks two of those, you do it. I read this script and was incredibly moved by it and it’s such an important story. I felt honoured to be part of it.”
While the housing crisis raged outside the perimeter of the set during filming, there was something else in the air that made Greene adamant to do this part.
“As a woman, there aren’t many roles like Rosie that come up. This is rare, but it is hopefully starting to change. People are going to see films with female lead casts which five years ago wasn’t happening because you couldn’t get funding. How do you encourage that? You just keep banging on about it, I suppose. I wish I was a writer but I’m not. We can just hope that people realise that women actually have incredible stories to tell so tell them.
“For years we’ve shamed women, right? You could absolutely argue that Irish society hated women for years, and the world in general. It’s very easy to label us hysterical, when actually, we’re very rational people and we keep families together, and I think Rosie proves that. She keeps her cool — I don’t know if I’d have her patience.”
Patience of a different kind, it could be argued, is abundantly evident in Greene. From the age of four — four! — she was firmly set on the notion of becoming an actor and, incredibly, did not deviate from that course throughout her entire childhood and teenage years. Her parents enrolled her in Cada, Cork’s eminent stage school, where she remained until she was 19 and then it was up to Dublin to enrol in the Gaiety School of Acting. Bar a brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a vet (“I love animals”), her eye remained on the prize.
“I feel very lucky that I knew so adamantly what I wanted to do,” she says, as if the matter were out of her hands.
“My parents were great, and thought, ‘OK, she’s motivated, she knows what she wants, she’s focused’. It’s like a bug you get, the bug of being and performing on stage. I didn’t know what else I’d do. I was a make-up artist in Brown Thomas for a bit while I was saving for college, so I would do that, but I don’t know what else I’d be. And it’s a great job, I meet great people, get to travel the world, get to tell stories like this, and yeah I wouldn’t change it.”
While London is her base now, she lives with Irish people and is constantly back for work commitments. She’s not big on social media, she says, but the accounts she follows all happen to be Irish. For all the tabloid interest in her previous relationship with Poldark actor Aidan Turner, the fleeting shoulder rubs with Beyonce or, regrettably, Harvey Weinstein, Greene is a very homely sort, effortlessly amiable and not perhaps entirely comfortable with the full glare of the spotlight.
“They just love the Irish accent in the States,” she hoots. “But I just talk really fast because I’m from Cork. It’s my speed that really throws them, especially when I get nervous. Doing interviews there is really hard because you can’t hear a word I’m saying!”
Sunday Indo Living