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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-09-07 05:41:10

irish tatler charlene mckenna









“I was standing there, with my suitcases, were trying to crowbar me into comedies all
and she said, ‘Darling, we need you back.’” the time. I had nothing against it, but I don’t
It was as simple as that. One minute, petite think I’m that good at it. They’d be like: but
Monaghan actress Charlene McKenna is you’re so funny! But being a comedienne,
hauling her belongings to her brand new being a Jennifer Aniston, it’s a different take
apartment in New York’s West Village, the on the beast. For some reason, I’m much
next, she is making the big decision to say so- more comfortable in despair and misery! Or
long to the States and move back to London. a dramatic role that’s funny by default.” We
“My agent told me I was getting checked eight revert back to Meryl.“It’s such a cliché, but it is
times a day [for work in London] and people 100 per cent her,” Charlene tells me when I ask
were asking, ‘Where is she? Why isn’t she her who her icon is. “Because there is nothing
here?’ I was self-taping and sending them back, not to aspire to. Her dignity and integrity,
but it doesn’t make up for being in the room. her choices, her theatre background, that she
In fact, I was self-taping for both London and started her choice of roles without getting
LA and I thought, ‘I should be in one of the pigeonholed into ‘blonde girl’. I read her book,
cities that I can go into the room’. And it’s true. about her early years, and she constantly
Once I was back in the room, I got a job.” kicked back, saying ‘I don’t want to play this, I
don’t want to play that.’ Her resilience, the fact
Despite the global village of hyper- that she was able to keep her marriage going,
connection, when it comes to feeling if keep her feet on the ground...her intelligence.
something, or someone, is right for the job, Even her red carpet looks, how she has just
personal contact still wins. “It’s human, you stayed true. She’s yet to disappoint me,” she
know?” says Charlene. “But I still love New adds with a hearty laugh.
York…so I just have to become Meryl Streep
and then I can go back!” It’s a joke, except, We’re sitting in a Dublin restaurant, post-
it’s not a joke. Charlene McKenna is one actor shoot and Charlene has her suitcase with the
who really means to get to the top. She has maitre’d, ready to fly back to London when
returned from her second stint filming pilots we’re done. In a few short weeks, she will be
in LA, where she consistently gets told she arriving back to stay for a few months, when
should steer into the funnies, advice that she she takes to the stage at The Gate to play
consistently, politely, declines. “In LA they Daisy Buchanan in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The


Blue drop earring, €29.99,
Conscious Exclusive @ H&M;
one-shoulder top, €32,
Warehouse; embellished jean
(price on request), Joanne
Hynes @ Dunnes Stores



Orange tassel earring,
€99, Mignonne

Gavigan @ Loulerie;
floral top, €600, 3.1
Phillip Lim and silver
heel, €550, Dries Van
Noten, both @ Brown

Thomas; trouser,
€46, Topshop


Great Gatsby. It’s the opening production for The

Gate’s new Artistic Director Selina Cartmell who

is breaking ground with the deconstructed format

the show is going to take. For the first time ever,

the auditorium will be stripped of seats; audience

members will be invited to dress in twenties fashion

and the theatre will be transformed into Jay an editor, and a director, and a producer and an

Gatsby’s ballroom, with the actors performing in an executive producer! And a network, and

immersive show in and around them. “The premise thrash it out in rehearsals, but when you get out

is that the audience have been invited to Gatsby’s there you could do the Conga! It’s yours now. It’s

party as it would have been, and we move around,” equal parts petrifying and alluring.”

Charlene tells me with a wicked grin. “It’s going to Acting, it almost always seems, is an emotional

be great. I have to teach some of the audience the rollercoaster of a career choice and with Charlene’s

Charleston!” The performance is bringing Charlene penchant for heavier, drama-filled roles, is it hard

back to her great love of theatre, although she to stay as cheerful as she seems to permanently be?

admits that after working on film for some time, the “As I got older, I realised how it affects me, I never

prospect is pretty daunting. “It was a very deliberate realised it when I was younger, but I know myself

choice,” she says on coming back to the stage.“A UK a lot better now and it does affect me. The one

telly came in as well,” she says, casually referring to thing that I have found is that doing high-octane

an acting job on a TV drama. “Like, a good telly, drama, oddly, you have a lot of fun on set. I think

a big telly! I wasn’t offered it, but it was looking because it’s so tense. I remember in Ripper Street, I

good, but I had to decide on this play. I said to my had to film a horrific scene

agent, ‘I could do that telly in in the first season where I’m

my sleep, but I’m terrified of getting raped and I’m going
to be killed but between
the play.’ And she was like, “IF I CAN’T CLAW
‘Darling...’ and I knew I had to
BACK AND GET TO set ups, we couldn’t stop
do it.”
telling jokes! And we were
With more than a decade THE CORE, I’M LIKE, all crying with laughter.
under her belt as a screen
Because you have to.”
actress, Charlene has seen any WHAT’S THE POINT? On the subject of
number of scales of production.
JUST GET REAL, TALK happiness, Charlene is a big
From RTÉ’s Raw (in which she
campaigner. She does a lot
played the misguided Jojo) to REAL. IF YOU’RE of work for mental health
hit series Ripper Street all the
charities and is not long
way up to Ron Howard’s Clan MISERABLE AS SIN, back from participating in
of the Cave Bear – a massive
YOU DON’T HAVE Cycle Against Suicide for
production in which she took
the Cavan and Monaghan
on the role of a Neanderthal TO PRETEND TO BE HSE suicide campaign. “It’s
girl. In her experience to date,
getting a lot better but I
the bigger the budget and the HAPPY, GET IT OUT”
think deep down, in the Irish
further you’re removed from
DNA, the residual stigma of
your audience, the less of your
‘It’s a weakness’ is still there.
craft you get to enjoy. “Ripper Street was big-ish
I think to get happy we need to keep talking about it
budget, but it was very craft heavy. But the Ron
and we need to understand that it’s not a weakness.”
Howard job was such a machine…there are a
She’s referring to mental health issues like depression
million executive producers who each have a point
and, the often less understood, anxiety. “People like
of view – and they have millions invested, so I get
Alexa Chung have talked about being anxious. And
it – but I’m like: please, let me do my job. That’s
Lena Dunham. I remember reading their interviews
why I’m here, that’s why you hired me. There’s so
and feeling relieved, I remember thinking ‘Oh, they
much hanging around, because it has to get back
have it too’.” It’s hard to believe when you’re in her
to LA and it has to get signed off and blah, blah,
company that someone as gregarious as Charlene’s a bit frustrating. You definitely don’t
could suffer from something like anxiety. “I think
feel as much of a sense of creative control, it’s very
I am a very good-humoured person. And I do look
disjointed.” On stage, by contrast, there is nowhere
for the craic in life, big time. My friends would
to hide, no buffer zone between your performance
consider me funny and all of that but I’m also a
and what people get to see. “On stage, you cannot
massive worrier. I always have been, I always will
edit a bad performance and there’s something about
be. I can’t help it. Weirdly, I think it’s probably what
that that’s proper to me. You’re in charge of your
helps me to be a good actress, because I’m always
performance. You don’t have to hand it over to
analysing people, how they interact, how they

are really. It’s also part of why I struggled in LA,

because if I can’t claw back and get to the core, I’m

like, what’s the point? It’s all surface conversation.

Just get real, talk real. If you’re miserable as sin, you



don’t have to pretend to be happy, get it out.”

It feels that acknowledging its existence alone

helps to deal with anxiety. “Understanding it’s a

thing and I’m not mad or a freak...just that alone

is a relief, it can make you happy. And all the old smoke blown up their ass, that they’ve lost their

adages, like exercise, it’s true. Watching alcohol – it’s own self, their own sense of centre.”

true, it just is. I vacillate wildly. I do try and watch “It’s just a job,” Charlene reflects. “It is work at

sugar, and I’ve always been a campaigner for yoga. the end of the day. You do mega hours and it’s not

There’s times I’ll do it every day and there’s times I glamorous, but we’re lucky to do what we do: travel

won’t do it for two months. And that’s okay. That’s the world and get paid for it. There are sacrifices,

what I’m trying to do now; just not be too hard but you’re not working down a coal mine.”

on myself. It’s daily. Realising your own patterns is In an industry that’s plagued with inequality and

huge and to ask, ‘Is the pressure from outside, or is divas potentially winning out exactly because of

it myself?’ And it’s way more myself.” this behaviour, how does Charlene stay so down-

Family and friends are clearly a big part of what to-earth? “None of that behaviour would fly with

keeps Charlene grounded – a quick scan of her anyone close to me in my life. In the industry and

Instagram account shows a refreshing feed of pints out of the industry,” she says, while admitting that

and pals, and she refers, more than once, to a handful keeping your sense of worth requires work. “It’s

of friends she has both in Ireland and London difficult, because you also have to set a precedent

who she turns to for advice, both professional and not to get walked over. It’s not about being a diva,

personal. A significant other in her world is fellow it’s about being treated the same.”

Ripper Street actor Adam Rothenberg, although Happiness, and its potential to be rained on, takes

she’s reluctant to say just what he is to her at any a central part in another one of Charlene’s upcoming

given time. “We’ve been on again off again because roles. A fellow Monaghan woman, fashion designer

of distance and life. He’s there [New York] and I’m Natalie B Coleman sought Charlene out as a muse

in London. We kind of make it of sorts and she is starring in

up as we go along. Everyone’s “THERE ARE SO MANY her upcoming autumn winter

like: what are you doing? I’m collection campaign.“I named

like, I don’t know! Our non- PEOPLE WHO HAVE the collection, Stop Sickening
committed, non-labelled state My Happiness. I don’t know

is the healthiest relationship HAD WAY TOO MUCH if it’s an Irish expression or
I’ve ever had. It’s so weird. It’s SMOKE BLOWN UP a Monaghan saying, but she
so honest.” They have been had never heard of it before.

involved for five years now, THEIR ASS, THAT She was like, ‘That’s perfect,
but geography and life have that’s what the collection is

made it less than easy to have THEY’VE LOST THEIR all about’. It means literally:
a conventional relationship. OWN SELF, THEIR OWN stop wrecking my head. To
“He is absolutely wonderful. all those naysayers. Take your

I could kill him a lot of the SENSE OF CENTRE” negativity somewhere else!”
time, but he is like my best Rarely one to get political,

friend. He’s an actor so he Charlene says that for her,

totally gets the gig. To me, he’s and for Coleman, much of

more of an artist actually, because he draws all of the messaging is tied into the Repeal campaign,

the time. I think he’s a wonderful actor, but when he something that she also supported recently when

gets excited and alive, it’s about art. So, he’s like an she starred in its video. “It’s not often I feel very

anti-actor, which is good.” clear and I want to nail my flag to the mast. For me.

An anti-actor, I wonder? “There are actors who Of course, I see that the pro-life campaigners need

love talking about it and everything to do with it, to be heard. Everyone needs to be heard. When

and I think it’s so boring!” she says, with searing this all started it was about getting a conversation

honesty. “And when you see actors being complete going, it was about, okay, let’s have a debate then,

divas on set, you’re like, oh...they hate themselves. stop shutting the conversation down. But for me,

One actor wouldn’t go to set until he had his ostrich it’s very, very clear that we absolutely, at the most

burger. We were like, ‘Ok, yeah, see you out there... fundamental level, should have autonomy over our

dickhead.’ There was another actor who had to have own bodies.”

a treadmill at the side of the set and he was making With her fashion campaign shot and Gatsby’s

himself sick and needed a gym and needed this, opening night on 12 July, Charlene is going to be

that, the other…to me, it’s deflection. It’s insecurity back in Irish life in a big way. “I’m so excited,”

– ‘Make me important because I feel really small’. she says of getting up close and personal with her

I think there’s loads of that [in the business]. There newest audience soon. “And then, there’s a potential

are so many people who have had way too much next thing…” she stops short, with a twinkle, just

remembering that she’s currently in interview mode.

“But I’ll have to wait and see.”

Until then, see you at Gatsby’s, darling.



Polka dot earring, €449,
Oscar de la Renta @

Loulerie; yellow dress, €324,
Pinko @ Harvey Nichols; black

beaded heel, €755, Dries Van
Noten @ Brown Thomas
Barry McCall

by Dylan Madden

STYLING by Corina Gaffey
Eva Witter

MAKEUP by Celebrity Makeup
Artist Christine Lucignano

using Dr. Barbara Sturm Skin
Care and Kevyn Aucoin Makeup

at SpaceNK Grafton Street
HAIR by Lee Stinton @ Preen;


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