Saturday 22 October 2016

Norma Sheahan: 'I don't do regrets. My nickname was "Norma No-shame"'

Actress Norma Sheahan tells Joanna Kiernan about life, love, work and never acting her age

Norma Sheeahan
Norma Sheeahan
Norma Sheahan and Joanne
Norma Sheahan in Moon Boy
Norma Sheaha

To give you an idea of just how incredibly open, blunt and hilariously unceremonious a character Norma Sheahan is, within five minutes of us meeting, we are discussing how PMS and our hormone cycles affect our lives.

Norma is one of those wonderfully unbridled, honest souls and her ability to convey this so unapologetically and so quickly is more than endearing. It makes you want to be her friend in the most sincere way, as though life would be a brighter place with the benefit of her comedic interludes and fascinating, briskly delivered miscellaneous facts.

Norma grew up alongside her four sisters on her parents' farm in a little village called Whitechurch, Co Cork.

"I did drama and acting, but my mum gave us all the opportunities," Norma says. "She put us into everything and then we could decide what we wanted to keep up. So we did drama, an instrument, sport, and dad had a farm then, so he would make us ride ponies and stuff like that.

"Once you could handle it, you could give it up," she adds.

Acting has had a special place in Norma's heart from a very early age.


Norma and Joanne

"My mum found a little essay I wrote when I was about seven recently saying 'when I grow up I want to be an actor; I'm going to have to go to America, my family will miss me, but they'll be fine!" she laughs.

Norma's defining moment came when she was cast in the lead role in the pantomime at Cork's Opera House during secondary school, but as much as her parents had encouraged her to pursue lots of interests, they wanted her to have a solid education to fall back on, first and foremost.

"Even when I finished my Leaving Cert my mum said 'you'll get your qualification first'. So I did commerce because I love maths and accounting," Norma tells me. "I found it very boring to sit down and learn stuff, but I love maths and accounting because you go in and it's there and you just do it."

This very straightforward, no nonsense attitude also extends into Norma's work today.

"Sometimes I find with theatre, having to sit around for four weeks talking about my motivation just makes me angry. I am like 'can we not just get up and do it again and again?'" she smiles. "I love doing voice-overs because that is half art, half business. You know they have a budget, you know you are going to get paid, you know you are going to be respected, you know you have been brought in because they know you can do the job and it is quick and it is a joy."

Once Norma had completed her commerce degree in UCD, she began to actively chase down her acting dream, studying at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.

"Everywhere along the path I spotted opportunities," Norma tells me. "So I went to UCD and I was in the drama society there and I spotted a friend of mine who got into RADA and I asked him, 'how did you do that?'

"I studied him, followed him over and back and got into RADA myself. I had a friend in RADA then who had an agent before she even got there, so I studied her. I modelled myself on others. People inspire you I suppose.

"RADA was amazing. It was great because I had gone to UCD first so I had got over my," Norma breaks off to make some loutish noises and hand gestures. "So I arrived there ready," she laughs. "It was like three years of therapy really."

Norma in Moone Boy

While at RADA, Norma met her Australian husband Scott and the couple now have three young daughters.

"Scott is great, he is very different to me; he is way more organised than I am. I like to play it by ear, so there is a nice balance," Norma says. "He was staying with a friend of mine while I was in RADA and we are married 14 years now. The twins are seven and the younger one is five, so they are all in school. All girls."

I wonder aloud if becoming a parent altered Norma's life in any major way.

"Massively," she answers immediately. "The benefits are that your head comes out of your arse. You don't have time to sit around and mope and whenever you do, they will snap you out of it because they will always need something. Also, for me, it was a love I hadn't had before, but some people don't have kids and I think that is a wonderful route to take in life as well.

"Every day is a rollercoaster. There are such highs and such lows; kids can tell you within the space of a minute that they hate you, you are a bad mother, you are the worst person in the world, to then just start kissing your face off.

"It's like your man from Ryanair said recently, 'Kids are like farts - you can just about tolerate your own' and that is so true," Norma adds with a smile.

These days, Norma bases herself in Ireland and does a lot of her work here, but she is also represented by leading agents in both the US and the UK.

"I never say no to anything. If something came in that said they were filming on the moon, even if I thought 'well I don't know if I can do two years on the moon', I'd still meet them and read the script because you never know what will come of things," she explains. "I don't do regrets. My nickname was 'Norma No-shame' at one point. Not in a bad way, but just in a 'f*ck it' way," she smiles.

Norma is refreshingly honest about how difficult a toil her chosen career path has been at points and admits that when her commerce friends were going on to good jobs, there was a time when she found herself struggling.

"I was always saying 'once I get into RADA, that'll be it then'. Then I came out and was like, oh!" she laughs. "The goal is constantly changing, so it becomes very important to enjoy the journey and each of those steps because there is always something else you want to achieve."

Norma's recent role as Linda in Chris O'Dowd's expertly crafted sitcom series Moon Boy, based on his youth in Boyle, Co Roscommon, has been one of her favourite gigs to date.

"I play a kind of alco slut. It's great, and fair play to Chris O'Dowd for having me because I am writing at the moment and you are so precious about what you are doing that you just want the best people in the world in those parts.

"I am so thankful that he remembered me," Norma says. "We have been friends since The Clinic; we were on that together, years ago, he was the accountant and I was the receptionist. So he called me in from that. We only had dinner together in LA a couple of weeks ago, he is lovely. He is probably too big now, but I am writing a comedy film at the moment and I would love him to play the husband, you never know."

Norma is not offended by the fact that she seems to get cast to play parts that are much older than her 38 years.

"I'm 38 but everyone thinks I'm about 50!" she laughs. "So I play 50-year-olds. I auditioned for a role as a 50-year-old dying woman the other day - I don't give a shit. It's grand.

"The good thing about it is if I go for a role for a person in their 30s, sure you could have Saoirse Ronan and she's only 20-something playing a 30-year-old and it's not going to go against her, or you could have me sitting next to Amy Huberman for a part, good luck like!

"We were at the wrap party for Moon Boy and Declan Lowney, who directed Father Ted, he directed the first season of Moon Boy, and he said to me 'Jesus Norma you're looking great, what are you, 40 what?' and at the time I was 34. So I said '34' and he was like 'Oh'," Norma chuckles.

Norma took up writing last year and if having a conversation with her is anything to go by we are all in for a treat, once this work makes it to the screen.

"I want to get into that side of it because I feel sorry for actors and I feel sorry for my younger self that I did sit around and think that 'oh an agent is going to get me jobs.'

"An agent has maybe a hundred people on their wall, they have a about four minutes for you in their week, which are probably not for you because they might have some other celebrity they will be spending the whole week on anyway," she explains.

"So for any poor young actors who think that your agent has time to lift you up, they don't, you need to do everything you can for yourself in life.

"I have always been dabbling a little bit, but I have been properly writing for about one year," Norma adds.

"I have never been so excited because some of my scripts and treatments have been optioned by big production companies and these are only tiny steps and it is very early stages and I have stuff which is being considered by the Irish Film Board and stuff like that, but already I am getting more of a kick out of it than doing other people's stuff," Norma smiles.

"It's probably an age thing as well; you want to take the reins that bit more."

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