Derry’s John and Grainne Duddy: rising stars of the New York arts scene

Grainne and John Duddy enjoy a poignant moment in 'Emerald City'.
Grainne and John Duddy enjoy a poignant moment in 'Emerald City'.

There’s something extra special in the famous Derry air these days. A little something perhaps set in motion by one of the most highly-anticipated Irish movies of recent generations, ‘Emerald City’.

Written and directed by Tyrone native, Colin Broderick, and starring Derry’s own John and Grainne (nee Coll) Duddy (alongside Eden Brolin, John Keating, John McConnell and Jacqueline Kealy), it is the tale of a group of ageing Irish construction workers, close to burning out, and nearer fading away.

Emerald City.

Emerald City.

Grainne and John are two rising stars of New York’s arts scene, with John having recently appeared in Robert De Niro’s ‘Hands of Stone’ and New York artist Charles Hale’s piece, “New York City: A Shining Mosaic”.

Grainne, meanwhile, has featured in playwright Brona Crehan’s acclaimed one-woman production, ‘Moonlight Sonata’, while the couple worked together in this writer’s award-winning short play, ‘Counting Apples’, and an earlier Colin Broderick play, entitled ‘Father Who’.

It’s a long way from John’s initial career path, where, as a boxer, he fought his way through the amateur ranks in Ireland before turning professional and featuring in many big nights at Madison Square Garden.

With ‘Emerald City’ having already sold out a performance at the London Film Festival, and appearances confirmed at the Chicago Irish Film Festival, Belfast Film Festival and the Manhattan Film Festival later this year, as well as what will no doubt be a triumphant Derry homecoming in April, these are exciting times for John and Grainne, who chatted to MICHAEL FITzPATRICK about their involvement in the film.

Grainne and John Duddy in a scene from 'Emerald City'.

Grainne and John Duddy in a scene from 'Emerald City'.

Michael Fitzpatrick: How did your involvement in ‘Emerald City’ come about?

Grainne Duddy: Through Colin Broderick and (his wife) Rachel, they came to watch a scene that John and I had done together as part of an acting class, he mentioned the roles and thought we’d be good for them.

MF: You’ve worked together before. How do you go from being John and Grainne to the characters you’re playing in a production?

GD: I think to some extent, (in this movie) we really are just being ourselves. I mean, these roles, aren’t that far from the truth. I have bar-tended and John’s character wants to pursue mine! When acting though, whether it’s alongside your partner or a total stranger, you get inspiration from past experiences and relationships, and John has, of course, given me lots of inspiration in the past.

John Duddy (second from left) and his crew from 'Emerald City'.

John Duddy (second from left) and his crew from 'Emerald City'.

MF: And John, your character, Podge, how can you relate to him?

John Duddy: Well, he’s an ex-fighter, working a construction job, and he’s found himself in a lifestyle he was never really accustomed to. He really wants a change, but doesn’t know how to go about it.

MF: The movie, judging by the trailer, has laughs, but tears, too. So, what should we expect from ‘Emerald City’?

JD: I think it’ll be a rollercoaster for a lot of people. It’s about a crew of Irishmen, their lives, their significant others. I think it’s our mentality, whenever there’s tragedy, we see great comedy, and vice versa, so I really do believe that people will be very surprised with what we’ve put together, and with what Colin Broderick has created.

A promotional poster for 'Emerald City'.

A promotional poster for 'Emerald City'.

MF: Could this be the movie that this generation of Irish emigrants has been waiting for?

JD: Well, I think so, I know that other generations have been spoken for, and there’s been many stories told of the Irish, but in the last twenty years there really hasn’t been anything for the last generation, like after the Celtic Tiger, 9/11, and the things that happened in between. The Irish were hugely involved in building New York City, and most of the Irish workers still at it have been doing it for the last 30 or forty years.

The young Irish craftsmen, though, bricklayers and carpenters and so on, they’re not coming here as much any more.

MF: When the movie finally wrapped, how did you feel?

GD: I was really excited that we’d actually made a movie! Just, about the cast, and the friendships that we developed. We’d kind of become a wee family. It was bittersweet, it had ended, but we were so excited that we had done it, and about what the future held.

MF: What about the Irish arts scene in New York, how is that?

GD: I think it’s great, it’s really really good. The people of our generation and others are keeping it alive. It’s brilliant to see the likes of (writer) Brona Crehan and Pauline Turley and Jane McCarter from the Irish centres, keeping it going, all those people we surround ourselves with. It’s just so exciting!

MF: Is there any one aspect of the business that you really enjoy?

GD: The rehearsals, they’re just so much craic! And then, just, really, making art.

MF: Are there any particular favourite actors you’ve had over the years?

JD: Even when I was boxing, it was hard to narrow things down to favourites. I grew up watching movies with my father, and my mother. There’s De Niro, Cagney, Brando, Bogart. I’d sit and watch these movies, and they’d take me to a different place and time, then there’s Liam Neeson, Daniel Day Lewis, , Gabriel Byrne, so many Irish as well, its funny. I mean, there’s never just one, even today there wouldn’t be just one.

There’s phenomenal people that I just love going to watch, or even sitting at home and viewing. That’s what they’ve done, and what they’ve accomplished, and congratulations to them. I never believed that I’d have ended up where I did with the boxing, fighting in Madison Square Garden and so on, after starting in the small places in the Bronx and Orange County and at home.

“I mean, there’s a possibility that could happen, but that’s not why we do these things.

The rehearsing, the friendships, the relationships, the stories and telling it the way we can, that’s really the love for it, and the necessity. Sometimes we’ll take days and weeks off work, often without getting paid, it’s all part of telling a good story. That’s why we have to keep doing it, all those memories come back, all those experiences we shared with people, and that’s something worth fighting for, to make friends, to come together, and to be part of a generation telling stories.

A few tickets still remain for the only local showing of ‘Emerald City’ which will be screened at 6.30pm on Wednesday, April 5, at Brunswick Moviebowl.Call Tel: 028 71 371999 or at www.brunswickmoviebowl.com