Speaking with the Baroness: An Interview with Orla Brady

Orla Brady is an Irish-born actress, well known for her many dramatic roles in such works as American Odyssey, Fringe, and Banished. Comics & Gaming Magazine sat down with her to discuss her desire to be a stage actress and how her most recent role in Into the Badlands made her a believer of martial arts films.

Comics & Gaming Magazine: I’ll begin with my usual question, how did you become an actor? Who, or what, drove you towards it?

Orla Brady: It wasn’t a single person, it was more the idea. For a start, I never wanted to be on film, I wanted to be on stage. Where I grew up, in the center of Dublin, there were two theaters around the corner from me; one was a big old, showy Victorian theater and the other was a small art house, this amazing artsy little place called the Project Art Center. I used to go and watch people rehearsing in both those theaters while I was at school, and was just fascinated by it. I did that for many years not knowing that I would be an actress, I just loved it and wanted to be around it.

But I was very shy at that stage. People are always a bit surprised to hear that because I’m truly not shy now, but I just didn’t think it was for me then. I didn’t think I could have a voice. But I’ve kind of crept up on acting as a grown up, I didn’t start as a teenager. I sort of just snuck up on it from behind while no one was looking.

orla brady insert 2CGM: Did you go to school for acting?

OB: Yes, I went off to Paris and I did several things there. My favourite thing that I did in Paris was, there’s a man named Philippe Gaulier and he taught a very well known group who have worked in England for many, many years called the Theatre de Complicite. I had seen several of their shows, and I really admired them theatrically. I became really enamored with the idea of physical theater, sort-of expressing it physically. So anyway, Philippe was wonderful influence on me. He encouraged me to be myself and not feel inadequate.

CGM:: Were there any actors or actresses in particular who might have inspired you, or perhaps whose styles you wanted to replicate?

OB: Actually, truthfully not at that point. It was the writers who I found most inspiring. It’s understanding that I couldn’t write to save my life. I would dearly, dearly, dearly love to write, but I can’t. I admire it too much to believe mine could ever be any good. So I kind of thought the next best thing would to be a “writer’s mole” and the closest thing to being a writers mole was to interpret good writing and maybe bringing it to life. You know, dancing, singing and acting are all interpretive arts, but they have to be written first. Without the writing, you have nothing; but then you do need somebody, like a playwright to bring it to life. And that’s what I thought my role was.

The excitement for me was reading a great piece of writing and bringing that to life. Telling the story of that character, adding that little tile to the wall, if you like.

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CGM: Now, I’ve noticed in your career, you’ve played a lot of classical roles. Coupled with your desire to be a stage actress, did you feel suited to playing Baroness Lydia?

OB: Yes.

What is a lovely, lovely thing (it’s a gift), is when someone writes a piece and they’re not trying to make you younger or older. She is a peer of mine, obviously I’m playing her as my age, but there’s something beautiful about having a rounded character- not somebody’s naggy wife- just a character who is autonomous, who is individual, who is strong and also flawed and vulnerable.

And it’s just a gift to be able to play her, and I loved her apparent strength and her imperiousness, but of course, what is very interesting to play is what the vulnerability underneath that is. This is a woman who appears to have it all, but in fact, she’s losing everything. She’s losing her husband, she’s losing her space, the court that would have paid her respect, and she’s losing her son. She’s a woman who is on a very slippery slide, even though appearances are of great security and this is very interesting to play.

CGM: What would you say is your favorite aspect of Lydia to play?

OB: The thing that I come back to that makes me go “Atta girl,” is that she is becoming invisible to her husband. And Marton Csokas plays it rather wonderfully. It’s kind of like his eyes slide around the room when she’s in the room. He doesn’t focus on her, he’s not interested. He’s interested in her council, he’s very much dependent on her input, but as a woman it’s like he doesn’t even see her. It’s that experience that many women have in their marriage, but she is making the decision that she is not going to go away. She’s not going to become invisible, there’s some force that’s gathering within her. It’s a force, I feel, of…entitlement, if you like. Like, “I built this kingdom too. And now I’m being thrown out?” And a sense of “I am not going to go into a corner and wait,” and I love that about her.

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orla brady insert 3CGM: What about Lydia do you think reflects you best as both an actor and a person? What about you did you want to bring to her?

OB: Well, that’s an interesting question to answer isn’t it? She has a reputation as a poisoner obviously (hahaI mean, look, what you want to do with any character, be they good, bad or indifferent, even if you play someone who is monstrous in some people’s eyes (I’ve played an IRA hunger striker before and to some people, these people were terrorists) is to be partisan when you play a part. You have to take the side of the character and not judge them. If you judge them, what you do when you play them is, you’re giving a lecture on the character. You’re giving a rather dry rendering of a character that you’ve pre-judged. What you have to do is absolutely get behind the woman because whatever her actions may be, there is a reason we do all things. Even in our worst moments, there are reasons why we do them.

I suppose what I wanted to bring is that feeling of insecurity, that feeling that the world is falling away from under your feet and that you have to hold onto something and you grasp around for ways to do that. Sometimes, you find good ways.

CGM: It seems like everyone in the Badlands are pretty skilled fighters. Is Lydia going to show us her moves at some point?

OB: Well, in this series by definition we can’t go deeply into all the characters; we have ten main characters and only six episodes, and a sort-of essential kick off story, to happen. Were we to go to season two, we might see something about Lydia’s past, and there might be a skill therein.

orla brady insert 1CGM: Were you ever a fan of martial arts and Kung-Fu movies?

Orla: Nope. Not at all. Look, there are a few obvious things like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, we all saw Crouching Tiger and thought “Oh my god! How unusual!” But I wouldn’t have watched martial arts movies, because I wouldn’t have been attracted to them. I wouldn’t have thought they were something that interested me because I would’ve been more interested in character, and development and drama that I felt was realistic. However, having accepted this role, because I thought the characters were interesting, I then kind of immersed myself in martial arts films and of course, they’re fascinating! It’s…oh my god! Like, Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster I was actually in tears at the end of that, it was so beautiful. I’ve discovered it’s a whole new dimension to my life that I’m very pleased about.

And aside from the beauty and ballet of martial arts, one of the things I loved was it was always the little guy; the little ordinary guy, not the big, you know, American paradigm like the John Wayne type. But this was to do with a moral center. The kind of guy that you wouldn’t turn around in the street to look at, but the beauty of them was their morality, their sense of rightness it was just something I found very beautiful about the genre.

CGM: And my last question is, have you been enjoying this project and are you excited to do more of it?

OB: Oh my God, are you kidding!? I’d really love to because we’ve set off these characters. I mean, six felt like it was enough time to propose a story and you develop them a little bit, but you don’t get into it; into their further journey. And yeah of course I’d love to know about all the characters, but in my corner, I’d love to tell more of Lydia’s story and I’d love to get into some fights.