Kind heart wins Fair City lady
Actors Una Crawford O'Brien and her partner of six years, Bryan Murray, just clicked when they met on the set of 'Fair City'
'I suppose when you have been married, and you went into that marriage believing that it would last forever and it didn't, you are more cynical about getting involved with someone again," says actor Una Crawford O'Brien. "When I got together with Bryan, he made me laugh, but he also made me feel good about myself, which was something that I had forgotten, in a way. He gave me a great confidence to be able to go out and do new things."
Una and her partner of six years, Bryan Murray, met on the set of RTE soap Fair City. Her character, Renee, was married to Christy Phelan, and went on to have an affair with Bryan's character Bob Charles, the husband of her old friend Emer.
"From the moment he arrived, we got on very well, but there was nothing more to it then," says Una, who, like Bryan, was then separated. "We became very good friends, and got closer when we were asked to do Celebrity You're a Star together. I think the terror probably started off something else."
"We got together not dreaming for a minute that it would last this length of time," says Bryan. "There was an immediate empathy between us, and Una makes me laugh. She is remarkably warm and kind to everybody, which is a very attractive quality, particularly in a woman. I like that there is a sense of theatricality about her, and she's a bit flamboyant in her dress, which I encourage."
Una grew up in Clondalkin as the second-youngest of four. Her dad Gerry was secretary of Clondalkin Paper Mills, while her mum Maire was a housewife. Una went to drama classes with Ena Mary Burke and Betty Ann Norton, and would have loved to pursue it as a career after school, but her mother had other plans. So she worked in insurance and in a solicitor's office for years, and also taught speech and drama for 17 years at Loreto on the Green.
In the early Nineties, Una decided to become a full-time actor, and never looked back, joining Fair City, as Renee, in 1997. Since then she has also done a lot of stage work, including Menopause the Musical and Grumpy Old Women. She was previously married to Brian O'Brien, and they have two sons, Tim, 27, and Fionn, 20. They also had a baby daughter Sorcha, who sadly passed away at 17 weeks, in a cot death.
"It was a terrible time and I thought I'd never come through the other end," she says. "It made me stronger and might have made me a little bit harder, because you can't survive and not be changed by a situation like that. It also makes you realise that you have to enjoy the good times when you have them. Brian and I both suffered, and we mourned in totally different ways. Our marriage later ended, and I think it was a factor, because if you have a child who dies, it either brings you terribly close together or it rocks you."
Bryan is the eldest of three, and he grew up in Islandbridge. His father Paddy and mother Rose both passed away last year, a mere 40 days apart. After training as an actor, he won roles in programmes like The Riordans, Strumpet City, The Irish RM, Brookside, Casualty, and The Bill. He was married to actress Angela Harding, and they had one daughter, Laura, 30. That marriage subsequently ended and he remarried and had four children, Henry, Florence, Gracie, and Eva with his second wife Juliet.
His marriage to Juliet later ended, and all of his children now live in the UK, although he and they are back and forward for visits. His youngest child is now 13.
Una and Bryan are currently starring in the play Best Man, which is about how children can be used as a weapon by couples going through a divorce. He plays Denis, an 80-year-old man who has had a full life, but doesn't see his various children because of his estrangement from their mothers. Una plays his carer Bernie. "It is a very modern situation, and I think it will resonate with many people," he says. "It's the first time I have seen this topic addressed on stage, and it's very interesting and people will talk about it. The play is also very entertaining and very current," said Bryan.
On that basis, Bryan and Una are grateful that their own situations were amicable. "All you can do is be as adult as you possibly can in that situation," says Bryan. "Of course there's fallout in every break-up, and the primary thing is to take care of the children."
Now living together in Rathgar, Una says that she loves working with Bryan and they have great fun together. "He makes the job very easy," she says. "Bryan is very intelligent, so we have great conversations, and he's also very kind. I think he's even more attractive now than he was when he was in The Irish RM. He has improved with age,"
Bryan jokes that Una is always knitting and could "knit you an overcoat in 25 minutes", and says they love cooking, nice food, good wine and going for walks.
"I'm 63 now and have been through a number of challenges, including divorces, deaths and failed businesses," he says, alluding to the failure of Poga's Wonderland, the theme park he started in Kildare in 2004. "One of the few positive things of getting older is a trust that this is all part of the rich tapestry of life. I'm just thankful that I met Una. At this stage of our lives, to find happiness is wonderful. It's deeper and richer and very life-affirming."
Catch Bryan Murray and Una Crawford O'Brien in Carmel Winters' new play 'Best Man', currently running at The Everyman Theatre in Cork until June 29 as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, and at Project Arts Centre in Dublin from July 16-27. Tickets from www.everymancork.com and www.projectsartscentre.ie