Actor Danielle Galligan comes from a family of strong, self-made women, and it shows. With her standout performance in Netflix hit Shadow And Bone; sharing representation with big names; and a role written for her in RTÉ’s Kin, her star is ascending — yet, she’s struggling to get a mortgage
How difficult is it for a professional actor to secure a home loan, I ask Danielle Galligan. She has relocated to Dublin, after a couple of years in London, with a desire to clamber on to the property ladder. “I did London,” she says. “I went, I saw, I got the T-shirt. I’m a homebird. I’m here for now and, in an ideal world, I’m trying to get a mortgage.”
As a first-time mortgage applicant, one would safely assume the insecurity of the 29-year-old actor’s job could prove tricky for financial institutions. But working on a successful Netflix series must grease the wheels of her application, right? “Does not matter,” she answers wearily, wincing in defeat. “But we’ll see. If it’s not this year, maybe it’s next year.”
Twelve months may make all the difference with the bank manager. Since fantasy saga Shadow And Bone debuted on Netflix in April last year, Galligan’s profile has experienced a stealthy ascent. She was a standout among the show’s arresting ensemble cast of youthful heroes and rogues; wielding superpowers and high cheekbones in a battle for territorial control over Ravka, a realm inspired by Imperial Russia. Think War And Peace meets X-Men.
The show is a certified hit; 55 million Netflix members watched the show in the first 28 days, according to numbers released by the streaming service in October; a second season was immediately announced.
Galligan, a graduate of The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College, was suddenly courted by British PR powerhouse, Public Eye. She was taken on by the publicist representing Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones and The Crown’s Emma Corrin. As a newly minted commodity, she sat in meetings with her representation strategising trajectories and next moves. All very Call My Agent. “I was like, ‘I don’t need a publicist, I’m not a lead [in Shadow And Bone], I’m not even really in it that much’. Ultimately I was told to stop playing it down,” she laughs.
In between shooting the new season of Shadow And Bone in Hungary and Germany, Galligan popped up alongside Elle Fanning in a handful of episodes in The Great, a rompy retelling of the monarchical machinations of Russian empress Catherine the Great, before switching gears for Lakelands, a muted debut feature from writing/directing team Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney. Applauded at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, the Longford-set drama won Best Irish Film and scooped the Bingham Ray New Talent nod for Galligan and co-star Éanna Hardwicke’s two-hander performance.
The actor is also set to begin shooting Every Five Miles with film-maker Vincent Lambe for RTÉ’s short drama series Storyland. And right before we chat on a soggy Wednesday morning, she just wrapped her work on season two of the broadcaster’s crime saga Kin. I wonder what Galligan considers the most tangible indicator of this ramping success? She mulls before answering. “There’s an element of security in terms of how your career is assessed by your family and friends, who aren’t actors. You might be working on something that’s so important to you and well respected within the theatrical industry, but the one question your nana will ask you is: ‘Are you getting paid for it, though?’
“So for my nana to hook up Netflix and see my work on TV and understand I was OK, that was a major shift. My family weren’t necessarily worrying about me paying my rent, but doing the acting, of course they would think, ‘Is she going to be alright?’”
Her nana’s scrutiny appears to go beyond the typical family concerns, arguably stemming from an entrepreneurial judiciousness. Kay Galligan is considered a pioneer for Irish women in business. As a receptionist manager in a Dublin city-centre health club in the 1970s, young Kay shrewdly identified a growing trend towards grooming and beauty.
She travelled to international trade shows, discovering innovative products including strip waxing and gel nails, ultimately introducing them to the Irish market. In 1976, Kay left the health centre to open a salon in the Portobello area of Rathmines, and an empire — the Galligan Beauty Group — was born.
Danielle’s mother Lorraine and aunt Careena subsequently joined the business, and launched a small beauty training school within the salon before moving to premises on Dublin’s Grafton Street. Now, nearly 50 years on from its foundation, The Galligan College of Beauty is one the country’s longest-established beauty schools, producing success stories like Cocoa Brown Tan tycoon Marissa Carter.
Galligan considers Kay’s legacy central to her upbringing and character. “My nana created our lives. I’ve such a sense of pride of what she has achieved. Growing [the business] from nothing, purely out of my nana’s brain and her drive, a dynasty and legacy was born. I find that amazing.”
The entrepreneur, who turned 90 this year, once had designs on her granddaughter taking on the business. “Mum and Careena took it over at a young age, so my cousin Andie and myself were ‘the next generation’. But my mum was all about me doing my own thing.”
Encountering the inevitable dips and doubts about a profession in the arts, did Galligan find comfort in the safety net of the family trade? “We knew it was there if we wanted to [take over]. And it might still happen,” she says, moving a strand of hair from her forehead. “But I don’t think it will.”
Raised in Rathfarnham and educated at Loreto High School Beaufort, Galligan grew up among a deeply woven unit of cousins, aunties, uncles, and grandparents. However, as an only child to a single mother, she had a particularly close bond with her mum, Lorraine. “We’ve always been referred to as The Gilmore Girls,” she chuckles.
Growing up, did she consider their mother-daughter dynamic somewhat different to that of her peers? The actor thinks for a while before responding. “She’s definitely my mum and has always been my mum, but our relationship has seen many different stages and circumstances. I used to work in [Galligan College] — we’ve been colleagues. I’ve been at staff parties with my mum, and then we have a sisterly bond.
“She has a boyfriend and I don’t, and we talk about him — ‘What to do about this or he’s been a d**khead about that’. Whereas that would have been the other way around in the earlier part of my life with my boyfriend — ‘He’s being a p***k, what do I do?’ We laugh together, lived together over the pandemic. We’d do dress-up nights. One night was as Braveheart, and we painted our faces blue. We’re best friends, and there’s a nice give and take.”
Young Galligan enjoyed the typical childhood pursuits — ballet, Irish dancing, piano — before a school production of Oklahoma! piqued her interest, leading to a spell at youth theatre and ultimately securing a place at The Lir.
Graduating in 2015, she concentrated on the Irish stage, with a series of performances in acclaimed productions for outfits including Rough Magic Theatre Company and Druid. She went on to help establish experimental theatrical company Chaos Factory with an all-female cohort in 2018.
After landing bitty roles in Game Of Thrones and short-lived cop drama Cold Courage, she moved to East London and found herself in a Stratford house-share with fellow Irish actors India Mullen, Toni O’Rourke and Killian Coyle.
When Shadow And Bone launched on Netflix, Galligan once again downplayed her significant role as Nina Zenik. Her housemates had other ideas.
“On the night it came out, I said to them, ‘Let’s watch a bit of the show but not the full thing.’ I went out for a walk, and when I came back, they had laid on this big dinner, all dressed up to celebrate it; [they] even painted a picture of Shadow And Bone.”
Does Galligan gloss over her current success as a gesture of compassion for her creative circle of friends, particularly those striving for their big break?
“If they’re really your friends, you should be able to celebrate yourself,” she says, frowning. “Obviously, you have to be compassionate and aware of where they’re at, but it was my friends that were trying to pull it out of me.
“I’m surrounded by stunning people. We’ve been with each other since The Lir and got all of that out of our systems early on. When I graduated, I had an agent and [an acting] job at Rough Magic and I thought, ‘Oh brilliant, here we go, I’m on the track — the only way is up’. Then that show ended, and I didn’t work for the rest of the year and I started working in a bar. And that’s when I learned no one owes you anything in this world; nothing is a given. One big success does not a career make.”
Are the wins and losses of an acting career tough on your mental health? Galligan nods. “We’re most alive when our creativity is being fired, and when work ends, for sure you can feel alone and down. There’s elements of that when you come home from a job — you’re filling your time, filling your days. That can be hard to stay in the perspective of, ‘you’ll get another job’. It’s hard on lots of levels. My family are very aware of it. When I finish a job, my mum says to me, ‘Now be aware, you’ll have your dip afterwards’.”
Having just come off the shoot for RTÉ’s latest criminal-underworld saga Kin, a cheery Galligan appears to have avoided a dip. Appearing in a single scene in the final episode of first season, she played a pharmacist who encounters Charlie Cox’s reluctant crime lord, sparking a frisson of attraction.
She reveals that creator Peter McKenna created the character specifically for her, and always intended for an expansion of the role in season two. “Season one, everyone the audience encounters is of the world of the crime family and exists within in it. But in season two, some guest leads come in to add a different pace to juxtapose against the crime world. That’s what she does for one of lead characters.
“[She presents] an opportunity for a different way of life, not necessarily a way out. For the audience, she offers a new perspective into that world and how dangerous it really is.”
By contrast, presenting an authentic and sincere portrayal of life in the Midlands was a key driver while Galligan was working on the award-winning Lakelands last year. Described as a “love letter to Longford”, the quiet drama revolves around a young footballer, struggling with his identity after an assault devastates his sporting career.
Shooting on the streets of Granard last year, a galaxy away from the realms of Shadow And Bone, the actor connected deeply with a narrative embedded in questioning self-worth.
“I remember reading a quote. ‘Your existence is purpose enough. You don’t need to be achieving something all the time.’ I felt that intently during the pandemic. ‘If I don’t have my job, my purpose, what is left?’ That’s what the central character is struggling with.”
Given the similarities between her own life and her character’s, Lakelands consequently offered Galligan an opportunity for introspection. “I was living in London when I first started talking to the directors about the script and all these weird parallels kept coming up. She was living in Stratford, working as a nurse, thinking about coming home. I was living in Stratford, considering whether I was missing home too. And then I went to Longford to work on the film, and it had some Cavan characters in it, and my grandad’s from Cavan. It clicked nicely.
“Whereas Shadow And Bone felt very much about the women in my family, Lakelands felt more about my grandad — who passed away 15 years ago — and the Cavan heritage I don’t know as well.”
Were they close? She nods her head. “He used to take me to McDonald’s every Wednesday, out in Nutgrove [Shopping Centre], after school. One time a butterfly got stuck in the window — my grandad, a man of few words, big Cavan farmer with shovel hands, got up to get the butterfly. I got the fright of my life, thinking, ‘No! He’s going to kill it’. But he had such delicacy in his big fists, and released it. And that duality of the Irish male with the delicacy — that was so perceptible and recognisable in Lakelands.”
Shadow And Bone fans will have to wait a couple of months before the new season is released but Galligan promises an extended journey for beloved character Nina Zenik, a ‘Grisha’ or mystical being with extraordinary power. “She’s in all eight episodes this round. It was five the last time.”
While initial focus was largely on Jessie Mei Li’s character, Alina Starkov, a young Grisha, capable of harnessing the power of the sun, Galligan’s Nina will take centre stage as the battle for power over the realm of Ravka rages on. “Nina’s temerity is tested but she’s surviving on her own, taking care of herself and we see how much of an asset she is. If you’re going to save the world, you’re going to need her.”
Galligan explains that art poignantly reflects life in this season of the show. “It’s really strange and scary considering what is happening in the world right now, what was happening, and still happening, next door in Ukraine while we were filming in Hungary. In this season’s story, there were refugees, war crimes, cities being evacuated. Sometimes you feel the world you’re existing in as a character is fantastical, but then it speaks directly to what is going on.”
Life has changed for Danielle Galligan, though in many ways, it’s entirely the same. Like most, she wrestles with professional self-doubt, struggles with the journey to home ownership, and every now and then, dips her toe in the dating pool.
Most of our dates however, aren’t infiltrated by fans. “I was on a date a few weeks ago in Stephen’s Green and in the middle of it, someone came up to me and said, ‘Oh, you’re you!’ And the person I was dating had to watch this interaction, and when you see it through their eyes — this is not what life was like beforehand.”
How did her date respond, I ask? “Just politely watched and said, ‘You’re very good at that’.”