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Acting is Brennan-bred

Though her dad hoped she'd follow an acadmic path, the stage was in the blood for Kate Stanley Brennan, the daughter of Stephen Brennan and Martina Stanley, says Andrea Smith

'I'VE had a baby in each of the five decades from the Seventies until now, so I'm as good as Cliff Richard and his number ones," jokes renowned actor Stephen Brennan, adding that he must have been especially lucky in the decade in which two of his six children were born.

"I became a father before I had time to think about it, which is probably not a bad way of doing it. I was a daddy to Sarah when I was 22, and fatherhood is the best thing I've ever done. I'm still having babies now, because I enjoy it so much. Parenthood at any stage doesn't really work on paper. You wouldn't really get involved in it if you thought it out in advance, but when you do it, it's the best thing you can do. Children are lots of fun and lots of trouble, and they're why we're here."

Stephen is sitting with his daughter Kate, the second-oldest of his four children with former wife, actress Martina Stanley, aka Dolores in Fair City. The other three are Sarah, born in the Seventies, Holly, born in the Eighties, and Johnny, born in the Nineties, all of whom are adults now, and then there's Dylan, 4, and Jamie, 1, whom he had with his partner Dawn Bradfield. Kate is an actor, Holly is a graphic designer, Sarah has added producing to her acting career and Johnny is a musician.

"Kate was actually a very good baby, very placid," says Stephen. "We knew what we were doing by the time she came along, whereas poor Sarah was the experiment."

Kate says she thought her parents were very glamorous, and she loved to see them getting dressed up to go out at night.

Kate was 13 when her parents broke up and she has remained close to both. She recalls her dad being away on tour and coming home laden with presents.

"He was always very involved and great fun, and I had so much respect for him," she says. "Any time he got cross, he only had to say one word and raise the tone slightly and that would be enough to make us behave. He was always very kind, and is someone that I could talk to about anything. Well, apart from music -- he can't understand DJs or dance music at all!"

Of course, having an actor father could be mortifying for a child at times, and Kate was embarrassed when her dad did a reading at her Communion in what she felt was "a very posh voice", and to add insult to injury, he was sporting long hair for his role in The Rocky Horror Show.

Stephen says that Kate was very well behaved and generous as a teenager, and very popular among her friends. She was no trouble -- we won't dwell on the time he caught her going down the street with a bottle of vodka and Coke.

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As Kate was an A student in maths and physics and a keen student, Stephen had high hopes of her doing something academic at college, until she broke the news that she wanted to be an actress. Well she didn't lick it from the stones, and Stephen, who comes from the Brennan acting dynasty, would be the first to concede that it's in the blood.

His father was the late Dennis Brennan, his mother is Daphne Carroll and his siblings -- Barbara, Catherine, Paul and Jane -- are all actors. "You have to go where the heart leads," he says, teasing Kate for dropping out of drama and theatre studies at Trinity to begin her acting career.

Apart from acting, Stephen loves that Kate is developing as a songwriter as well, mainly because he enjoys having fun with music in his spare time.

Speaking of fun, he says that his current role in Rough Magic's production of Neil Simon's acclaimed three-act comedy Plaza Suite, is exactly the tonic people need to give them a lift these days. It will run for two weeks at the Gaiety Theatre, opening tomorrow, and anyone who has seen the play will know that it is superb and great fun.

Kate says that her dad gives very straight advice and constructive criticism of her work, and she appreciates his perspective on things.

Having said that, she concedes that as he is one of the most successful actors in the country, it may have given her a slightly skewed view of the realities of acting as a career. Nonetheless, she is doing very well herself, working in film, TV and theatre, and has appeared in RTE's Raw, The Tudors and several films, including the innovative and largely improvised Kirsten Sheridan film Dollhouse, which will shortly be shown at the Dublin Film Festival and at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.

"I believe she's terrific in it, and it's no ordinary acting job, so I'm very proud of her," says Stephen.

He is also looking forward to seeing her in Fishamble's forthcoming Tiny Plays for Ireland at the Project Theatre, which consists of 25 plays of no more than 600 words presented together as an ensemble piece, and written by several different writers chosen from more than 1,700 submitted entries.

"I'm delighted she's doing well, because I know what this business is like," he says. "I've been in it for 38 years and I'm still a developing actor myself!"

Stephen stars in the Rough Magic production of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at the Gaiety Theatre, running from tomorrow to March 3. Tickets are priced between €15 and €45. For more information visit www.gaietytheatre.ie. Kate Stanley Brennan will be part of the cast of Tiny Plays for Ireland, staged by Fishamble, The New Play Theatre company, from March 15 at the Project Arts Centre. For more information visit www.projectartscentre.ie

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