Acorn TV will be premiering its original series The South Westerlies on Monday, November 9. The Irish drama focuses on single mother and environmental consultant Kate Ryan (Orla Brady), who hopes to land a corporate promotion. Company execs in Norway ask her to return to Carrigeen, Ireland, to push their offshore wind-farm project to the locals. Complications arise immediately after Kate arrives in Carrigeen with her son, Conor (Sam Barrett), forcing her to come to terms with her past.
The notable cast also includes Patrick Bergin (Patriot Games, Sleeping with the Enemy), Eileen Walsh (Catastrophe, Patrick Melrose), Steve Wall (Raised by Wolves, The Witcher), and an appearance by Sorcha Cusack (Father Brown, A Discovery of Witches).
Orla Brady (American Horror Story: 1984, Into the Badlands, Star Trek: Picard) recently joined me on a transatlantic call for an in-depth conversation about how the series came together.
Was the show filmed and wrapped up pre-Covid?
It was wrapped up just before. We finished I think it was around October, a few months before everything started kicking off. At the time, I remember thinking it’s lovely to be doing something a little bit lighter and a little removed from the rather stressful stuff that we see out there. A short few months later, it become positively necessary – I mean for me to have that in my life – to not dwell too much on the dark.
Where was it filmed?
In Ireland. The setting is West Cork, which is a particular and most iconic coastline. You do see that landscape and it’s very particular. It was shot in a different part of Ireland called Wicklow, which is also particular but it’s different. It’s an eastern seaboard. Because we had a lot of actors from all over the country and everyone was in Dublin, it became a thing that we shot there.
Have you worked with any of the other cast members before?
The main cast – I knew about [them] of course, I’d seen them all. I knew Steve, who plays Baz, more as a musician than as an actor. He is an accomplished actor. Eileen Walsh, I very much wanted to work with. She is an amazing stage and screen actress and I’d seen her in several things. I was really delighted that she and I were going to play best friends. I was interested in that as a central relationship to explore in the series. I had worked with Patrick in a film about hunger strikers. I played one of the female hunger strikers and he played my army chief.
I found myself being very sympathetic to Kate, because you balanced wonderfully her desire to advance in her career and her real interest in the townsfolk. Was that challenging to have that balance?
Well, I think most women have it and probably most men. Certainly women have it because there’s always a slight feeling that you’re letting somebody down. You’re either letting work down or you’re letting down your child, your children, your home life or something. That wasn’t a new thing to play.
What I found in this series that gave me pause was the fact that the whole thing is based, as she calls it, on “a little white lie.” She’s an avoidant enough person to just think, “It’ll be fine. I have to do this. It’s more spin than a lie and I will go and get this job done. I’ll get this project over the line. I believe in this project. And I have tell a few untruths in order to do that. I will achieve that and get out.”
Now, it’s nonsense that she could go back to a place and people that meant so much to her, and not somehow be affected by that…The little white lie becomes worse as it goes along, as she gets to know people. I think it’s what I found difficult about her. I sort of wanted to shake her a few times and think, “For God’s sake, you know. Grow up and come clean! Just admit that you’ve made a mistake here.”
And she doesn’t because she is somebody who remains avoidant until it’s forced upon her.
You can’t pick Kate, but among all the characters, who really stuck out? Anyone that you thought, “I love this character’s story.“
Yes, very much with Eileen Walsh who played Breege. I really loved that storyline. I thought both because the storyline is very potent, you know, the yearning for a child and a relationship kind of supports it but doesn’t necessarily support it. And also she as a performer is really quite wonderful. She can go from the light, extremely funny, and the beautiful light comedy, but she can also break your heart within a scene. I loved being on set with her. I loved afterwards watching her story. It was my favorite.
What else was really challenging about the project or stretched you as an actress?
I felt that for me, the challenge was to try to relax into a rhythm that I have not hitherto ever done. Because it’s a light drama and the stuff that I have done mainly in the past has been rather darker, if you like. The only way that I could identify it was that it was rhythmically different. This was like a quick step rather than something slower in terms in rhythm. So it was to try to relax and be there, not to go dark.
I noticed there are a lot of light moments. One compelling aspect was the relationship Kate has with her son, Conor. I really loved the banter in your roles.
Sam is a fantastic actor. He hopped off the plane – he’s English. He nailed the Irish accent, and a particular Irish accent. He was fab at it! Literally at the first meeting, when I met him for a rehearsal in a hotel, he put his arms out and went, “Ah, Mammy!”
From then on, he’s only ever called me Mammy, which is what Irish boys in a certain part of the country call their Mum. He just embraced it. I embraced it, and we had this lovely light, easy relationship! People think we know each other well, or we did a lot of rehearsal and we didn’t. His openness made it easy.
Filming wrapped in October 2019, as you said earlier. Was there a lot of rehearsal and prep time?
Not that long. We had to go quickly. There are always up and downs of finance. We had to go quite quickly, because it was getting into autumn. It was supposed to be a summer series. I think by the time we started, we were in late August. Ireland doesn’t even get that hot in the summer, as you know. We began and the weather is great. We started with the surf gang: Sam, Lily [Nichol, who plays Poppy], myself, and Steve. We were on the beach and the surf shack, which was amazing. Then a few weeks later it got really cold! (Laughs) But we were staying in summer clothes.
We didn’t have a lot of time to prep. I knew for a while that I was doing it. I had, if you like, my background look into what the stakes were with wind energy. That indeed has been something so talked about in Ireland in the last several years. One of the things [that drew me] to the series is that I like it as a background. Ireland is an obvious for wind energy – we’ve got this big Atlantic coast. I’m sure we could probably run the country on the wind of the west coast, but we’re also a country that relies on tourism. The natural beauty of the coastline is a lot of what that’s about. That is the central question in it, do you embrace that change and alter the landscape, or do you try to conserve it exactly as it is? That was part of the debate in the piece. It will alter with wind turbines.
I had time to think about that and look at all that. When we actually got there with all the other actors, there was only a week where we all scrambled around trying to get with each other and form these relationships. That’s pretty typical anyway. You sort of find your feet during shooting.
Sorcha Cusack comes in as Kate’s mother. I love her from Father Brown. What was it like to work with her?
As she reminded me when she was leaving, I worked with her twice before. It was lovely! She arrived and has this one episode as she comes in as Goldie, the glamorous mother. And that’s what she does very well. We only had one scene where it’s just the two of us on the beach, an absolutely freezing day! We did a few takes, and I hope it works for the audience. I enjoyed it.
You had many different scenes of getting to visit people in the town. Do you have a favorite?
I almost don’t want to say a favorite scene because I honestly loved working with everybody on this. They were all fun to do.
There was one scene that was unusual within the scheme of the thing. We shot it towards the end, but it’s the very first scene when she goes to Oslo thinking she is taking on a corporate job. Then she is told, not so fast, you’re going to have to do this first. Ingar [Helge Gimle] played Arvid, the big scary boss. That was just a revelation. He is a really well known actor in that country. Also Amalie [Krogh] and Kyrre [Haugen Sydness]. I had the three Norwegian actors…I didn’t know about in the same way they don’t know about us – but to be with three actors who are at the top of their game and they’re all working in a second language, and to be in this extraordinary place. We were in the opera house looking out over the harbor. That was quite a lovely thing for me. I enjoyed that, but not more than the others.
A lot of people might be binge-watching the series since they may be staying at home more in this time that we’re in. What do you hope audiences will take away from the series and the experience of watching it?
I hope they will get relief from this anxiety that is hanging on us all. Obviously, it’s almost unavoidable that we need a certain amount of comfort. The quarantine 15, as I think it’s called in North America – I certainly put on 15 or more during the first lockdown. I was really anxious. I haven’t lost anyone personally. I have been lucky throughout this. So have the people who are close to me. But you are aware there is a lot of want, loss, sadness, and isolation out there. You are in a state of grieving for the world. Then there’s the American election. There are all these things making us anxious.
If you just clock out, which we need, and be with these people in this village by the sea, that’s what I would hope it gives people.