ACTRESS, farmer, author and TV agony aunt, Mary McEvoy is a jack of all trades.
While many Irish television viewers know and love her for her 17-year stint as Biddy Byrne on RTE’s rural community soap Glenroe, McEvoy is a thespian to the highest degree.
In a matter of hours, the curtain will finally lift on the Gaiety Theatre’s current adaptation of John B Keane’s Moll and next to the likes of Frank Kelly, Des Keogh and Clare Barrett, McEvoy will take to the stage in what will be her fifth play by the famous Kerryman.
When we chat, the talented personality has just rushed up from her farm in Westmeath and is sitting down for a quick coffee before final rehearsals.
Clearly McEvoy is drawn to the Irish playwright. So what is it that is so attractive about Keane’s work?
“There are no really bad parts for women, that’s one his real strong points,” she said.
“They are forces of nature, all truthful about powerlessness - which is a power itself - or are genuinely strong and realise that strength.
“I don’t think you can get sick of Keane, especially as a female actress, because you know it will at least be a decent part.
“He also pushes the envelope - he will always come back into fashion for that.”
This time around, McEvoy has been installed in a minor, but memorable role.
“I’m not carrying this show and that makes things easier because I can relax into it,” she says. “I’ve a small but funny part, I walk on and off, and I then have the pleasure of watching everyone else work their magic.”
In addition to her appearance in Moll, McEvoy is devising a performance piece about breast cancer alongside Michael Scott.
McEvoy is a specialist when it comes to juggling several projects at a time.
“Almost 30 years after turning professional I’m running around twice as much as when I was young.
“I’ve always got a notion I’ll take it easy and then I get overwhelmed with jobs.”
It is her talk of such a busy schedule that poses the question of lifestyle balance.
“I know I’m too busy when I start losing things and I just lost my bank card,” she said.
“But once you start getting older the pickings are thin on the ground, certainly with roles you actually want, and as a freelancer you take what comes around.
“When you’re younger you have more options. Now you think, Jesus, what is there to play?’ and people get fed up of hearing that, but it’s a fact of life for women in this business.”
Frustrating as it is, McEvoy doesn’t sweat the small things anymore.
“Yes as you get older you’re at an age when you have the most interesting things to say or you have real value, and you’re airbrushed out a bit - but what’s the point in worrying?” Mary said.
“I’m as happy playing in a small theatre down the country in a new play as in a big production in a grand theatre.
“I’m not hung up on being famous and well-known. I’m hung up on making a living, that’s what I care about.”
As every actor is aware, the industry is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. In between parts, part-time jobs in restaurants or quick fix gigs in the corporate or promotional world can come in handy for acting peers when bills are due.
For McEvoy, it has always been her sheep.
“That got me through the lean years. Acting on its own wouldn’t keep me going 100pc, neither would the sheep, I need both and it’s worked out well over the years,” she said.
“This is a good year and I’ve been practically working non-stop. But the question still remains: how much money are you getting for it?
“There are only a few in this business who end up making a living purely out of acting.
“Of course, some are lucky and talented enough. But there are also all of us jobbing actors, and we keep going as we do.”
Who are the lucky ones in Ireland then?
“In Ireland if you think you’re a star you’re deluding yourself,” McEvoy quickly responds.
“We’re just a big parish. Many actors I know or of my vintage just want to work - it’s not about kudos and notice.”
McEvoy has herself received plenty of kudos throughout her career and is sure to receive plenty more after tonight’s performance.