Wednesday 22 May 2019

Always hiding in plain sight

Nora-Jane Noone proves that a 'shy actor' is not an oxymoron, says Katy Harrington

You may not recognise the name Nora-Jane Noone, but I guarantee you'll know the face. The 28-year-old from Newcastle in Galway has been making films for more than a decade, but her first role is still her most memorable.

Playing Bernadette in Peter Mullan's harrowing film The Magdalene Sisters launched her career. Since then, she has had numerous roles in shorts, feature films and TV, including the horror flick The Descent (and its sequel), mini-series The Day of the Triffids and even a stint on Corrie.

It all started with an audition, or rather three rounds of auditions. Then, with her final Leaving Certificate exams looming, Noone asked her parents not to tell her if she had bagged the part in Magdalene until her last exam was over.

She remembers arriving home to see balloons tied to the washing line. Cautious that they might be for her father's birthday, she stepped inside to see a sign her brother had made. It read: 'Congratulations Bernadette'. "I burst into tears. I was completely overwhelmed."

A month later, filming began. Was it daunting for an insecure teenager suddenly to find herself on a film set for the first time? "I was just doing what I was told", she says. "A lot of it was improv. I knew my lines and Peter let us just be in the moment." Looking back, Noone's lack of experience allowed her to immerse herself in the role, not be distracted and deliver the goods.

She couldn't have known the impact the film would have, and with no burden that her future acting career hung in the balance, she threw herself into the part.

After school, she completed a science degree ("just", she adds under her breath) at NUI Galway and then moved to London, where she has lived for nine years.

Today, tucked away in the corner of an east London pub, Noone explains the more straightforward way she landed the part of Aoife in the new Irish drama Deception. "The producer asked to see me on tape ... I sent it from London and got the role." Deception was filmed last June, not far from her home in Newcastle. As for the plot, she promises a cliffhanger ending and is hopeful of a second series.

In the meantime, Noone is going back to basics with a clowning workshop. This isn't red nose, big shoes and custard pie clowning; rather a two-week intensive course encouraging openness and playfulness – tools to tackle her shyness. A shy actor might seem like an oxymoron, but Noone believes that, while actors must be willing to show vulnerability, they always have a character to hide behind. Acting provided an escape for her as a timid and awkward young girl, but she is still conscious of her shyness, and clowning is one way to break down her barriers.

The barriers are certainly up when it comes to talking about herself. On her relationship with boyfriend of six years, Paul, she asks herself "What do I want to say?" before describing how they met in Brazil at a film festival. As for her parents, she says they now understand the difference between the hype and the reality of having a daughter who makes movies.

"They were proud in the beginning, but they never really said it to me in case I got a big head." It seems unlikely that someone as shy and self-critical as Noone is capable of getting a big head. Analysing her own performances is still difficult. "I do it on my own, hiding behind a pillow," she admits, "but I've got a lot better over the past few years."

As well as Deception, Noone will appear in a new film called January and the short film Wasted by up-and-coming Newry director Cathy Brady. Her dream is to work with directors like Steve McQueen, Lenny Abrahamson or Mike Leigh. Dream jobs, are not, it seems, roles in Coronation Street.

"It was really strange", she says about her time in the soap. So not enjoyable then? She pulls a face. Not something she would do again? A long pause and more face-pulling. "It was never why I got into acting," she admits eventually. "My agent was very keen for me to do it because it was great exposure ... but the exposure wasn't something I wanted, either," she says, proving that the words shy and actor aren't always mutually exclusive.

Deception is on TV3, Monday, 10pm

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