INTERVIEW: Derry Girls Saoirse Jackson and Louisa Harland: ‘I never won anything on Sports Day but now I’m on a mural!’

Derry Girls actor Saoirse Jackson, who plays headstrong and highly strung wannabe writer and leader of the gang of misfits Erin Quinn, said the support the show has received at home has been “incredible.”

By Brendan McDaid
Tuesday, 26th February 2019, 8:20 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th February 2019, 9:25 am
Louisa Harland and Saoirse Monica Jackson who plays cousins Orla and Erin in Derry Girls arriving for the Season 2 premiere at Strand Road Omniplex recently.
Louisa Harland and Saoirse Monica Jackson who plays cousins Orla and Erin in Derry Girls arriving for the Season 2 premiere at Strand Road Omniplex recently.

And just for the record, Saoirse says she hopes she was nothing like her ‘Derry Girls’ character in real life growing up.

Speaking alongside Dublin actor Louisa Harland, who plays Erin’s wonderfully spaced out and virtual live-in cousin Orla in the show, Saoirse said she is very excited about the return of Derry Girls, with the cast only getting their first viewing at the Derry premiere last week.

Both actors and the characters they bring to life have now become household names in Ireland and beyond after Derry Girls catapulted them into the limelight last year. Saoirse said: “We all thought it was definitely going to take off at home and it was great to have that positive representation of Derry and of the North. I don’t think anybody could have imagined it to lift off as well as it did ‘across the water,’ the United States and everywhere else with it being on Netflix now.

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l-r: Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell), Dylan (James Maguire), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Erin (Saoirse Monica Jackson), Orla (Louisa Clare Harland), Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney) Photo by Peter Marley.

“The support - you never imagine that in your life, but to have the support of your home town behind you all the way is incredible. I’m sure it’s crazy for Lisa, it’s a privilege to be in her show and get to work with her words. She’s the real hero.

“We are privileged to be part of it and we have got amazing women around us, from Lisa writing it, our producers and our team, designers and other women in the cast, it’s been an incredible experience working with them and they have been so good to us as well.”

Louisa too said the reaction has been incredible. “We are delighted and surprised. They love it down in Dublin which is great. It’s almost like an Irish upbringing, so much is familiar.”

She concurs that it was a big risk for Channel 4 to take on such a groundbreaking and site specific comedy set during the Troubles. Louisa said: “They usually make a lot of pilots for a new series but they didn’t make a pilot for us; they just went straight for it which was great. We’re lucky. I do like that, people use it for relief of the politics and I do like that it’s a female led comedy and Irish.”

Erin Quinn (Saoirse Monica Jackson) Photo Peter Marley.

Turning to Season 2 of the show, the girls said audiences can expect bigger and funnier things this season. Saoirse said: “It was really strange getting the script through for Season 2 because this time round obviously Lisa has been writing it with us in mind and the development of the characters after Season 1, so that was definitely a real privilege to be able to sit in your flat and hear Louisa’s voice in my head, or Dylan’s or Nicola’s or Jamie-Lee’s. It was cracking me up even more how they were going to deliver the line. Now we are family. It’s been a real special experience.”

She jokes that Erin’s character has “matured massively” . . . before confirming, “No I don’t think we have matured. There are certainly more antics and we are probably less kind to each other than we were in the first series. It’s bigger, braver and hopefully funnier. We certainly feel that way.”

Louisa: “We are five very different people playing five very different people but are lucky with the whole cast and crew. It’s a big family.”

And in real life, neither actor reckons they are much like the girls they play. “I cared a lot more than Orla did,” Louisa said. “I wish I was more like Orla growing up, care-free and oblivious to it all and just delighted and skipping through life. I always see her as ‘Tigger’ from Winnie the Pooh.”

Orla (Louisa Clare Harland) Photo by Peter Marley.

Saoirse adds: “I really hope I’m not like Erin because really she is a nightmare and so horrible to her friends, maybe some of my family members and friends at home might disagree!

“But I definitely think I had the confidence in following my dreams, the determination Erin has, which I just love in that character and which Lisa has done so well.”

Saoirse said that being from Derry, a night out has changed but she takes it all in her stride and is delighted with the support local people have given the show. “I don’t think I had as mad a Christmas as I normally do but it is amazing for the people from where I am from, to support what we are doing, it’s incredible,” she said.

The actors also said it was very exciting to gather at the massive Derry Girls mural commissioned by Channel 4 and created by UV Arts on the side of Badger’s Bar in Derry city centre. Saoirse said: “It’s incredible. I never won anything on Sports Day but now I’m on a mural! My brother works in Fitzroys so he has to walk past it every day, I don’t know how that feels for him!”

Orla added: “Seeing it in the flesh is something else. Seeing it is mental. The artists here are great. The murals are so beautiful, so to be painted on one is great. I think it’s weird for our parents as well. My father is Northern Irish and he is like, ‘Never thought my daughter would be on a mural!”

The girls are still getting used to the global success of Derry Girls since it aired on Netflix and said they are hopeful that there will be a third season. “We’re still getting used to it all and it’s all still very exciting and enjoyable for us,” Louisa said.

*Interview with Nicola Coughlan who plays Clare and Dylan Llewellyn, who plays James (a.k.a The Wee English Fella) in Friday’s paper.