Gym is no joke for Jennifer Maguire
Jennifer Maguire makes thousands laugh, but she takes her exercise seriously, writes Tanya Sweeney
As Jennifer Maguire will readily attest, it's handy having a one-time martial arts instructor for a fiancé. "Lau (Zamparelli, now an actor) is like my trainer," says the RTÉ star, currently juggling a breakneck schedule heaving with TV and stage work.
"He's been training and has known about fitness for most of his life, so he's well able to push me. Some mornings, he'll drag me out of the bed, and some mornings, I'll have to drag him out of the bed. But we do have a good laugh when we go to the gym – or rather, he laughs at me when I do my pull-ups."
While a wedding day is not overly high on the couple's list of priorities (of which more later), it's clear that the partners who train together stay together. And with Jen and Lau regularly putting in the hard yards at their local FLYEfit in Ranelagh, they enjoy an ordered, vigorous lifestyle.
"If Lau plays football on Thursday, I'll go to the gym and get on the bike," says Jennifer. "It's a great gym, the kind of place where you're not afraid to sweat. There are no saunas, steam rooms or any of that messing about. If you're not sweating bullets, you're not doing anything, really. And there's a smell of humanity in the place."
Lau may have a solid background in fitness that dates back to his childhood in Italy, but by 33-year-old Jen's own admission, she's something of a latecomer to the fitness game.
"I was more into drama and theatre (in school)," she recalls. "I was never big into sports, which is weird because my dad teaches swimming and my siblings are like lifeguards at this stage. I think I discovered boys and booze too early."
Professing to work hard and play harder during her 20s, Jennifer realised that once she hit her 30s, her naturally slim build wasn't likely to stay that way without some effort.
"When I was younger I was a rake, but once you hit 30 you have to work a little bit harder," she says. "And these days, I enjoy exercise being a part of my life. In my 20s, it very much wasn't, let me tell you. I was still slim, but my skin wasn't in great nick, as it tends not to be when you're not looking after yourself in general.
"But these days, it does make me feel good. You do need tons of motivation to get up at 7.30 to go to the gym, especially on days like this. I hate going to the gym, but you really feel it when you don't go. I'm less tired and prone to eating better when I do go."
Jennifer's training regime paid off earlier this year when she cycled 85k to the Electric Picnic for the LauraLynn House foundation with her sister.
"It was the best can of warm Heineken I ever had," she says, laughing. "Honestly, though, the first and last 5k were the hardest."
Post-charity cycle beers aside, it all sounds rather focused and disciplined, yet Jennifer admits that the trick is to see a healthy diet or workout not as an extreme, all-consuming regime, but merely as part of everyday life.
"If you want to keep weight off, it's the only way," she says. "It's a lifestyle choice – do you want to go to the pub and have a Sunday roast, or do you want to go for a run?"
R un or roast? Surely Jen's life is not as ascetic as all that? "I definitely pick and choose," she concedes. "Treat days are fairly important – I work hard and I deserve a little treat on the weekends. I don't deprive myself of stuff – I'd rather be happy and have a pint of Guinness. I love my food too much too. I eat everything, but don't do anything to excess any more. I'll still have a glass of wine, but I'm picking and choosing my nights out. It's good to spend not every waking moment in a pub, and not be hungover on the weekends.
"I remember when I was younger, my friend and I saying, 'Today, we're on our 11th (consecutive) hangover'," she adds. "Those were the days!"
Despite the odd day off the proverbial leash, Jennifer's overall eating habits are impressively sensible, not least given her hectic work schedule.
"I always eat breakfast. I love grapefruit and porridge, and if I'm really hungry I'll have a poached egg," she says. "Lunch is sometimes an omelette, and I try to avoid carbs then. At dinner it's chicken, fish, steak and lots of green vegetables or stir-fry. Once a week we'll have pasta and I'll have a glass of red wine with it, and if I'm ever having chocolate, it's mainly the dark stuff."
Currently shooting two RTÉ shows – Republic of Telly and The Fear – back to back, as well as appearing in the stage show of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Jennifer certainly has her work cut out finding time for fitness.
And now that she has more than proven her comedy chops on Republic of Telly, the pressure is off to look like top telly totty on-screen.
"It's more of a mental thing or a fitness thing for me than a look-good-on-TV thing," she says.
"It's hard to have a routine these days, but I do try to go to FLYEfit three times a week. I'll do a 40-minute session, and try to get six machines in on each muscle.
"But honestly, whether I was on telly or not, I'd be the same. I'd still want to look good. And the thing is, for the stuff that I do on Republic of Telly, I never do get to look pretty. I'm there looking like a munter half the time, so it doesn't really matter."
Suffice to say that her male Republic of Telly co-stars – among them Dead Cat Bounce, Hardy Bucks' Kevin McGahern and Damo & Ivor star Andy Quirke – are also quite relaxed about their on-screen appearance. "You'll be lucky if they have a wash," jokes Jennifer.
Now one of RTÉ's top female comedy stars, she does a rather neat line in self-deprecation.
"Happily, I grew into my features when I grew up. I was a real minger as a child," she says, deadpan. "Even my sister said to me recently, 'Hmm, you weren't a great-looking teenager'. If Lau had met me earlier on, I'd probably be single now!"
As it happens, wedding bells are very much on the horizon for Jennifer and Lau, but not any time soon.
"I haven't even thought about it," she says with the weary air of a woman who has been asked about her big day more times than she's had (low-carb) hot dinners.
"The thing is, some women lose 50pc of themselves in the run-up to their wedding day, and then they don't even look like themselves in the photos! Besides, I wouldn't be able to starve myself for anything. I'd be so, so narky."