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Broadway Q&A: Genevieve O’Reilly of ‘The Ferryman’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

The ‘Star Wars’ actress shares ‘The Ferryman’ stage with more than 30 actors, a baby and a goose – and loves it

Genevieve O’Reilly, who played Mon Mothma in Star Wars, is currently starring on Broadway in The Ferryman at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre. Written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Sam Mendes, the play received three Olivier Awards on the West End before coming to Broadway. The epic play takes place during 1981 in rural Northern Ireland, with O’Reilly playing Mary Carney, a member of the vast Carney clan. Even with all the violence happening around them, the family holds on to its beloved traditions and familial bond. The Ferryman features more than 30 actors including Paddy Considine, Laura Donnelly and Fionnula Flanagan, plus a few animals and a baby. Ever the multitasker, O’Reilly also stars with Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks in the Amazon crime series Tin Star. Plus, you can see her in the biopic Tolkien and the upcoming fantasy film, The Kid Who Would Be King.

Genevieve O’Reilly in ‘The Ferryman’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Genevieve O’Reilly in ‘The Ferryman’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Did you grow up performing? 
Genevieve O’Reilly
: Performing was always part of our family’s celebrations. When we got together, everyone had a turn to sing or dance or say a poem. That kind of connection to storytelling was really always a part of my childhood. But I never imagined that performing would be a career option. I just didn’t think that was something real.  

But when I was about 14, and we were living in Adelaide, Australia, there was a scheme where school children could see theater for five dollars. At the time my parents didn’t have very much money, but they could give me five dollars to see theater every now and again. I saw Marat/Sade directed by Simon Phillips, and fell in love. I remember actor Carmel McGlone. She was so raw, real and committed. I believed every sinew in her body. It transported and had a lasting impact on me as a young person. I thought, “I want to do that.” 

When did you first hear about The Ferryman
Genevieve O’Reilly
: I was in Canada filming when I was sent the script. At that stage it was an unfinished piece. I had seen Jez’s plays Jerusalem and The River. I knew he was an extraordinary playwright. Then when Sam (Mendes) and I spoke about the piece, we both felt that it was very special. There was a bit of magic on the page. As a playwright, Jez is asking you to look at things through different people’s eyes. Through the older generation. Through the younger generation. And together, Jez and Sam created a world that is so rich with characters and music. As the audience, you feel so safe in this world. And then it shifts. 

With that giant cast, what is it like it to perform in the show?  
Genevieve O’Reilly
: It’s like entering a feast each night. There are so many people on that stage. I have told Jez that the play is like a piece of orchestral music. Everyone is a different instrument. We are all playing in this beautiful orchestra together. Then Jez lets the wind instruments have their moment. The drums have their moment. And yet we’re all playing together, creating each night.

You just finished filming the second season of Tin Star. What do you love about doing the series? 
Genevieve O’Reilly
: It’s a dark, kind of quirky, but wonderfully dramatic piece that also has a family at its center. Tim Roth plays Jack Worth and I play his wife Angela Worth. And our daughter is played by Abigail Lawrie. And the three of us had a great chemistry as family. Then we were embedded in this truly cinematic landscape up in Canada. I love the tug of how epic it is, and yet how it is rooted in a family.

What stands out about doing Star Wars
Genevieve O’Reilly
: It was such a richly created universe to step into. The first time I came to it, I was just out of drama school. Revenge of the Sith was the last Star Wars film that George Lucas directed. I remember listening to tapes of Caroline Blakiston, who played that role originally. I was entering a character that this wonderful actress had played in Return of the Jedi years before. Then the part was cut. Yet, ten years later, they came back to me asking “Will you do it again?” That is extraordinary, to get that phone call and then return to a character ten years later. Rogue One was such a great film, and Gareth Edwards directed it beautifully. I think of how lucky it was to come back to it. Also, filmmaking had changed in that time. When I was filming initially with George Lucas, we were all on sound stages. It was all blue screen and green screen. When we came to it ten years later with Gareth, the whole world existed in the scenes I was in, and the scenes in Yavin. They built the whole set. It was like walking into Star Wars. I remember being in awe as a group of actors and I were taken into a huge, big airport hangar in the middle of England. This world was built inside of it. You could touch and feel everything. It was a very rich experience. 

What do you love about being in New York City? 
Genevieve O’Reilly
: I just love walking the streets of this city. I love getting a coffee and walking. I find new things every day. The people are great. There is such an electricity in this city. The architecture is just astounding. I’m gobsmacked each day just finding a new building, just to look at and walk around. I’m loving being here.


For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in November 2018.

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