South east London actress Genevieve O’Reilly on her latest roles in Star Wars, The Ferryman and Tin Star, and why the latter is perfect for the changing landscape of TV
Not many of us have great memories of queuing in a post office, but Genevieve O’Reilly does: ‘I remember being in a line at the New Cross post office, waiting with my two-year-old in tow and then the phone rings,’ she recalls.
‘It was the producer of Star Wars asking if I would come back and be in it again… I remember trying to keep my two-year-old busy with pens or something at the same time – it was a wonderful juxtaposition in my life!’
O’Reilly laughs at the memory and she has plenty to be happy about right now. After having most of her speaking scenes cut in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith back in 2005, her character Mon Mothma – leader of the Galactic Senate’s Loyalist faction (ie, the good guys) – returned for last year’s spin-off smash hit, Rogue One.
‘It was amazing to be a part of that,’ she gushes. ‘It was a huge studio film, but Gareth [Edwards, the director] made it so character driven, using really creative shots, having great conversations on set and he wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty. The fans are wonderful. It’s lovely to be part of something that really means so much to different generations.’
Star Wars fans are wonderful. It’s lovely to be part of something that really means so much to different generations
Although she’s not in the local post office when we speak, O’Reilly will be picking up her daughter at her local south east London school in 30 minutes, something that is an absolute luxury for her. ‘I don’t have to fly anywhere, I can take my kids to school in the morning, go to Sainsbury’s… Oh my god, I love it!’
O’Reilly plays Mary Carney, wife of Paddy Considine’s Quinn Carney, whose dark past in the IRA comes back to haunt him. ‘It’s a true joy to be a part of something that’s a brilliant play, but also one that touches so many people,’ she says.
‘People respond to it in very honest ways. It’s a very unique experience to be sharing this story with people each evening, to hear the laughs, to hear when they go completely silent, when you can hear people are crying, when they feel uncomfortable…’
O’Reilly will be involved with The Ferryman until mid October, and is also currently o our screens in Sky Atlantic’s new primetime show Tin Star, playing the wife to Tim Roth’s Jim Worth, a former London police detective who becomes the new police chief of a small town in the Rocky Mountains.
First screened in early September, the first four episodes I watched prior to the interview were astonishing, and somehow reminiscent of Twin Peaks. Tin Star is nowhere near as weird, but there are some hilarious comedic moments interlaced with shocking dramatic scenes.
‘That’s a really lovely parallel,’ O’Reilly says. ‘I certainly hope it feels as dark and interesting and funny as you found it. It’s set so remotely and that landscape is almost like a character in the piece. The creators were really unafraid to be truly ambitious for the piece cinematically, but also in story and in character, and it was a really collaborative effort.’
As good as O’Reilly and the cast are, Roth is simply astonishing in the lead role. ‘I loved working with Tim,’ O’Reilly says. ‘We had a wonderful friendship and working relationship, we just got on brilliantly. He’s from south east London too, he grew up around here and his mum taught at the school right near where I live, so we had a ball. What an awesome actor.’
The landscape of TV is changing with streaming and producers are interested in audiences – how they are watching things and what they would like to see. Something like Tin Star respects that
It was just last year too that O’Reilly wowed us all in The Secret, a thriller made all the more horrendous as it was based on a true story. Does that and the likes of Tin Star go to show how much TV has come on over the years?
‘The landscape of TV is changing with streaming and producers are interested in audiences – how they are watching things and what they would like to see. Something like Tin Star respects that. Audiences love character-driven pieces, they love a cinematic style, and they are very educated as far as comedy and drama intertwines. Tin Star is certainly a nod to audience’s tastes.’
O’Reilly’s career has been diverse, and she feels ‘very lucky to participate in all the different genres – film, stage, TV’, and, oddly, the day we speak is the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, who O’Reilly played in a TV docudrama a decade ago.
The programme wasn’t well received, but O’Reilly doesn’t look back on it with any regrets. ‘Our work as actors is to touch on the humanity of a character, who that is and what their story is. It still boils down to the same thing – no matter what the story, they are a living, breathing human being trying to make the best of themselves.
‘Diana was a woman, a mum, a person who was trying to make the best of the life she was given.’
Tin Star is on Sky Atlantic now