With The Magdalene Sisters, Descent and now the hard-hitting Dublin-based drama Savage under her belt, Nora-Jane Noone has had a rough ride to the top.
Having made her acting debut eight years ago – aged just 17 – in Peter Mullan’s acclaimed ’60s-set clerical abuse drama The Magdalene Sisters, Galway girl Nora-Jane Noone’s latest outing sets out to prove that modern life in Ireland can be pretty rubbish too. Especially when it comes to the mean streets of Dublin.
Centred on – cue trumpets – Evening Herald photographer Paul Graynor (Darren Healy), whose life is shattered after a violent mugging in our fair city, Noone plays the caring, sharing nurse who tries to talk our anti-hero back from the edge. Going from hunter to hunted soon puts our boy out of reach though, as Paul goes unsteadily out of his mind. The ending might just have you spewing your popcorn all over the back of a fellow cinema-goer’s head.
“That ending was shocking to me too, when I read the script,” says Noone, holed up in Dublin’s Clarence Hotel earlier this week. “It is psychological for the most part, right up until the end. And then it gets physical. You’re guessing all the way through, how far is this guy going to go, and so, yeah, the extremity of the ending definitely comes as a bit of a headwreck.”
Opening like CSI: Dublin, as we glimpse bloodied feet, police sirens wailing and the flash of a street fight, photographer Paul shakes his head as he hurries along to the Four Courts, a quick piggyback on a Black Maria getting him a cover-shot of his man. A good son, Paul visits his ailing father every day, impressing the old man’s nurse (Noone) enough for a date.
When the sadastic mugging turns Paul into a whimpering wreck, his journey from victim to Travis Bickle both speeds up and dooms the couple’s blossoming romance.
PAUL BYRNE: The strong, silent types who suddenly become the strong, violent types – need to research this? Being around actors must have helped?
NORA-JANE NOONE: There are some psychological wonders in the trade, yeah. You draw from your own experiences really – when you’re there for friends who are going through a tough time. We’ve all been there, where we just have to hold someone’s hand until they’re back on their feet.
Your character, Michelle, has to put up with a lot here – did you sympathise? Was there a danger that you didn’t believe a woman would stick around as their new boyfriend turns into a psycho?
It’s something that I believed in, something I believe does happen. You can be drawn to someone who desperately needs help, someone who brings out that mothering instinct, and then, before you know it, you’re involved in all this crazy. We all want to find a way through such ordeals, to be the saviour, and I could see how Michelle would find herself wishing and hoping that she can pull this guy back from the edge. She is a nurse, after all.
You’ve come a long way from Fairy No.1 in Ella Enchanted, with a steady stream of work over the last eight years. All going to plan, or always a struggle?
There are so many people out there who want to do this job, and people do this for different reasons. You just have to focus on what you want out of this work, out of this life, and for me, it’s all about learning. I want to get better at this job, and learn new things all the time. Like any career, you have to invest your time and effort to get anything back. And that means having a focus on what you actually want. That way, it’s very rewarding, getting to meet so many people, to travel, to delve into the psychology of so many different characters.
Is there any particular reason that you’ve ended up in quite a few dark and disturbing tales? You looking for trouble?
I think the most interesting stories, and the most interesting characters, tend to be dark. Otherwise, you’ve just got Postman Pat. My family joke about how long I might live in each new movie, but those films are always the most enticing to me. And these troubled, doomed characters I find easier to play. Wonderfully so.
I know The Magdalene Sisters was an open audition, so, did you have a passion for acting before that?
I grew up loving films. Back in Newcastle, Galway, we would watch two or three a week, so, delving into other worlds was certainly something I had from the start. I was a daydreamer, always trying to imagine what it would be like to be that person, or this person. And I guess being the youngest, you kind of do that anyway. You’re so influenced by everyone around you – your siblings, your elders. I did have my shy moments growing up, so, acting was a great way for me to express myself.
It must have felt like a baptism of fire when The Magdalene Sisters proved to be one of the most talked-about movies in this country back in 2002, and there you were, front and centre on the poster…
The funny thing is, I didn’t start out with any desire to be famous, or for being known, and when Magdalene came along, it was an amazing thing that happened to me. But I hadn’t set out with this notion of a career in acting, and it was only a few years later, when I finished my degree, that I decided acting was something I would do for a living. It was a real shock to my system though when Magdalene became such a big movie, and the effect it had on those who had lived through these dreadful laundries was heartbreaking. After all that, I needed to go away and do my degree, be around people my own age, and just grow up. I don’t think I would have been ready at 17…
Of course, for many people, all that good work in earnest, well-regarded movies fades into insignificance alongside your role as Louise in Coronation Street. Your parents were finally proud of you.
Yeah, it’s funny, when people ask me what I’ve been in, you’ll get some who have heard of Descent, some who have heard of The Magdalene Sisters, but just about everyone knows Corrie. That’s always the most exciting thing, especially at home. They get tired of seeing me die in so many movies…
The noted movie website imdb has you listed as a producer on two recent outings, both entries incorrect, but you must be considering such a move. Producing means you can actually make the movies you want to make.
It’s certainly a goal for most actors, to get to a point where you have some kind of control over the roles you’re taking on, the stories you’re telling, so, yeah, I would certainly be ready and willing to get involved behind the camera. But it’s still early days for me. I have to get myself on a few more posters in the meantime. And then I can start throwing my weight around…
Interview by Paul Byrne
SAVAGE is now showing in Irish cinemas