Saturday 17 November 2018

The tart with the heart

She plays Nidge's mistress in Love/Hate. Mary Murray tells Barry Egan about her role as Janet, how she met her boyfriend 18 years ago and why she doesn't want children

Barry Egan

Barry Egan

It's perhaps as much of a shocker as her character's slightly comical sex scenes in Love/Hate. In March, Mary Murray is going to China for seven weeks for Dermot Bolger's adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses with Tron Theatre Company.

So, can we deduce from Mary going to China for two months that Janet will either: a) become HIV-Positive and die dramatically from giving Nidge "blowies"; b) will be shot dead in a cross-fire with an avenging Fran in the brothel she runs; or c) be murdered by Nidge for getting too needy?

"You just never know, do you? Anything can happen in that programme! A needle in the eye! It could be poisoned," laughs Mary who has played Janet in Series 3, 4 and in the current run - and was nominated Best Actress in Television for The Irish Film and Televisions Awards 2014 - of RTE's hit crime drama. "And several deaths a day is always possible. So, you just never know! It could be just a bad word, and I'd get killed. . ."

It was a few good words directed at her in a chip shop in Ballyfermot when she was 18 that changed Mary Murray's life forever. She and her father Paddy had just come out of the local pub Downeys after a quick pint, and were in the queue for chips when, fatefully, she had a glance around.

"I saw this good looking fella in the chipper queue. He gave me a smile and I gave him a smile back," she recalls, "which we really shouldn't have done with my dad standing there. But maybe my dad turned his head a little and pretended he didn't notice."

But what the stranger in the queue in the chip shop said next was hard not to notice.

Mary Murray
Mary Murray
Tom Vaughan Lawlor as Nidge and Mary Murray as Janet in a scene from Love/Hate

"He said to me: 'It's cold out, isn't it? I could hang a wet duffle off me nipples it's so cold!'"

Mary immediately thought: 'That's funny. But it is not really appropriate with my dad around.' Be that as it may, Mary gave him a little half-smile.

Seventeen years later Mary and the stranger in the chip shop queue, Derek, are still together.

"We're still madly in love," she says. Mary believes she inherited her sense of romance from her parents.

"It is a good grounding to know that they have been together all their lives," she says. "They met on a trip to the mountains. I think they ended up in the back of a van with different people. As far as I can recall, my mam said to me that my dad had a nurse on his knee or something," Mary laughs, "and he and my mam gave each other the glad eye. And the nurse was gone! My mam and dad would have only been about 18 as well."

Derek is ten years Mary's senior. At first, they both thought the age difference would be too much for their relationship. Destiny has, however, seemed to be on their side from the outset.

"Years and years back when I was a kid," Mary says, her mother Marian was cycling home from work, when she had a bad accident on the 7th lock bridge in Ballyfermot. . . "She crashed on the bridge and broke her nose. And Derek, my fella, was coming home back from work himself. He found her and he cleaned her up and brought her home." Mary can remember her mam saying to her as a kid: 'My guardian angel found me and saved me. I could have been run over by a truck.'"

"Then years later," Mary smiles, "when Derek and I were going out, the story was recounted by my mam and Derek went: 'That was me!'"

"And they were both born on the same day - June 1st," smiles Mary. "I am just mad about Derek."

I ask her have they any plans for kids. "I have no plans for children," says Mary who has two older brothers Stephen and Robert, and two younger siblings Laura and Patser ("when he was a little kid, he was chubby"). "Derek is my child. I don't want kids. I think it is too much hard work. I love my life as it is. I don't want to have children interfering and messing up things. I like the sleep. I don't like the having to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning business and worry about having to feed other individuals."

"I love kids, and I am around them all the time because I teach them," says Mary who is the director of Visions Drama School and Agency, "and that is enough for me. I love to put a lot of effort into putting shows on, and watching my students move on. But to have a child to look after, I think, I'd have to put my own career and all that stuff aside. And I just love what I do," Mary says, "and I prefer to do what I do than have kids."

Mary and her fella live together in Chapelizod, which is not far, she says, from where she grew up in Ballyfermot. I ask Mary when the heating breaks down in the depths of winter does Derek ever tell her he could hang a wet duffle off his nipples it's so cold?

"No," she laughs, "I tell him to get the heating sorted!"

"I wouldn't be madly domestic," she adds. "I'm not real house-proud or anything. I'm always just too busy doing other things to care."

Those other things would mostly include acting. The day I met her she had just come from performing her one-woman comedy No Smoke Without Fire at The Viking Theatre in Clontarf, which finished its run last week; the show resumes at The Civic Theatre, Tallaght, from 17 to 22 November. Mary is an actress of some note, having won Best Supporting Actress at the ESB/Irish Times Theatre awards for her role in the Abbey Theatre's production of Tom Murphy's Alice Trilogy in 2007 as well as being deadly, as Janet might say, as Una in the 2002 movie The Magdalene Sisters. Mary says she had a deep level of empathy for her character in Love/Hate, not least because of what Nidge is putting Janet through.

"They had feelings for each other but he is a cold fish and he changes," she says. "She still has feelings for him but it doesn't feel at the moment that he has the same feelings for her. He is becoming more and more distant. For Janet, she was the one that he came to for support and showed his vulnerability to for a while. Now Nidge has locked off her, same as he has with everybody else. So it is hard to take, considering she has given her heart. She doesn't do it that often. She has had a tough life. She has to raise a son on her own. She works in a brothel. Can't be the nicest place to be working."

Mary says she doesn't get a lot of people coming up to her on the street thinking she is Janet - "because I don't dress like her! Thank God! But for people who do notice that I'm Janet we just have a bit of conversation, but they generally don't shout across the street at me. Because the fringe is a great thing," she says referring to Janet's notorious fringe. "The big hair and the big fringe is very much Janet. And that's not me! I could be walking down the street in a pair of jeans and runners, not all dolled-up to the nines and no one knows who I am."

Does Derek ever ask you, 'Is there anything this Sunday night I'm going to be a bit shocked by or that I need to know?'

"Yeah, but I'm not allowed tell him. Last year I told him at one stage, I said: 'There is going to be something you are going to be shocked by.' That was the sex scene last year. I told him, you have to be ready for that. But the blowjob thing, no. Sure, what's he seeing? Me bringing a towel in and kneeling on the ground and say something and then, cameras off."

When I ask her what is the difference between her and Janet, she gives me a comic answer: "Firstly, Janet has a fringe! I have not. Secondly, Janet has five letters in her; I have only four. Thirdly, Janet talks like that," Mary says putting on Janet's flat inner city Dublin brogue.

"And Mary talks like this," Mary says doing her own sweet and more vibrant Dublin accent.

"And fourthly, Janet is mad about Nidge and Mary is mad about Derek. And I think Mary is a lot happier than Janet in her life," Mary Murray says almost forlornly of the tart with the heart.

Love/Hate, RTE 1, 9.30pm tonight.

You can watch Mary Murray's interview with Barry Egan on independent.ie

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