| 20.9°C Dublin

Diamond in the rough

THERE is a distinct tone of incredulity in Lorraine Pilkington's voice as she tells me that her life has never been "as complete" as it is right now. It's almost as though she's waiting for someone to tap her on the shoulder in the bar of the Westbury Hotel, in Dublin, and say, "Wake up, baby, it was all a dream".

THERE is a distinct tone of incredulity in Lorraine Pilkington's voice as she tells me that her life has never been "as complete" as it is right now. It's almost as though she's waiting for someone to tap her on the shoulder in the bar of the Westbury Hotel, in Dublin, and say, "Wake up, baby, it was all a dream. You don't have a loving husband, two beautiful sons and Rough Diamond, your new TV series, isn't the 'godsend' you sayit is."

Then again, it's easy to understand Lorraine's sense that "everything could change at any moment". This after all, is an actor who got her break at the age of 15 in Neil Jordan's movie The Miracle, followed that with a series of roles in to-die-for theatrical productions such as The Plough and the Stars and The Iceman Cometh at the Abbey and then relocated to London where she had the kind of wake-up-call that left her feeling her career was over, even though she was only 18. Incidentally, that experience involved Pilkington being told by a producer in a hotel room to "turn around" - as in twirl and show her shape which, let's face it, clearly accentuates thecattle-market nature of thefilm industry - and being told she was overweight.

This definitely wasn't what Pilkington wanted to hear, if only because her abiding memory of seeing herself on screen for the first time in The Miracle is that she was "so fat" - a feeling which kick-started the diet she's been on ever since. Mostly because Lorraine knows damn well that women who work in the world of film or TV are expected to remain "sexually attractive" or they risk, to continue that cattle analogy, being put out to pasture.

But was acting always a goal for Lorraine, who was born in 1975, raised in Dublin as one of four children, and how did she land a role in The Miracle?

"No, and what happened was that I was doing an acting class every Saturday at the Gaiety School of Acting - it was that or tennis! - when the people making The Miracle did auditions for a girl and boy and started with 2,000 then kept paring it down, and it became a matter of life and death to me. Then, when I got the part, I applied myself to it as best I could and it was great when Neil said, 'You really are talented.'

"But, looking back, I was a bit of a twit and didn't even think of the fact that it was a deeply personal film for Neil, or the Oedipus thing everyone was talking about. That went over my head and when I saw the film I just thought 'God, I look so fat'!"

Not surprisingly, at 15 it was "hugely important" for Lorraine to "look nice" and she "wanted to be fancied by boys!" Indeed, Pilkington believes it was "at least three years before men looked up from their newspapers" at her. As for her acting career, and those to-die-for-roles, much of this she admits also went over her head.

"For example, Brian Dennehy was in that production of The Iceman Cometh, and it was an epic play, sold out for the entire run but I hadn't a clue what was going on around me, I didn't know who anyone was, all I was thinking was 'This is a great job, I can stay in bed until two in the afternoon, do the play then go out and party!' And even when I was on stage, the main feeling I had was fear and the only thing I liked was the applause! I really was a twit!"

All of which, again, is hardly surprising given that Lorraine was between the ages of 15 and 18. But she sure as hell fell to earth after finishing her Leaving and moving to London to make a film.

"I'd gotten a part in an Italian movie that was cast over here and being made by an Italian couple," Pilkington explains. "She'd written it and he was directing it but they ran out of finance and went to Harvey Weinstein at Miramax for the extra 5 per cent and he came in and fired me, but not without completely humiliating me first. He called me into the Savoy and said, 'I've seen you in The Miracle' and I thought 'This is good' because the Italian couple had said 'Weinstein's not keen on you, he wantsa big star.' Then he said, 'Stand up, turn around' and told this woman who was taking notes, 'We need to lose some weight, get Lorrainea trainer.'

"Then, basically, he implied I was a character actor and would never play a romantic lead. But it was only after I got home I wastold by the director 'They'vefired you.' Then they used Uma Thurman and threw the film inthe bin. But to have the role and realise I'd lost it and that this decision was based on how I looked, and not my acting ability, really devastated me and left me so depressed about the film industry. In fact, those six weeks before I came home were horrible, the darkest in my life and I did begin to think 'Wrong decision, Lorraine' in terms of originally deciding to become an actor."

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

After moving back to Ireland, Lorraine was unemployed for three months but then got a part in Barry Devlin's 1994 TV film All Things Bright and Beautiful which was followed by movies such as The Boxer (1997), Last of the High Kings (1998), Human Traffic (2000) and My Kingdom (2001) which was Richard Harris's final film. It was a retelling of King Lear in a Liverpool gangster setting, with Lorraine playing one of his daughters and giving, arguably, one of her finest performances. Certainly, Pilkington's "favourite scene, ever" was one she did with Richard, which he wrote.

"He called me into his caravan five minutes before we were due to shoot, gave me that scene and I thought 'Jesus!' and was so inspired that it became one of the best things I've ever done," she says. "It's the scene where he says, 'What did I do wrong? I gave you everything' and I say, lip curling with rage, 'You gave me things like football clubs but never gave me love.' In that scene somethingreally came alive for me. And,even as a man, though he was 72 Richard Harris still had it! It wasn't that I wanted to hop into bed with him - though I didn't tell him that! - but I was drawn to him and he still had sex appeal. Yet what happened to My Kingdom was terrible. It was due to open at the Sundance Festival on September 11, 2001 but got lost after what happened that day and only got a limited cinematic release."

Lorraine also reveals she was four months pregnant while making My Kingdom and says if I "look closely at the sex scenes again" I'll notice that fact. How the hell she knows I looked closely at those sex scenes the first time round I don't understand, but I do look for a second time, and realise she's right! Yet Lorraine didn't tell anyone connected with the movie until "halfway through" that she was pregnant because she probably would have been fired as "an insurance nightmare".

Pilkington also became pregnant after "not quite the first night" she slept with the man she later married - TV Director Simon Massey whom she met while making Monarch of the Glen - "but soon after!" Her previous lovers included Andrew Heffernan of the Dunnes Stores dynasty who left her "a bit broken-hearted" and American comedian Rich Little, who "really broke" her heart. Why? "Because for a year I was desperately trying to make him love me as opposed to us really being in love." Either way, both left Lorraine though she "normally did the leaving" and normally "didn't have long relationships". In fact, whenever I saw her in Dublin nightclubs such as Lillies or Reynards during the Nineties she seemed to be more of a 'party girl'. So was she a bit of a butterfly heart?

"That's exactly what I was because I wasn't ready for a relationship and I honestly don't know if I would have been after meeting Simon if I hadn't found myself pregnant," she responds. "But I do come from a home with traditional family values and my mum and dad were each other's first loves, they're still in love and they had four children and I believe that however you live your life you, essentially, want to go back what you came from, unless you hated it. So although, yes, you and many people may have seen me as a 'party girl', I never really was. There always was a driving force in me making me want to settle down. So from the moment I realised I was pregnant I wanted to make this work because I always wanted a family and home and I have all that now with Simon."

Lorraine has even replicated the familial fact that she has four kids - two with Simon and two stepchildren from his first marriage. But when, during Monarch of the Glen, did they get together andwas it love at first sight? "Not really" she responds. "In fact, during the making of Monarch Simon kept referring to his children and I assumed he was with his wife so he was a no-go area to me. But during the editing process he said he and his wife had been separated for seven years and I thought, 'Oh, OK!'

"Yet it wasn't a typical romance, so when people say, 'When did you realise you were in love?' I say, 'We hardly knew each other and we were having a baby!' Yet we were swept away by it all. It really was 'F**king hell, buy the house, get a divorce' and I suddenly had two stepchildren who were 18 and 16! They say that four out of five of the most stressful things in a person's life are buying a house, getting a divorce, planning a wedding and having a baby, and we went through all that in 2001.

"But people do always ask 'Were you in love at the time?' and I have to say, 'I don't know, I was toobusy to think about it.' Yet I do know I wouldn't have made the decision to stay with Simon, get the house and get married if I didn't love him."

If you hadn't noticed by now Lorraine is, by her own admission, as much of a pragmatist as a romantic, the kind of person who "will bring a picnic to the riverside but also bring an under-sheet so the rug doesn't get damp!" Pilkington also admits that after having Milo, her first son, she was a mite unrealistic in the sense that she went "straight back to auditions", obviously blind to the fact that this time she really was overweight.

"In my fantasies, I thought My Kingdom was going to be a big hit, I'd be a major success and whisked off to Hollywood but I didn't realise you really do become delusional when you have a baby!" Lorraine reflects, laughing. "I couldn't see that I was 12, 13 stone and I'd put myself forward for these parts almost dragging the afterbirth behind me and wonder why I didn't get them! But, more seriously, at one point I realised I'd gone for 22 auditions over a year and didn't get one job, so that really did chip away at my confidence.

"So I decided not to even go for auditions during the following year and to have Luka, and that was the best thing I'd ever done because it gave me time to look inside myself, locate myself, mature, find out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life and I got really close to the children. It was a fantastic time and I ran and ran and lost all the extra weight then, finally, when I was ready to go back to work again I made a Mexican movie, Conejo en la Luna (Rabbit on the Moon) and now I've done Rough Diamond which is a godsend because I'm working in Ireland again and Simon even got to direct two of the shows!"

During her hiatus Lorraine also did - and still does - "voice-overs for ads like Persil" which pay well. But now that she's passed 30, Pilkington is "even more aware" of that "issue of her weight and image" and readily accepts that part of the reason any movie producer might check out her arse is, to put it bluntly, to try decide if "punters" will fantasise about hopping into bed with her.

"In fact now that I am in my 30s, I feel if I ever had any form of youthful sex appeal it is gone, and now I need to be slim and in good shape because looking sexually attractive does account for 80, 90 maybe even 100 per cent of the work a woman gets in this business!" she says. "For example, after having Milo, one job I went for was the role of a young mother and, in my delusional state, I thought 'I'm in a better position to play this part.' Was I being stupid! They got Samantha Janus with tits out to here (Lorraine cups her hands a considerable distance from her own breasts) and a tiny waist, as if it could be, 'I am a size eight and here's the baby I had yesterday!' But in Rough Diamond I do get to play the sexy wife and wear tight clothes! No, actually, it's a godsend to me because it's a great role - set in the elegant world of Irish horse racing - and I play a strong character who is not just defined by being a wife, she's got a career and a teenage daughter and is at the centre of a love triangle."

Now you know why Lorraine Pilkington feels so complete right now. "Well, Rough Diamond really is the biggest thing that hashappened to me, career-wise, in five years," she says, smiling. "So that fact alone and my life with Simon and the kids does make me feel totally complete right now. I actually couldn't be happier if I was twins!"

© Joe Jackson

Rough Diamond starts on Friday at 7pm on RTE One

Most Watched