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The newest Cusack glitters brightly

As she prepares to take to the stage, Megan speaks to Donal Lynch about following in the footsteps of her famous acting family


Megan Cusack. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Megan Cusack. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Megan Cusack. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Megan Cusack seems, quite literally, to sparkle. She's shown up bedazzled with glitter, which refracts off her face as though she were a precious stone. I presume it's a remnant of a stint in hair and make-up - but, since she's rehearsing for Anton Chekhov, this is either a more modern interpretation than any of us had suspected, or there is some other explanation.

"It's just me!" She clarifies, winsomely. "There is no other reason than it's fun. When I'm feeling a bit low in the morning I think, oh I'll put a bit of glitter on and then I'll feel better. I carry it everywhere. It's in my bag right now."

The glittering is inter-generational. Cusack, as you might suspect from the name, comes from a family of acting gems. Her grandfather was Cyril - whose own last stage performance was in Chekhov's Three Sisters, in which his daughters - and Megan's aunts - Sorcha, Sinead and Niamh played the sisters.

Cyril died before Megan was born but she saw him in the film Danny Champion of the World.

Her father is Padraig Cusack, a musician who became an internationally acclaimed theatre producer.

Her aunt Sinead Cusack is married to Jeremy Irons - he is one of the few actors to have won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. Her first cousin, Max Irons, son of Jeremy, is also an actor.

The Cusacks have a deep connection with Cork and Megan herself grew up just outside Skibbereen, the child of Padraig and Denise Harris.

The 23-year-old says that the acting bug bit early. "The house was very animated, lots going on, there was lots of discussions about different theatre pieces. As cringe as it sounds, I've always wanted to do [acting], as I remember.

"I was fascinated by the idea of getting on a stage and telling a story."

She says coming from a group of actors meant that there were "never any set roles" in the family.

"It's great when they tell stories because they assume the different characters. We played Murder in the Dark at Christmas and everyone was so good at keeping their cards close to their chest.

"You sort of do look at people sometimes and think, what are you doing now, are you acting? I don't think a certain type of person becomes an actor but maybe we are more in touch with our feelings; I think actors are quite emotional people anyway."

The galaxy of well-known names in her lineage has been a mixed blessing, she says, and adds that her aunt Niamh was particularly instrumental in encouraging her to become an actor.

"There are pros and cons to everything. There is a feeling for me that there is so much to live up to.

"And sometimes people have these ideas about where you've come from. But it's been wonderful for me.

"I probably wouldn't have gotten in to drama school if it hadn't been for my aunt Niamh, who would work on monologues with me.

"It was really helpful having so many people to call on."

Megan trained in London and graduated from LAMDA in 2018. She was in an adaptation of Edna O'Brien's The Country Girls last year at the Abbey.

She's currently rehearsing for Tom Murphy's adaptation of The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov, a play about land, heritage and the tensions between tradition and change, which will be the first major production of Murphy's work since his death in 2018.

"Chekhov has always been one of my favourites and it's great to do an adaptation of one of my favourite plays", Megan says.

"I love the way the play is written, with so many relationships going on. Everyone is always wishing someone or wistful for something. My character longs to be a lady, but she's just a servant, so basically she wants to be above her station."

It feels fitting that the scion of such a famous acting dynasty would make her mark in a play about aristocracy and social order. Despite her famous name, Megan speaks with a great deal of humility and her beginnings in acting have been far from a gilded passage.

"Acting is very tough, very subjective and of course there are times when you wonder 'why am I doing this'. I only graduated in 2018, but I still feel it. There is a lot of anticipation and waiting and hope and rejection.

"With rejection, you just have to dig in and move on and use it to push yourself further. Sometimes it's not because you weren't good enough. It can be because they cast someone taller or shorter. It can be as random as that."

We meet during the throes of the recent election campaigns and Megan says she was firmly behind her cousin Richard Boyd Barrett, who was elected in Dun Laoghaire. Boyd Barrett is the son of Sinead Cusack and the late theatre director, Vincent Dowling, and was given up for adoption.

He was adopted by Valerie and David Boyd Barrett at an early age, and grew up with them in Glenageary.

"I saw him recently because Max [Irons], who is Sinead and Jeremy's son, got married and so there was a big gathering before Christmas.

"Toward the very end of the night, at around six in the morning, he and I were left and we got into a big discussion. Not necessarily about politics as such, but about upheaval in society and about fairness."

Given her youth, she says that she often hears "you haven't lived yet, how would you know?"

"But, you know, people don't know what I've lived or gone through and I draw inspiration from all sorts of places.

"I hope I can make my own mark; it's terrifying, but also very exciting."

Megan Cusack makes her Druid debut in 'The Cherry Orchard' by Anton Chekhov in a version by Tom Murphy, Black Box Galway (February 22-March 7) and Bord Gais Energy Theatre Dublin (April 8-11). See druid.ie

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