Interview: Kerry Condon - Living the dream
LA-based Irish actress Kerry Condon tells Stephen Milton about flying kites with Nick Nolte, fears she will fluff an Oscar speech and the little things that make her happy. Photograph by Ari Michelson
'You know you can't say 'feck' at the Oscars," Kerry Condon cries. "That's actually bad language in their eyes. I know I'd be in trouble if I ever won because I'd find it so hard to not swear."
The industrious young actress from Thurles is vocalising a casual daydream, imagining the moment she steps on to the stage to collect an Academy Award.
We've all done it; shampoo bottle in hand, gushy tear-stained acceptance speech – "mom, dad, God above ... my manicurist".
For Condon, however, whose versatility and prowess on screen have blossomed just underneath the radar since her debut in Alan Parker's treatment of 'Angela's Ashes', it's merely a matter of time before dreams become reality.
"I'm not going to lie, of course I've thought about it," she says in an unflinching Tipperary burr, which remains largely intact from any Hollywood-isation.
"I know it's superficial and you can't measure art which is supposed to be up to the individual, but I've watched the Oscars since I was a baby with my mother.
"I remember Anna Paquin winning [for 'The Piano']. She was my age at the time, and I was thinking, 'Maybe one day that could be me'.
"I actually went two years ago when 'The Shore' won [Best Live Action Short], so I at least got to go, but I was pretty far from the stage.
"Knowing me, though, if I ever do win, I'll get up there and the microphone will be too high and I'll forget to pull it down and nobody will hear anything of what I say. That's what would happen, it would be typical me. Very 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'."
From 'Ashes', 'Intermission' and the toga-clad exploits of HBO's 'Rome' to Tolstoy biopic 'The Last Station' with Helen Mirren and Dustin Hoffman's series, 'Luck', the softly spoken artiste is an expert in rich characterisation.
Even for the latest big screen release, 'Dom Hemingway', it's a rare talent who can transform Melody, a two-bit hippy prostitute with fleeting few appearances throughout the gritty Jude Law movie, into a significant central character. "It's not the biggest part,and the first thing I thought was, 'Can I get edited out? Is that possible?' But when I knew she was an important component in Dom changing his ways, I realised if they took her out of the film, it wouldn't make sense.
"Not that being edited out is a determining factor in whether I do something or not," she adds.
Law plays a petty safecracker who has just been released from prison and is due a large amount of cash for keeping his mouth zipped.
In typical Guy Richie-esque gobby fashion, he throws a few insults, slings a couple of punches and one femme fatale later, he has lost all the money and ends up on the run from myriad ruthless individuals.
Desperate to change his ways, Dom relies on Condon's whimsical hooker to coax him towards the straight and narrow.
"She doesn't really say anything in the beginning. She's partying, giving you an idea of the person she is. And then when she speaks, she's really sweet. I suppose it tells you about having a preconceived notion about somebody."
So, did the actress have a predetermined idea of Law? "Not really. What I found with Jude, he wasn't very jaded at all. Polite to everybody on the crew and I know that's kind of a strange thing to say – shouldn't everyone be polite to everybody? – but you'd be surprised.
"He seemed very much like he'd come out of drama school, very gung-ho about doing everything. He was excited and that was infectious to be around."
'Hemingway' came shortly after last year's surprise axing of celebrated racetrack series, 'Luck', in which Condon played an ambitious young jockey. Amid a cast which included Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and Joan Allen, HBO pulled the plug after the death of three horses on set during production.
Focusing on the positive, Condon came away with an incredibly close bond with Nolte, who's become a confidant and mentor.
"We went flying kites a couple of weekends ago," she says. "He had two in his car and we went to the beach together and I just find Nick is so nice, such a special person with so much great advice for me. He has made me a better actor." And even after only one season, 'Luck' has pushed her further towards the big leagues.
In an interesting paradox, however, auditioning in an A-list circle has made the game that little more difficult.
"You get into a category of names and you're trying to fight your way with those people," she says.
In a position envied by the glut of our local starlets, she's found herself in the running for huge productions such as 'The Hobbit' and 'Harry Potter'. But tussling with Scarlett Johansson, Emma Watson and Anne Hathaway for the role of Lisbeth Salander in 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' – a role that ultimately went to Rooney Mara – appears to be the biggest disappointment.
"Riding a motorcycle would have been a piece of cake after riding a racehorse on 'Luck', and I definitely would have pierced my nipple for David Fincher," the actress chuckles. "It would have been nice to get.
"There wasn't any screen test with Daniel Craig. I was just by myself when I auditioned and I had to do this weird Swedish accent, which probably came out horrific.
"I actually had a Swedish pen pal who I called and asked to talk to me over the phone, but clearly that did little to help."
Speaking to me from her New York digs near Belmont racetrack – where her unnamed horse trainer beau of three years works while she films new JJ Abrams series, 'Believe' – she regularly breaks the conversation to cluck and coo over her two Jack Russells, Peggy and Jackie, scampering round her feet.
Condon rescued Jackie after he was abandoned on Sunset Boulevard, she also has two horses at home in LA, one adopted from the set of 'Luck'.
"My dad thinks I'm building my own Noah's Ark," says Condon.
She's eagerly enthusiastic about 'Believe', a supernatural drama with Kyle MacLachlan that will occupy her days until next March, but there's no work scheduled afterwards.
Condon's oddly calm about impending unemployment. "I'm not panicking any more or worrying about the next job. It was exhausting and making me very unhappy and I was missing out on life.
"Now I'm content with bringing up my animals in LA and making money, not in a greedy way, but enough to live comfortably.
"I have all my 40s, 50s and 60s to be working. I find it easier now to accept that other things can make you happier in life. Like at this moment, looking at the autumn trees through my window."
The 30-year-old stops, pausing with a tut. "God, I sound like Pocahontas there, don't I?!"
Happy in her Californian lifestyle, Condon comes home to Thurles when commitments allow, though it often provokes an adolescent regression.
"I'm pretty shy when I go home because I was pretty shy growing up and I think I go back to that person. I don't feel like me 20 years later," she says.
"But I think everyone feels that way. You're with your family and back in that position you were in when you grew up. It's natural."
She's come a long way from a shy dreamer who once posted a handwritten note to Michael Ovitz, the co-founder of CAA, representative home of Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise and Robert De Niro, explaining her desire for an agent. Pretty savvy move for a 10-year-old.
"Everyone at home thought I was nuts when I said I wanted to be an actress and I'm sure they were just trying to protect me from disappointment.
"Undeterred, I used to write letters all the time. I wrote to Mike Ovitz and Rick Yorn [talent agent who looked after Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Timberlake]. I wrote to everyone I could think of.
"No one ever got back to me but I did write a letter to Alan Parker too and he ended up casting me in my first job."
Unfortunately, not on the back of the personal note. "I said it to him the day I was cast in 'Angela's Ashes' and he'd no idea of the letter, which really would have been an amazing full circle."
So the moral of the story is for those aspiring to see their name in lights? Save your ink, maybe?
"No, not at all! Everyone likes a nice letter or an email. Although I think letters are nicer. Sure, there's no harm. You really never know what might come of it."
'Dom Hemingway' is in cinemas November 15