Siobhán McSweeney: “Irish talent is having a moment, but hopefully it’s not a passing fad”

Siobhan McSweeney Pic: Brian McEvoy

Getting to chat with Siobhán McSweeney is always a joy.

She’s so engaging that you end up thinking you’ve known her for years. She’ll make you laugh and she’ll make you think on some serious topics.

Even in a 15-minute conversation like when we catch up with her for Disney+ series Extraordinary season two…

Siobhan McSweeney
Siobhan McSweeney

Hi Siobhán! Congratulations on season two of Extraordinary. What was it like to be back on set?

It was absolutely lovely. I love playing Mary. I love playing with the kids! They’re so great and they’re so accomplished. It’s great to come in and have a bit of craic and then leave again! It’s a lovely series this one.

Extraordinary is led by an Irish actor and it was created by an Irish write, are you proud to be apart of this series.

It really is. Louisa Harland [Orla in Derry Girls] just called before this chat, and she’s leading another huge Disney+ series. I feel very proud, even though I have nothing to do with it! I’m proud of Máiréad [Tyers] and I’m proud of Louisa. I think Ireland could do with a little less pride and a bit more self-esteem! [Laughs]

Your character Mary is a well-meaning but grumpy Irish mam, she reminds us of Sister Michael. Is that a type of role you’re attracted to?

Nobody would let you out of the house with an inflated ego really! [Laughs] I get to play a mad mix of people. I love that you recognise her as an Irish mammy. What’s so lovely about Mary is that you get quite a complicated woman. Her being a mother is the least exciting thing about her. She’s not very good, or not one you would see on screen as being a good mother. And that’s far more realistic. She’s a complicated woman who is trying and failing, who has a daughter who is trying and failing. They keep missing each other, it’s a far more realistic depiction of mothers and daughters.

Very realistic! Her fixing Jen’s skirt in season one, absolutely ruining a sweet moment, is a very relatable moment!

That was an ad-lib! [Laughs] There’s such an American idea of what a family is, they’re so physically affectionate. But that wasn’t my experience. I shook my father’s hand, y’know! I think she does want to give her daughter a hug but she can’t, so she pulls her skirt down while she’s at it.

Like you said you play a mix of characters, but they’re never two-dimensional. Is it important for you to play these complicated women?

You’re not always given that opportunity. But Emma Moran has written such a rich and complicated character. It’s all in the writing, with this and with Derry Girls. You get to get away from these stereotypical roles, a mother, a girlfriend, a wife, something that revolves around a man. You could definitely say that Mary is her own person!

We love that this show, like Derry Girls, is female-led. Women being the fore of these types of shows has been a long time coming…

Having Jen as the anchor of this show and the way she is presented, I can’t think of another show like it. Jen is presented as dickish, as complicated and as much as a failure. But I think true parity and true equality is when we can mess up as much as men. That’s allowing our full humanity to exist. I think Jen is so rare in this world. That’s the extraordinary thing about the show, she can hold the show together and be her messy, complicated self.

Pic: Disney+

We talked about how incredibly and brilliantly Irish this show is. Do you think the Irish are having a moment right now in the acting world?

Yes, but the downfall to what you said is that it implies that it’s fashionable or it’s a passing fad. We’re a country that’s filled with incredible talent. At the moment people are starting to see that. It’s a testament to people’s training and their hard work, the funding that has been put into the art, the talent. We’ve all been allowed to fail. We’re having a moment, but hopefully, it’s not just a moment.

Before we let you go, what do you hope viewers of season two take away from Extraordinary?

I hope they walk away wanting more. Because I am dying to see what happens next. I just love it!

Extraordinary season one and two are now streaming on Disney+

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