Siobhán McSweeney: ‘I feel a great gratitude to the people of Derry’

The Derry Girls star on science, success and sculpting

Actress Siobhán McSweeney
Siobhán McSweeney will join fellow actresses Harriet Walter, Fiona Shaw, Adjoa Andoh and Eve Hewson in the world premiere of The Molly Films, a new cinematic suite giving a fresh presentation of the closing episode of Ulysses, famously known as Molly's Soliloquy (PHIL SHARP)
How and why did you get involved in YES Festival in Derry and Donegal - Ireland’s all-women artists’ event, inspired by James Joyce’s character Molly Bloom from his epic novel Ulysses ?

Organisers Sean and Liam always have such interesting ideas up their sleeves. I have worked with them previously before on FrielFest and I was curious about this.

Where did you record The Molly Films?

I filmed it alone in an Airbnb in Dalston, London, on a very hot day with a marvellous and fun crew and an interesting and lovely young Ukrainian director.

Which of Molly’s ‘sentences’ will you be performing?

Sentence seven of the eight.

Do you feel a strong connection to the city of Derry after your time with Derry Girls?

Of course. But more than that I feel a great gratitude to the people of Derry for being so class and welcoming and for supporting the show and all of us in such a beautiful way.

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in the Channel 4 series Derry Girls
Siobhán McSweeney as Sister Michael in the Channel 4 series Derry Girls
Did you read Ulysses when you were younger?

Nope, I never studied Ulysses. I read Finnegans Wake in my 30s. To be honest I get rather bored when it comes to iconic and revered writers as often I feel the work becomes secondary to the reverence. What I loved about this project is that it took these words out of a male book and placed them in the mouths of very different women. It liberated it, and hopefully has made something interesting out of something everyone claims to know, but very few have read.

How do you think it is relevant to women today?

I think it’s relevant because it’s a monologue that speaks to the internal landscapes of all of us. The irritations, the memories of younger trysts, the meandering thoughts that happen in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep, the reliving of romantic memories, the sensuality we all feel when we are between sleep and being awake. It’s a hinterland that is familiar to us all regardless of gender.

When did you go out of your comfort zone by saying yes to something?

I go out of my comfort zone every time I say ‘yes’ to a job. You have to start again. But, being out of my comfort zone is one of the bonuses of being an actor and one of the reasons I wanted to be one.

What do you think Sister Michael would have to say about Ulysses/Molly Bloom?

Ha... I think Sister Michael would have very little time for Joyce. Or anyone really that wasn’t her.

I feel a great gratitude to the people of Derry for being so class and welcoming and for supporting the show and all of us in such a beautiful way

—  Siobhán McSweeney
YES celebrates not only James Joyce but also the creativity of women in the arts, business, politics etc. Have you any inspirational advice to give to women or perhaps your younger self about having belief in themselves?

The only bit of advice I’d have both to my younger self and to other women, is that if you are scared about something, then chances are everyone else is too. You aren’t a freak: what you are feeling, everyone else is too. I can assure you, you aren’t alone. So you might as well do it.

I believe you studied science at University College Cork - but was acting always your dream job?

I studied science because I liked it, and I didn’t think I could be an actor. I grew up not seeing people like me on screen. Actors were glamorous, foreign, thin and spoke differently to me. But the madness in me wouldn’t let go and I ended up auditioning for drama school during my last year of university. But, I’m really glad I did science.

Bafta Television Awards 2023
Siobhán McSweeney with her award for female performance in a comedy programme, for Derry Girls, at the Bafta Television Awards in 2023
I loved how you celebrated your BAFTA award for best female performance in a comedy programme with a bag of Hula Hoops. I take it by that response you haven’t let the success go to your head?

It is a wonderful feeling to get that external validation. But you can’t rely on it. That said, I think it has been a help in getting me into more rooms. I’m deeply lucky. And deeply noisy. I want to get into as many rooms as possible and have a nose about. If my BAFTA gives me the key to those rooms, then all the better.

Have you been to the Bloomsbury celebrations in Dublin before and where will you celebrate Molly Bloomsbury this year?

I haven’t actually. The boater hats and kidneys for breakfast - naw. I’ll be in Spain filming this year.

We’ve seen you recently as Mary in Extraordinary on Disney+. How do you enjoy that role?

I adore Mary and all the gang in Extraordinary. It’s the best show to film. Another amazing comedy written by an Irish woman. Emma Moran is so wonderful.

Actress Siobhán McSweeney
Cork actress Siobhán McSweeney (PHIL SHARP)
You’ve also done a lot of stage work, including Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. Any plans for more stage work and how about playing Molly Bloom in a stage version of Ulysses?

I adore stage work. Theatre is my one true love. That said, I’m busy for the rest of the year so I’m not sure I’d be able to fit more in. Didn’t I mention how lucky I am?

Will you be doing another series of The Great British Pottery Throwdown and have you made any of your own pottery?

Hopefully I’ll be back to the potteries this year. I do try and dabble while we are filming but I cannot tell you how rubbish I am at it. Nothing but respect for our potters.

YES runs from June 13-16, yesderry.com. The Molly films will be screened at the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny and YES Festival Hub, St Columb’s Hall, Derry. On June 17, Molly Bloomsday will officially finish with an online broadcast timed to finish just before dawn in Derry