‘I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face’

Seainin Brennan, star of The Fall
Seainin Brennan, star of The Fall

IT’S perhaps a question asked a little too frequently by journalists.

I’m sitting in a Belfast city centre coffee shop with the gorgeous Seainin Brennan, attempting to round off what’s been both a fun and insightful interview and have just asked her if she considers herself something of an ambassador for Northern Ireland, the country which she is clearly fiercely proud to hail from.

Without missing a beat, the sharp-eyed brunette replies: “I think we are all ambassadors, right from the minute we step outside our front door. We are a great people and a great city, and even if you look at the recent trouble here, it was a very small minority trying to destroy us or wreck our image at home and abroad.

“It is up to us to actually stand up and say, ‘not in my name.’”

It’s refreshing to meet a Northern Irish success story who remains totally in tune with her birthplace, and it’s obvious that the Malone Road raised girl is very switched on when it comes to not just matters of significance locally, but abroad too.

“I love Twitter,” she had confessed earlier in our conversation.

“I worked as a political lobbyist, so that’s kind of my background, and you’ll always hear me going on a rant about something - whether it’s about Egypt or Syria, or if I’m trying to do my bit for human rights or stand up for people who don’t have a voice.”

And Seainin most certainly has not been afraid to use her voice over the years. The talented star of gripping BBC prime time drama The Fall, in which she played the part of bereaved mother and grieving wife Liz Tyler, alongside a host of other local names, including heart-throb Jamie Dornan, (whom she describes as a “lovely, lovely guy” and “a real joy to work with”) recently landed her first movie role, as Dr Jaqui Finch in Wild, a film based on the true story of Irishwoman Mary Reynolds, who became the first Irish winner of the Chelsea Flower Show gold medal, which is considered the Olympics of gardening, in 2002.

She’s achieved great success both on screen and stage; in October 2011, she starred alongside Philip Glenister in the BBC political thriller Hidden, and she’s also in the past received critical acclaim for creating the role of Regine in the world premiere of Frank McGuinness’ version of Ibsen’s Ghosts at Bristol Old Vic, and for her portrayal as Helen Woods in Scenes from the Big Picture, directed by Conall Morrison.

And, she’s both beautiful and bright. After obtaining a BA Honours Degree in European Studies at the University of Ulster, she went on to win a coveted scholarship to read a Masters Degree in European Political Administration at the world renowned College of Europe in Bruges.

She then won a prestigious internship at the Secretariat General of the European Commission in Brussels before training professionally at the Guildford School of Acting (GSA), Surrey and the Irish Film Actors Studio, Dublin.

Yet despite her impressive resume (oh, she’s also fluent in Spanish and French, and was named Woman of the Year in the Arts for her breakthrough performance in Hidden in 2012), she’s undeniably down-to-earth.

“Hi, I’m Seainin,” she says, extending a hand, after arriving to our meeting, looking stunning and leggy in shorts and an oversized shirt, full of apologies for being mere minutes late.

Yet she resists my compliments by insisting that first thing in the morning, she “looks worse than normal - like a scarecrow”, before going on to explain why she believes it’s vital that young women and girls see for themselves just how ‘normal’ the people they look at pictures of in magazines really are, before “make-up artists work their magic.”

“I think it’s very important to tell young girls that it’s actually OK to be who you are,” she says.

“Some people say to me, ‘oh my goodness you’re so different to Liz Tyler’ - but I kind of look like Liz Tyler in the morning.”

She agrees that The Fall was “very gritty.”

“That’s what I love about British drama - it’s so good at just getting the raw essence of real life. The public response (to The Fall) has been absolutely immense, and obviously you want a thumbs up from your own community because you want to know you did the city justice, and Allan Cubbitt did such a remarkable job when he wrote it.

“The cast was stellar - everyone you wanted to be in it was in it, and they were all cast in the right parts. When I read the script I knew it was going to be brilliant. I fought for the part.”

Battling to make a career in acting and a name for herself is something Seainin has been doing all her life. She reveals how as a child, she begged her mother to take her to an audition at the Lyric Theatre.

“She said no, and I said, ‘come on mum, I’m going with or without you.’ I had to really convince her, and my sister and I used to sneak out so I could go to auditions.”

Seainin explains that her parents “were not pushy people”; it was entirely her own decision to try and make it as an actor, and she was fully aware of the sacrifices that would entail.

“It’s one of the toughest professions in the world and I’m lucky I went in to it with my eyes open,” she adds.

And that involved maintaining a strong sense of realism; when she was 16, Seainin knew it was time to seriously consider her future. She recounts how she looked closely at the career path taken by the Irish actors she respected, taking her lead from them.

She says: “I looked at people like Liam Neeson who had gone to university, and other actors of that ilk, and I thought, well, if the majority of them go to uni, that’s what I should do.

“So I went to uni and I did a degree in European Studies with French and Spanish, and then I went to the College of Europe in Bruges in Belgium and did a Masters in European Political Administration.

“I loved it and it was a natural thing for me to go on to the Commission. It was very tough, very difficult, very demanding.”

Seainin finished her internship then return to Brussels to work as a political lobbyist. But it was at this point that she knew it the time was right to return to her ‘first love’.

“I thought the money might make me a slave - and that if I was getting out, I needed to get out now. And I applied to drama school.”

She stresses: “I believe that talent isn’t enough in this industry - you need luck and you need real hard work and determination, and you need passion. You need that passion to get back up when you’ve been rejected, and you need that passion to go out and fight for a job. You’re up against it all the time, the competition’s fierce.”

But she adds: “I love it. I just love reading someone’s story and the fact that as an actor I get to step in someone’s shoes, and I get to go on their journey, but I never get to pay the ultimate price that they pay.

“At the end of the day it’s not real and you can switch off, but it’s really important to work with great actors and writers and directors because you can only learn if you are with great people and it’s an evolving process, you don’t ever get to the stage as an actor where you think right, ‘I know everything.’

She adds: “I absolutely love my job, I wake up in the morning and have a big smile on my face. I never take it for granted because the industry’s fickle and success in the industry is fickle - one day they are maybe giving you an award and the next day you may not be able to get a job.

‘‘That’s just the industry and you take the good with the bad and the highs with the lows.”