Friday 15 December 2017

'I am just so excited to have been cast in the next season of Game of Thrones' reveals Irma Mali

Model and actress Irma Mali tells Joanna Kiernan about love, life and that Games of Thrones gig

Irma Mali
Irma Mali
Irma Mali and The Script's Danny O'Donohue

Irma Mali has something which many people aspire to, not just her height and good looks, although that wouldn't hurt; the most striking thing about Irma is her strength of character.

She is as straight forward as they come, but with a sort of boisterous nature, which makes her presence one of fun and endless enthusiasm.

As we settle in for our chat, Irma, whom I met once before in her very early days as a model in Ireland, turns the tables and begins to interview me about my life since.

"I'm sorry, it's like I am going to write a piece on you!" she eventually catches herself and laughs.

Irma is originally from Lithuania and moved to Ireland in 2002. A short time later she walked into the 1st Options Model Management Dublin offices and asked - in what was back then her very basic amount of English - if she could be a model.

The response was an overwhelmingly positive one, for obvious reasons and since being signed, Irma modelling career has gone from strength to strength. Irma is now one of Ireland's busiest models.

"It has been brilliant. I have had a great 13 years here. I have been so lucky and met some incredibly interesting people along the way," she smiles. "I had done some photo shoots in Lithuania, but it wasn't my job until I came over here.

"Ireland is my home now. In Lithuania I get lost, I am calling my friends all of the time looking for directions!" she laughs.

Irma travelled to Ireland with her then boyfriend Marius Simanaitis in search of work, and a short time later the couple welcomed their daughter Nikoleta, who is now 12 years old.

The pair parted ways a couple of years later and Marius tragically passed away in 2009.

"I go back to Lithuania all the time because my daughter's father's family are there. So I bring her there to spend some time with them," Irma tells me. "I am quite lucky because she is really good. I can see she is turning into a teenager, but I can talk to her. We are more like friends."

When she first arrived in Ireland Irma spoke no English, but gradually taught herself by getting out and speaking to as many people as she could.


"Now when I look back on that time I can laugh, but it was very hard, trying to understand people and speak English at first," she explains. "I didn't really have any friends, but it was good that my family came over then a few years later - my mum and my brother - so now we are all together here."

"So now it's fine and I can look back on it as a big life experience," she beams. "The idea at first was to come here for work and then to eventually go back home, but it never happened. I don't think it is ever going to happen! I am home. I am not missing anything by being here."

Irma's modelling career has seen her grace both Irish and international catwalks for some of the biggest names in fashion, including Chanel, Chloe, and Dolce and Gabbanna.

But despite all of this there is a humility to Irma, when you mention the subject of work. She is constantly referring to how lucky she is to be so busy in an industry, which is often oversaturated with new faces.

"I am still working away, which I am so glad about," she says, her brown eyes widening at the thought.

However, Irma has always had her eyes fixed firmly on the future and has been simultaneously training and building herself a second career in acting over the last number of years.

She has appeared in a number of short and feature films, guest starred on TV drama The Fall, and she is now due to make her mark in season five of the global phenomenon that is Game of Thrones.

"I have been really lucky, I have an agent in London and in Dublin and that's how I have got jobs," Irma explains. "Recently I got a part in Game of Thrones; it's going to be in the new season," Irma's eyes twinkle. "But I can't tell you much about it just in case. It is huge for me. It was so exciting and it was amazing on set, there are a lot of people working extremely hard. I can't wait for it to be on."

For Irma, the sky is the limit for her acting dream and the bright lights of Hollywood are definitely calling. But for the meantime she will continue to hone and perfect her craft here.

"Auditions are still frightening, I still haven't got used to them yet," she giggles. "It's a slow process getting out there in acting, but I am enjoying it and getting there. I love getting the experience.

"I will even just ask my friends who might be directors - 'can I just come down and watch the other actors acting?' So by watching other people on set I get a lot of experience too."


It was through acting that Irma met her ex-boyfriend Danny O'Donoghue, the lead singer of The Script, when she starred in the band's Breakeven music video in 2009.

After four years together, the couple called it quits in 2013. Theirs was a high profile relationship, which attracted a lot of media attention, particularly when they split, as Danny was then starring as a judge on the British version of The Voice. Irma took the entire intrusion into her personal life in her stride.

"To be honest it didn't affect my life in any way. I am where I am and I was where I was and I did what I did all my life," she waves away the memory with her hand. "It made me notice 'oh there is an article in the newspaper' maybe, but that was it; nothing changed."

Irma was dubious yet unscathed by the various rumours, which circulated in the newspapers at the time speculating about the reasons for the break up.

"I don't take things too personally. I would just see it and that was it. At the end of the day I knew the truth, so it didn't matter what was in the papers," she smiles.

There is something effortlessly brave about Irma Mali. She shoots from the hip. She possesses a quiet yet unapologetic confidence, an infectious enthusiasm for life and an apparent inability to feel hard done by. I wonder aloud where this approach to life may have come from.


"When you are a single mum there is no choice," she answers immediately. "You just have to fight for the life you want and work for it because you are not on your own anymore.

"You forget yourself and you do anything for your child. So that is why there is no time for me to sit and feel sorry for myself. I have to move on in life and do things; to work and to be an example for my daughter."

Irma is hoping that her daughter will follow her dreams, wherever they might take her in life.

"She can be anything she wants to be," Irma smiles. "I always say to her you can be anything you want to be. She loves dancing so I tell her 'if you want to be a dancer, you can be a dancer and if you want to be something else that's fine!' Sometimes people put brackets around things and say 'well this is just a hobby,' but I think if you have a love for something it doesn't matter; you should do it and that is the most important thing because it will mean you enjoy life.

"Kids always watch you and they see what you do. It's amazing," Irma adds. "Even training-wise; my daughter is so into training, she does gymnastics and swimming and dancing, she does all of that and I was thinking recently 'where did she get that from?'

"But then I look at myself and I am always in the gym if I have the chance," Irma laughs. "So I look at her and think wow, she is probably going to be fit for the rest of her life and that is great!"


Irma hopes that when Nikoleta is older, they will eventually travel the world together. "I always say this to her and she just says 'Ok mommy!' and deep down I am thinking - she is going to be a teenager and say 'no mom I am going with my friends find you own friends!'" she laughs.

But something tells me Irma will make it happen, just like everything else she has put her mind to.

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