Saturday 17 November 2018

Finding Joy: Amy Huberman searches for happiness in her on-the-pulse screenwriting debut

From TV to films, and books to fashion, Amy Huberman's success is well documented. Now the star and writer of her new sitcom, Finding Joy, she tells Maggie Armstrong, real happiness is not about reaching goals, but about friends, family and laughing out loud.

Amy wears: Toffee brown teddy jacket, €113, River Island; Pink jumper, €110, Pinko, Harvey Nichols; Plaid skirt with velvet buckle, €195, Sandro, Brown Thomas; Vintage green & pearl clip-on earrings, €25, Rhinestones. Photo: Barry McCall
Amy wears: Toffee brown teddy jacket, €113, River Island; Pink jumper, €110, Pinko, Harvey Nichols; Plaid skirt with velvet buckle, €195, Sandro, Brown Thomas; Vintage green & pearl clip-on earrings, €25, Rhinestones. Photo: Barry McCall
Amy wears: Pink silk blouse, €310, Pinko, Harvey Nichols; Green & maroon patterned trousers, €55, River Island; Jewelled sandals, €87, River Island; Green drop earrings, €310, Isabel Marrant, Brown Thomas. Photo: Barry McCall
Leopard print wrap dress, €145, Free People, Harvey Nichols; Vintage bracelet, €195, Rhinestones; Green vintage clip-on earrings, €195, Rhinestones. Photo: Barry McCall

Maggie Armstrong

Waiting for Amy is a bit like sitting in a restaurant next to that rowdy table who are having all the fun. It is 12.30pm in this Dublin 8 photo studio, and Weekend's cover girl has been shooting pictures since 8am. She is eating rice salad from a box, chatting and doing funny accents; hers is a strong set of lungs and everything projects along the corridors to where I am waiting. ("Jeez, this is so tasty!" "Have such a great time on your honeymoon!") She seems to have known everybody on the photoshoot team forever and is at ease with everyone.

It's 1pm and she hops in, picking food from her teeth. In person Amy Huberman - actress, author, Twitter queen and style icon, who can now add "screenwriter" to that unwieldy list of professions - is a lot of fun. There is no denying it.

She is so nice and interested, you even start to think you might have just become fast friends. And this does not work in anyone's favour when it comes to finding out stuff. She keeps everything upbeat, dodging any direct questions about herself and her life. #hilariouslyfun #deeplyprivatetoo #clevergirl.

"I might have indigestion," she says perkily, and folds herself into a neat parcel in the opposite seat, one knee raised. The designer of Bourbon footwear and Newbridge Silverware jewellery wears blue denims with rips, trainers and a printed blouse. A great big diamond ring beams from her hand.

Amy wears: Pink silk blouse, €310, Pinko, Harvey Nichols; Green & maroon patterned trousers, €55, River Island; Jewelled sandals, €87, River Island; Green drop earrings, €310, Isabel Marrant, Brown Thomas. Photo: Barry McCall
Amy wears: Pink silk blouse, €310, Pinko, Harvey Nichols; Green & maroon patterned trousers, €55, River Island; Jewelled sandals, €87, River Island; Green drop earrings, €310, Isabel Marrant, Brown Thomas. Photo: Barry McCall

She talks really, really quickly; if her words were written down phonetically there would be no spaces. #Notimeforspaces.

Amy has been acting in TV shows and films since she played receptionist Daisy in The Clinic; her TV credits abound from Comedy Central's Threesome to RTÉ's Can't Cope Won't Cope and the recent (short-lived) swanky Irish legal drama Striking Out. She will appear in ITV's new drama Butterfly and in the comedy series Flack. It goes on: she has written two novels for Penguin, and she never leaves the house without looking smashing. There is also her marriage to that retired rugby player, and their two children, Sadie (5) and Billy (3).

But here is something Amy hasn't done before. Finding Joy, the much anticipated six-part Irish-made comedy sitcom which airs October 10 on RTÉ, is her screenwriting debut. She also stars in the show, alongside Aisling Bea and Laura Whitmore. "This is just someone winging it entirely," she says with typical cheery self-effacement.

Are there nerves about the critical reception? "I am nervous because it is my baby," she says. "It's my first rodeo, and the proof will be in the pudding. It won't be for everyone, but I didn't want to make a show that was for everyone."

Amy's character, Joy, is a young woman who works behind the scenes for a news channel. She is getting over a break-up and when she is promoted to a reporter, she begins researching the ways people seek happiness and fulfilment.

Amy's first novel, Hello Heartbreak, was based around a break-up too. Don't tell us Amy Huberman has experienced anything as unpleasant as a break-up? "Oh god yeah. Jeepers. Absolutely. My love life's littered with different break-ups. That was my path and my journey, and you know, great times and then times you would have been upset, but you learn so much from those things, and I think they're quite healthy as well. So, yeah. Definitely. I've had loads of break-ups."

Leopard print wrap dress, €145, Free People, Harvey Nichols; Vintage bracelet, €195, Rhinestones; Green vintage clip-on earrings, €195, Rhinestones. Photo: Barry McCall
Leopard print wrap dress, €145, Free People, Harvey Nichols; Vintage bracelet, €195, Rhinestones; Green vintage clip-on earrings, €195, Rhinestones. Photo: Barry McCall

She wrote the series quickly - seems even to have just dashed it off, having fun with her pals in Treasure Entertainment (Amy also played a girly bride in their movie The Stag, and a most funny chain-smoking step-mother in Handsome Devil). The path to having her first show produced was not free of thorns, though.

She put years of writing into her screenplay Bolt, the film adaptation of her novel I Wished For You, before leaving the script on ice. "I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know what I wanted it to be." The script, she says, "it's like a ghost on my hard drive right now; or a little Velveteen Rabbit abandoned in a toy chest."

She liked the punchy style and the set formula of half-hour scripted comedy, and Finding Joy flowed for her. "You learn by doing, it's like somebody throwing you in and going, 'Swim, swim!'"

Oh, dear. Amy doesn't even seem to struggle that much with the writing process. I was banking on this as our Amy kryptonite, hoping for confessions of sweat and tears or at least unhappiness. None. "I absolutely loved it. Those hours to myself, entering Joy's world."

She wrote the series between filming Striking Out and Cold Feet, in her office in Dublin and in LA when she woke at 5am, jet-lagged, before a day on the set of Striking Out. "I would definitely get writer's block and all of that stuff. So for me it's just about sitting down and doing it."

Hold on, did she just say writer's block? I probe, because I want to know what that looks like, and she takes a sip of juice, and talks about things other than writer's block. "It's like anything," she concludes. "You look something head on, and it's not so scary anymore."

If she has a secret to impart to an aspiring writer, it's this: she writes for no more than three to four hours a day. "After that, I may as well just colour in with crayons, there's nothing left." Another top tip (she doesn't actually know she's giving readers top tips, but they are good): "You have to write for yourself. That's what I tried to do, don't write for anybody else."

Getting the funding to have it made was such a dream, she didn't allow herself to believe it was happening until the final cut. "The night we wrapped, I drank a bottle of prosecco through a straw in about eight minutes."

Through a straw, really? "Yeah, there was a straw."

Drinking prosecco through a straw. If Amy had her own emoji, it might be a funny girl drinking prosecco through a straw. She is the very picture of fun and compassion, the best friend you've never actually met in the flesh. It's partly this blend in her persona, of pristine glamour and unchecked ridiculousness that draws all the people to her. (Unless some 500,000 Twitter followers counts for nothing). Like that time she brought a rodent control letter as her ID to Kate and William's wedding.

Take her anecdote about when she met her husband, Brian O'Driscoll. He saw her on Tubridy Tonight and asked his friend to set them up. "He was like: 'Does she never go out, is she a hermit?' I was living in London at the time, and the next time I was home we went on a date. It was in The Merrion Hotel and I was in a tracksuit with food all over it. I had just come from Carlow after visiting my godson so I was covered in mulched up baby food!"

That was 12 years ago. "Time goes by so fast," she says. "Time feels like it's racing, it's racing."

Of her and her husband's enormous popularity, she seems to be in denial. They call you the uncrowned Royal Couple, I tell her. "They're just taking the piss," she answers. "But everybody loves you," I insist (and I apologise to you, reader, for the fawning. There doesn't seem to be another way to put it). "Ah stop it. Don't say that." She lowers her voice, hinting at the dark outcome people look for in celebrity marriages. "Because then, it'll be: 'And then, and then it was when…'"

This year she was on the Leaving Cert Mock Exams. What does this south Dubliner, the grand-daughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants on her dad's side, and Wexford people on her mum's side, miss about not being famous? "For me nothing has really changed," she says, though pauses. "Maybe, if you had not gotten dressed the right way, and didn't feel like you could run into town with greasy hair and no make-up on. Though there's plenty of people who don't know who the feck you are, or care, and that's totally fine."

But then there are those hundreds of thousands who hang on her every tweet, in which she puns, offers sardonic snapshots of home life and motherhood, and provides the odd physical comedy joke about being married to a giant rugby player.

I ask her how she manages to be irreverent and satirical without getting into trouble. Amy doesn't ruffle feathers. "Yeah. I wouldn't want a fallout, so, no, you're right. I think about what I say. I'm not a controversial person."

Has she never messed up and had to take something down? "Oh god, I'm sure. But I think you'd go into a creative inertia if you ever over-thought that."

Does she read the lively discussions set off by what she posts? "No, I never read comments. Because it's always going to be positive and negative, so I do not need to read that." She doesn't like watching herself on TV, either. "I guess probably being self-critical, and going, 'Would I do that again now, or could I have done that better?'"

This brings us back to the reason she spent 18 months at a writing desk, because she wanted to explore the ways we find happiness. She is turning 40 next year, and says she has been reflecting on happiness which is, "a journey we go on daily. Though the idea of searching for happiness, it's like trying to lasso a flippin' flying unicorn."

"Life, we have control in some ways and we have no control in other ways… I guess it depends what you measure your happiness by. For me, happiness is a joy. No, maybe joy seems more in the moment. It's feeling a satisfaction that you love what you do, that you're around the people that you love. Instead of the constant self-improving. That just is exhausting."

Constant self-improving is not a complaint everybody suffers from, but does she? "I think in this day and age we're always like, 'What's the best we can do?' And we're all meant to be living our best lives and that can be a constant pressure."

Yes, but is this pressure she herself feels? "I could get in a knot by going, 'What if nobody likes it?' Or whatever. But I wanted to enjoy the process. You have to. Maybe it's just because I'm getting older. Being the age I'm at now, maybe there's an acceptance. Life isn't perfect, it's colourful and it's hard at times, great at times, that's the tapestry of it. To try and not sweat the small stuff. That, for me, should be happiness.

"I think to myself: 'Right, if my friends and my family are OK, if I've laughed during the day, if I sat in the garden and had a cup of tea, looking at a tree. That's OK.' Not every day has to be #goals."

Was every day a matter of #goals before she had children? "Maybe. Maybe I wanted to hoover up every opportunity in case it was going to disappear. I still love what I do, and I feel really lucky to get to do what I do. I can't imagine if someone said, 'You're never allowed to write TV comedy any more'."

Amy takes a long, deep, yogic breath, her first breath it seems, in 45 minutes. It's 1.45pm, and a taxi is waiting outside. Two little O'Driscolls are waiting in another part of Dublin for their mum to take them swimming. #findingjoy.

'Finding Joy' begins on RTÉ One, on Wednesday, October 10 at 9.35pm

Portraits by Barry McCall.

 

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