NOBLE – Interview with Deirdre O'Kane

We talk to actress & comedian Deirdre O’Kane about the inspiring new Irish movie

Comedian Deirdre O’Kane has appeared in numerous film projects and is currently enjoying rave reviews for her role as the long suffering mum in Sky’s hit TV show ‘Moone Boy’. Her latest project brings one of Ireland’s greatest charity workers – Christina Noble to life on the big screen. The movie is a personal one for the actress, who supported Noble’s charity ball for five years running, and whose husband wrote and directed the film. caught up with the actress ahead of the film’s release to find out more about O’Kane’s personal involvement in the film, and her experiences in telling Christina Noble’s story…

What made you want to tell Chstina Noble’s story?
I read Christina’s books – ‘Bridge Across My Sorrows’ and ‘Mama Tina’ when I was in my 20s and they had a powerful effect one me, as I think they did on anyone who’s read them. I just remember thinking at the time ‘Well, I’ll meet her, I’ll definitely do something for her’. I just had a notion that I was going to encounter her. Ireland is small, so you think those kinds of things aren’t impossible. It was in my head, and then of course, I did absolutely nothing except think about myself! [laughs] and got on with my own job. When I started doing stand up – about 10 years later – I got an email asking me if I would host a ball in aid of the Christina Noble Foundation, and I said to Steve [Bradley] at the time ‘Oh god, there she is!’ so I said yes, and it was meant to be a one-off, but I ended up doing it every year for about five years. I got to know Christina a little bit, and I got to know the funny side of her, and that’s when the penny dropped and I thought ‘People need to know about this woman!’

This must have been a very challenging and personal project for both you and your husband…
Stephen and I sold our house at the time when you were still able to sell your house for a profit, and that was the money that we bought the rights to her books with; if we hadn’t sold the house we wouldn’t have been able to buy them. It’s very personal for me, it was a personal investment, and a scary one! It has been an unbelievable struggle to get this film out there, even that side of it though, is very very similar to the struggle Christina went through to get her first investment in Vietnam.

How did you research the role? Did you sit down with Christina Noble and talk with her?
I went to her house and spent hours with her. Then I went to Vietnam with her and I shadowed her 24/7 for about 10 days. When we initially bought the rights to the book, it was Stephen then who spent the time with her; he spent two years talking to her. This project has lived in our house for six years; there wasn’t a day, for at least three years, when we didn’t talk about Christina Noble and the film. I did, but at the end of the day, it’s Stephen’s film; he had to sit down and write it.

Christina had such a tough young life, and seems to have been made stronger by her hard time spent in religious-run institutions. Did you want to show this other angle to the institution story?
As Christina would say, she survived, and there were plenty who were in there with her who didn’t. Of course there are survivors, and I guess that depends on your own personal look [at the events]. Christina had her mother until she was 10, and was loved and nurtured, so she had a very strong foundation. I think Christina survived, and it is great to hold her up as a survivor, but I would hate for anyone to think that adversity is a great thing as a driving force, because an awful lot of people didn’t make it.

What was it like to film in Vietnam?
It was so special, I cannot tell you. Every day of that shoot was special, even though it was gruelling. It was so hot, everything stuck to us and sweat poured off us, but this project is so personal and so special to me that to be there doing it… Every day I was able to jump up at 5am and not be bothered [laughs] and work hard. It was the best of gruelling circumstances, because we knew we were doing something special; sometimes you just know you’re doing something special and we had that feeling. The Vietnamese people are just like us; they love a laugh! I have worked in places where people do not know what humour is, and your heart would be broken by the end of the day because it brings you down. When you are shooting stuff like that you have got to have humour around you because there were very emotional days. You have to have a lot of beautiful people around you, and the Vietnamese are beautiful people.

You had been working on the project for four years, how do you feel now that it’s almost all over?
I am really pleased to be getting to this point, but I feel like it has been an age! [laughs] For me, it’s not finished, I won’t be happy until it has reached a massive audience! A certain amount of that is with the gods now, but I have got to do my bit! When I have done that, then I will rest!

What do you hope audiences take from the film?
The bigger picture. I think Christina is probably the most selfless human being I have ever met, and to see someone work that hard, to give everything they have for other people… If we did a fraction of that ourselves… I just hope it inspires people, especially school going kids. When I went to school, we were brought to see one film; JESUS OF NAZARETH, and I think that if I had seen this film at 14 or 15, it would have inspired me to think about things, as opposed to worship at the altar of One Direction – as my own child does! I hope kids can go and think ‘Wow! An Irish woman did that!’ I don’t mean that derogatory about One Direction though; they’re fabulous!


NOBLE is at Irish cinemas from September 19th
Words: Brogen Hayes