Saturday 24 August 2019

Rebel Rebel: the book on Ruth Bradley, one empowered actress

Ruth Bradley is our of the brightest young acting stars. She spoke to Donal Lynch about loneliness, nude scenes, her best friends, the nature of desire and being threatened with hellfire by a stalker on Twitter

Bright acting star: actress Ruth Bradley, Photo: Damien Eagers
Bright acting star: actress Ruth Bradley, Photo: Damien Eagers
Ruth Bradley stars as Frances in the new 1916 mini-series Rebellion
Acting dynasty: Ruth Bradley is following in the footsteps of her mother. Photo: Damien Eagers.
Ruth is following in the footsteps of her mother, Charlotte Bradley, who played Anne Harris in Veronica Guerin (centre).
Ruth as Mary with Robert Sheehan as Darren in Love/Hate.
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

There are different kinds of rebellion, you can't help thinking watching Ruth Bradley, act her heart out in the eponymous RTE series. There's the fierce nationalistic zealotry of her character, Frances, an orphan who falls under Padraig Pearse's oratorical spell. And then there's the modern-day real-life balls it takes to go entirely make-up-free when you know your face is going to be blown up to five times its normal size on flat screens across the country, a decision that she went along with even if it made her feel "quite naked".

If anyone can pull it off, it's Bradley, whose porcelain skin and dewy eyes are what she might, during her brief stint studying German in Trinity, have understood as tageslichttauglich (fit for blinding daylight). She still plays characters in their early twenties - she's 28 now - and the lack of war paint also fits with the feminist-socialist principles of the women of the Rising, on whom the series focuses. Bradley says the light that the drama shines on their involvement comes not before time.

"If you look back at history books, it's almost as though women didn't exist," she tells me over tea at the Dylan Hotel. "Women were just as involved as men but the official numbers of women involved in the Rising aren't known because a lot of them were written out of history. In one of the surrender photos, there was a woman who was quite literally erased, except for her wellies.

"It's crazy that it's taken us 100 years to talk about those strong women."

Bradley has played a few strong women in a burgeoning career. She did two series as the sassy sister of Darren on Love/Hate before moving to America to expand her CV. While there, she briefly appeared on the hit show Beauty and the Beast. She won the Best Actress award at the Milan International Film Festival 2010 for her performance. More recently, she has appeared in the mini-series Titanic and in the acclaimed sci-fi drama Humans. And of course Rebellion, which reportedly cost €4m to make and has been optioned by Robert Redford's Sundance network. It has made her one of the hotter young prospects to come out of this country lately.

It was another strong woman - her mother - who blazed the trail, however. Charlotte Bradley is an actress who appeared in the movie Veronica Guerin (where she played the former editor of the Sunday Independent, Anne Harris), in About Adam, alongside Uma Thurman, and with Bernard Hill and Colm Meaney in The Boys And Girls From County Clare. "She didn't discourage me but she was also very far from a stage mum, she never pushed me", Ruth says.

"I didn't know my mother was an actress until I was eight and she went back to work. At an even younger age than that, I'd wanted to be an actress, so when I saw her I clearly remember thinking, 'this is a strange coincidence.'"

Ruth's parents moved to Canada when she was six months old, following her father, a GP (who has since become a psychiatrist), who went there for work. It was the mid-eighties and "a tough time in Dublin." While the family were based in Newfoundland, Ruth's grandfather passed away and her father, horrified by his daughter's developing Canadian drawl, decided to send the family home when Ruth was six. He himself stayed on and the family would travel over and back from Ireland to see him.

"He'd do a stint for five months. I suppose it was tough on (her mother) but she's a powerhouse of a tough woman and we had au pairs and stuff. I would go to see all mum's plays and sit in the audience or sit backstage."

At school - Scoil Neasain in Harmonstown - she was "a bit of an entertainer, a bit of a joker". "In secondary school, I became aware of the idea of being cool and that was a bit of a shell shock. I had a hard time adjusting to the formality of secondary school but ultimately it worked out really well because they also turned out to be very supportive. All through my Leaving Cert I was doing a play and touring around Ireland. I did my orals while we were touring."

When she appeared in John B Keane's Sive at the Gaiety, there were a hundred girls in the audience, once of whom screamed "gwan The Ruth" as she walked out on stage blushing. She got a good Leaving and decided to do Germanic languages at Trinity, because it seemed like something sensible and "because everyone told me I should". Within two weeks she was "like, what the hell am I doing here" and at three weeks she dropped out.

"I thought if I am going to drop out, I'm not just going to sit around dossing, so when I was 18 I moved to London. I was over there on my own, I had no friends there and no idea how to negotiate my way through the world. Luckily I had a little voice in my head that said, 'Don't drink your face off or do drugs.'" In photos from the period, she looks about eight.

At auditions, she would insecurely put on a plummy RP accent and then forget whether she was supposed to sound Irish or English. She worked as a waitress and at various telesales jobs. She felt pangs of homesickness.

"I'd ring home in bits and all my friends would be going to the same pub and I'd be like, 'Now what am I doing?' I'd go for screen-tests and almost get them, but then not get them. It felt awful, but it was probably great in hindsight because it will never be that bad again. I felt like, 'I'm not going home with my tail between my legs.'"

Things started to pick up after she moved in with her old alumnus from The Clinic, Amy Huberman. "The Clinic was when we became friendly. Amy is one of my best friends now. I'd been friendly with Mark Huberman (Amy's brother) before. When I began living with her in London, that was when it got to be fun. She had a whole network of friends from college, so that was great."

She says Huberman's discipline inspired her."I've tried to sit down and write a screenplay but it's really hard to do that. Amy was always writing. When we were living in London, she'd be up at 9am working on her writing for four hours while I sat around eating Cocopops. She's had big changes in her life in the last while; marriage, babies, working non-stop, she's so prolific. She's a strong person but she wears it lightly."

She remains coy about her relationship status but says she has gained experience throughout her twenties. "I've had some breakups. At the time you think I'm never going to get over this but then you sometimes just do.

"But like the tough times at work, I think you learn from those moments. If you're aware of a pattern, you can do something about it and you can be aware of your own culpability. I like to think I can do that but, like everyone else, I'm a work in progress."

She's not sure about marriage, however. "I would worry it would just be about the big day. That's not me. I wouldn't want it to be all about the dress and the party. Kids would be a bigger and realler commitment to me. With kids, though, I'd worry that I wouldn't be so focussed on work. A friend of mine told me she's going to freeze her eggs and I thought, 'Well, I also don't want to be a 55-year-old first time mother' so you kind of just have to go with what happens. Thirty-eight would be the perfect age, I think. But then when I was 19 I thought 28 would be the perfect time."

Despite this scepticism about the institution itself, she says one of her highlights of the year was the marriage referendum.

"I posted something and got some strange responses. That was my first weirdo response on Twitter. One woman in particular who I found very upsetting. She was in the States somewhere. It was really disturbing. I don't know why they picked on me. The message was along the lines of, 'you will burn in hell.'"

Has she ever had any gay experiences herself? "No, but never say never! Like anything in life, who knows? You just don't know who you could fall in love with."

Twitter trolls aren't the only kind she's dealt with. Her eyes widen slightly when I ask her if she's done a nude scene and she mentions something about one being "on the internet forever". Sure enough, 'Ruth Bradley nude scene' offers 181,000 results on Google search. It was a tasteful one in the movie In Her Skin, the true story of an Australian teen who goes missing and is later found to have been murdered by her childhood friend (played by Bradley). "I would do (a nude scene) again if the script called for it", she tells me. "But not if it was just a gratuitous love scene."

She says she has developed a thick skin when it comes to criticism of her performances or her appearance. "I've heard that my teeth are funny or that I need to lose weight and when I was in my teens or early 20s that would bother me, but now I think, listen this is how I look. My job is not to be a supermodel."

I ask her what her friends tease her about and she tells me they've called her "eccentric". This sounds shamefully mild/veiled by the standards of Irish slagging but then the assessment came in Amsterdam, where she says she saw the smut but avoided the smoke.

"We only had 48 hours there, so we did the Supper Club, which I wanted to do since I was a kid because I'm obsessed with the music. Then we walked around the red light district. I found it extremely disturbing. I saw all the women in the windows. I know it sounds ridiculous to say it but they were stunningly beautiful. At one point I smiled at one of them and she didn't smile back and I wanted to say, 'oh no, I'm not being patronising, I don't know what I'm doing.' I was quite frazzled by that."

She says she's become something of a "property bore" recently - she is on the brink of buying her own place in London, the mortgage having just been approved. "I'm buying in east London. That will be a good thing for my twenties, to say I've done that. It will be a nest egg in years to come. I'm looking forward to that all happening in the New Year."

Before that, though, there's the upcoming New Year's celebrations to get through.

"I'll spend it with all the lads, my friends, who are coming home. We'll just go to a pub in Artane and have a few drinks. Yeah, it's really exotic alright. But I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

The first episode of Rebellion airs on RTE1 on Sunday January 3 at 9.30pm. The series runs for five weeks.

Ruth Bradley is our of the brightest young acting stars. She spoke to Donal Lynch about loneliness, nude scenes, her best friends, the nature of desire and being threatened with hellfire by a stalker on Twitter

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