Orla Brady gives the inside story on new drama The South Westerlies

Orla Brady on playing a conflicted career woman keeping secrets in Irish drama The South Westerlies with EastEnders star Patrick Bergin and Catastrophe’s Eileen Walsh…

Orla Brady (Mistresses, American Horror Story) has played her fair share of secretive characters, and Kate Ryan in The South Westerlies is no exception.

Ambitious Irish environmental consultant Kate Ryan is in line for a coveted promotion to Norway in new Acorn TV drama, The South Westerlies. First, however, single-mum Kate must complete one last job in West Cork for Norwegian employers NorskVentus. And it’s not a typical assignment!

Kate agrees to pose as a holidaymaker in stunning [fictional] tourist town Carrigeen to surreptitiously persuade dissenting locals into approving the company’s wind farm.

It’s a part of the world Kate knows well, as she used to holiday there during her formative teenage years. And soon truths from her youth threaten to erupt in her adult life.

This new six-part series also stars Patrick Bergin (Sleeping With the Enemy, EastEnders), as slippery councillor Big Mike Kelleher, who is married to B&B owner Noreen (Family star Ger Ryan).

Patrick Bergin as shifty politician Big Mike in The South Westerlies

Patrick Bergin – the reason an entire generation keep their food cupboards tidy – as Big Mike in The South Westerlies

Sam Barrett is Kate’s laid-back teenage son, Conor, and Sorcha Cusack guest stars as his glamorous grandma, Goldie. Central to the light-hearted drama is Catastrophe’s Eileen Walsh as cafe owner Breege – Kate’s old friend, who is hurt she never kept in touch.

Orla Brady phoned What’s on TV for a chat about The South Westerlies. Here she reveals the joy of working on her home soil with Irish acting icons Patrick Bergin, Eileen Walsh and Ger Ryan…

The South Westerlies is lighter in tone than some of your other work, was that intentional?

Orla Brady: “When I was offered The South Westerlies I remember thinking it was unusual. I usually get offered much heavier fare. I’ve played murderers and all sorts! But I’d been thinking that I’d love to do something lighter. We filmed this last Autumn [pre-pandemic], and little did we know that just a few months down the line it would be wanted. I certainly can’t take a lot of heaviness at the moment. I get anxious if I see drama where everything goes wrong and someone’s in danger.”

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On paper Kate is quite a devious character but on screen she’s very likeable…

OB: “I was worried about that! There’s always that thing – how can you like a character when she’s lying to all these lovely people? But you’d have very dull drama if everyone was nice! OB: Kate characterises [her visit to Carrigeen] as a white lie. She has to get something done. She thinks ‘Oh it will be fine. People will barely remember me, I’ll chivvy up support [for the wind farm], and then I’ll be gone.’ She doesn’t foresee that the people there will take her under their wing. So she finds herself getting in deeper and deeper. It’s that thing of once you tell a lie, how do you undo it?”

What else appealed to you about Kate’s dilemma in The South Westerlies?

OB: “Kate is forced to go back to a set of people and situations that she has avoided. She’s an avoidant person who has run away from something difficult rather than tackling it. The drama asks if somebody who has messed up in their life can go back and make it right – so I found that very intriguing. Then, because it’s an ensemble piece, you go into all these other stories…”

Can you tease a little more about Kate’s friend Breege?

Eileen Breege as cheerful cafe own Breege in The South Westerlies

Friend or foe? Breege (Eileen Walsh) has troubles of her own when Kate turns up in The South Westerlies

OB: “Kate and Breege’s relationship is the love story in the piece and one of the reasons I wanted to do The South Westerlies. If you have a cursory glance at drama in general you’d think everything is about romantic love, and it isn’t. Friends are the important, sustaining relationships in many women’s lives. With Kate and Breege something hurtful has happened, but they have a connection. I was very interested in exploring it, especially with Eileen Walsh, who is one of our national treasures!”

How was it working with such a celebrated Irish cast, particularly Sleeping with the Enemy star Patrick Bergin?

OB: “It was great. Patrick Bergin is lovely and the opposite to Big Mike! He played beautifully with Ger Ryan, and they created this lovely marriage between Big Mike and Noreen, where she forgives him his mistakes – a lot! Patrick’s got presence on screen. But it was like having a big, hilarious teddybear on set. He brought in cakes and at the wrap party he played and sang. It was really lovely.”

And finally, The South Westerlies is set in Summer, but was filmed in Autumn… how was that?

OB: “Well now, if you look closely you will see several layers of thermal underwear under even t-shirts! We were still shooting outside scenes in October and boy, did we suffer – it was freezing. But it looked beautiful and it was a lovely experience.”

The South Westerlies is available on Acorn TV.

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