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Sunday 17 November 2019

Andrea Smith has lunch with the actress Mary McEvoy

Andrea Smith and Mary McEvoy
Andrea Smith and Mary McEvoy
Actors Mary McEvoy and Mick Lally in their roles as "Biddy" and "Miley" in 'Glenroe'
Coppinger Row
Mary McEvoy
The receipt for lunch

Andrea Smith

It's a universally acknowledged truth that entertainment reporting is generally an area filled with bright-eyed, gorgeous young people, so for the lovely 60-year-old actress, Mary McEvoy, there is a particular deliciousness to becoming an entertainment reporter for RTÉ's The Today Show over the past year. Mary has interviewed stars like Colin Farrell, Robert Downey Jr, Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey, and is loving this new departure.

So will we see her as an Xposé girl next? I tease over our lunch at Coppinger Row.

"I don't know if I suit Xposé, as I'm a bit too heavy and not quite beautiful enough," she laughs. "Those girls are all so lovely. Someone in RTÉ had the bright idea of sending me off to London to interview Colin Farrell, and I thought they were out of their mind, but I did it. It went really well and we had a bit of fun, and it all developed from there. Jason Bateman is my favourite out of everyone I have interviewed, and Jennifer Aniston was lovely too - she's a real woman's woman. I freaked out when I interviewed Billy Boyd, who is Pippin from Lord of the Rings, because I'm a huge fan. I asked him to come home with me and he said yes! It's wonderful because I get to see films, fly off to London or wherever, and have a bit of fun."

As Mary tucks into her chargrilled chicken breast, we discuss how Helen Mirren lambasted Hollywood for its treatment of older women at the annual Women in Entertainment awards in 2010, accusing film producers of worshipping "at the altar of the 18 to 25-year-old male and his penis".

"The industry is very youth-obsessed, and there is nothing wrong with that because youth is lovely but age is lovely too," says Mary. "There is kind of an editing out in the entertainment industry, Helen Mirren being the exception, because sex sells and young people want to have sex more than older people. That's just the way it is.

There's this notion that people should give up vanity when they are older, and I'm not saying this because I'm trying to create a platform for myself, but I think older people are beautiful because there is such tenderness in their faces. They know that life is about getting kicked, but getting back up again."

Mary was born in Co Westmeath and is the only child of the late Catherine and Larry. She was very close to them, and her dad was a very good amateur actor. Mary's colourfully flamboyant personality emerged quite early, although she always felt very uncomfortable with it when she was younger, as she says that women were not encouraged to express themselves in a very conservative Ireland that was dominated by the Catholic Church.

"Women and girls were supposed to be seen and not heard," she rages. "It's only really in recent years that I'm coming into myself, and am not speaking with one hand over my mouth in case I offend someone or they misinterpret me."

After school, she went to work at the Department of Agriculture for four years as a serological assistant testing for brucellosis, but she was a true rock chick and loved attending gigs.

It was through music that Mary met her partner, musician Garvan Gallagher, who was a member of the Fleadh Cowboys and was also in Mary Black's band for years. They have no plans to do a Marian Finucane and get married after all this time together.

"It's true that old groupies never die - they just settle down with bass players," she says. "Garvan and I have been with one another for 27 years, and we're indestructible and always were," she says. "It's unlikely we'll get married now, but never says never. We really, really like each other and know that we're lucky to have each other. We genuinely get on, but there is no magic formula to it, except recognising that we are all vulnerable and we all have our problems."

Mary says that while she didn't ever want a church wedding, she could have seen herself doing a pagan marriage at one stage. "I've been a delinquent all my life, so I'm not going to settle down now," she says.

Having resigned from the civil service, Mary moved back home and went to help her father with the farm, but then moved back to Dublin and dabbled in a semi-professional life, working in the Project Arts Centre and on the Dublin Theatre Festival. She embarked on an acting course at the Oscar Theatre School, did some plays at the Gate, and then her role as Biddy in Glenroe followed and kept her busy for 16 years.

While she loved Glenroe and made great friends there, Mary didn't like being labelled a 'soap opera actress'. It took a while to get parts after that, as she was pigeon-holed as a 'rural farmer's wife,' but they duly came. She has had some great roles, including performing as Bridgie Andover in Moll, which is currently running to great acclaim at the Gaiety, and also stars Frank Kelly, Des Keogh, Clare Barrett, Damian Kearney, Pat McDonnell and Donagh Deeney.

Mary has led something of a double life for years, being both a farmer and an actor, but this year she decided to scale things down on the farm. She kept 16 sheep to breed from, having originally had 60, but because last year and this year have been so busy, she couldn't, in all conscience, breed sheep, act, write and do slots for RTÉ, she says.

"Plus I had become increasingly aware of animal welfare," she admits. "My animals have always been treated very well, but I think I just want to have my little sheep that I like, keep them as pets and be my own boss. It was two months of incredible stress with lambing season every year, as any farmer will tell you, and I am a hippie dippy about the whole thing. I just adore my animals and am really happy with the decision I made. You breed lambs for slaughter, which is horrible, even though mine grew to a decent size and lived a decent life, but I don't like it any more, for me. I won't ever completely stop farming because I love popping around the yard, but there is a lot of maintenance involved."

Mary says that she only eats organic meat, as she worries about the conditions the animals are kept in. Which is why she has chosen Coppinger Row for lunch, as she likes the organic ethos around the simply-prepared Mediterranean food. While she will lose the income from farming, she is happy as all she wants is to make enough money to be able to travel a little, and buy a nice dress now and again.

"I have no great wish for world domination," she says, "but I do like my creature comforts." The warm and funny Mary has been very open and honest about her depression in recent years. It's very important for others to understand that depression is not a matter of snapping yourself out of a bad mood, and she feels that some of the best and most decent human beings are the ones who have illnesses that people would shy away from talking about, as they have often acquired wisdom and insight.

Diagnosed with mild-to-moderate depression in her mid-30s, Mary always knew something was wrong, and the diagnosis was a relief. She has never been unable to work and perform, but her level of sadness and anxiety fluctuates. Therapy helps, as does exercise and watching her diet. "I've done theatre runs where I was on the floor with depression and couldn't talk to a single human being, and could then go out and make a theatre full of people laugh," she says.

"I take a low-level dose of medication because I need to be able to function, and without it, I might just be a little bit more short-tempered or have a tendency to burst into tears."

While she understands that other people don't know how to handle depression in friends, her advice is not to shun them and to spend a bit of time in their company, even if they don't say anything. "If you're calling to someone's house, bring magazines so that you can just flick through them together and they don't have to talk," she advises. "It's showing them that their company is still worth something. There have been times when I felt so alone that I wished someone would invite me out, even if I was just to bring my favourite book along and read it in their company."

Looking back on recent years, Mary says that her life has become very interesting. At the beginning of last year, she lacked confidence, but then a lot of work came her way and she wrote a book, Ordinary Beauty, a compendium of short pieces about discovering the beauty in everyday small things and experiences to find contentment. "I think it was well received," she says. "I don't really read reviews, I just do my best, put it out, do my publicity and then leave it to God. If you start worrying about what other people are thinking, life would be unbearable, which is why I don't do Twitter or Facebook. I just like to go home, light the fire and mind my dog and partner."

John B Keane's Moll runs at the Gaiety Theatre until February 14. www.gaietytheatre.ie



Born: 1954, aged 60.

Occupation: Actress, farmer, author.

Family: Daughter of the late Catherine and Larry McEvoy, who lived on a farm in Westmeath.

Partner: Musician Garvan Gallagher. Garvan has a grown-up daughter Carla, and Mary is very close to her.

Likes: Animals, theatre and "nice frocks".

Dislikes: Ageism and cruelty to animals.

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