28 November 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Catherine Walker on Acting
30 Jun 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Actor Catherine Walker
With the IFTA Awards Viewing Season in full swing, we showcase Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry. 

We find out what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and on-set collaboration; what inspires them; what current trends and techniques they like, and dislike in the industry.

We spoke with three-time IFTA nominated actor Catherine Walker, who gave a rich and textured individual performance in Paul Mercier’s We Ourselves, an unconventional film dealing with the lives of a group of seven friends over a period of more than two decades, articulated through a collection of monologues. Walker also starred as Alice Brooks in Scottish drama Shetland, which was produced by BBC Scotland.

The Dublin actress’ has starred in a number of high-profile Irish productions including Samson Film’s new drama Rosie Plays Julie, which features at the Fleadh next month; RTÉ’s historical dramas’ Rebellion and Resistance; Treasure Entertainment’s Amy Huberman led dramedy Finding Joy; Viko Nikci’s Cellar Door; Mark O’Rowe’s directorial debut The Delinquent Season; Liam Gavin’s horror A Dark Song; and Terry McMahon’s IFTA winning drama Patricks Day.

Walker can next be seen alongside Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) in Netflix’s new fantasy-adventure, Cursed, which is written by Sin City and 300 writer Frank Miller.

What do you look out for in a script?

“In scripts, I look to be surprised and to connect with a character's journey, but also to find a space for something other to happen too.”

How do you prepare for auditions, and what advice would you give to younger actors?

“For auditions, I read the script as much as I can and try to get an overview, a character breakdown, and find where I connect and differ from them. Also, I look for what it is that I can bring to them and them to me. Auditions are so odd and after twenty-plus years I still haven't worked them out.  I think the best and simplest advice I can give is to learn the lines and then learn the other person’s lines, know it backwards so you can feel free.”

What attracted you to your roles in We Ourselves and Shetland?

“For We Ourselves, it was Paul’s amazing writing and the challenge of performing a monologue on film; it was such an exciting and unique piece I really loved it.

“For Shetland, it was a complicated intense love story and the character had to navigate herself through that. Dealing with infidelity is always a great challenge for characters because it sits in a very grey area and I love exploring that.”

How did you approach playing each of your characters in these films, and how much rehearsal was involved?

“For We Ourselves, I rehearsed a lot with Paul, which was absolutely fantastic. We had to rehearse it in a way like a play and Paul’s writing is so good that it needed that time to find the true meaning.

“For Shetland, it’s a television schedule so you’re working on the floor without rehearsal but the directors and actors were so great.”

How do you like to work with Directors and do you like to have a collaborative process?

“For me, the job is all about collaboration and I love a director who works that way. However, each job is different and I find the less rigid I am in the process; the more open I can be to the particular requirements of a job. But yes, the most enjoyable is collaboration and being trusted.”

Tell me about your experience on set, and your favourite moment during this production?

“The experiences on We Ourselves and Shetland were vastly different. On We Ourselves, I got the opportunity of playing the monologue scene from beginning to end with the camera following and that was very freeing and liberating. With Shetland, it was all about working with the other actors and creating chemistry.”

What was your first paid role as an actor, and what were the key things you learned from doing that role?

“My first paid role on film was a tiny role in a John Schlesinger film called ‘Sweeney Todd’. The key thing I learned (by default) was that if no one is saying anything to you - you’re doing fine. I had no idea what was going on and I was too scared and shy to ask any questions and looking back that was the best thing to do.”

What Filmmaker or Actor has influenced or inspired you the most? 

“The actor that has influenced me the most is Juliette Binoche. From the very first time I saw her in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and Kieslowski's ‘Three Colours Blue’. I have been fascinated by her work and her choices.  She works from a place of being an artist and as she gets older her work just seems to get more truthful and challenging; I find that so inspiring.”

What international performance by an actor has blown you away?

“Joanna Kulig in Cold War: a mesmerising performance.”

What Irish Actor/s have you been most impressed by in recent times?

“It’s so great because there have been so many brilliant Irish actors working both here and internationally now that it’s hard to choose but Saoirse Ronan continually inspires, I find her breath-taking. So much of what she does is so subtle and so difficult and she makes it look easy. I adored her in ladybird; I loved that character.”

Is there an Irish film over the last few years that has really impressed you?

“This year from new Irish film I think Mark O'Halloran's Rialto is extraordinary with such brilliant performances for Tom Vaughn-Lawlor and Tom Glynn-Carney. It’s haunting and thought-provoking.”

What Director or Actor would you most like to work with and why (Irish or international)?

“I love this question because it’s nice to dream. My favourite film from the last couple of years was ‘Cold War’ by the Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski. The acting was so exquisite and passionate and free. I watched some interviews with the director & actors, and he seemed to have such a performance centred approach. Also, if we are talking fantasy wishes another dream for me would be to work with Terence Mallick.”

We often are our own worst critics. What is your approach to constructive criticism and inward reflection?

“It is so important to have balance, to grow from constructive criticism, and then let go of the rest. The older I get the more I realise for life and work I have to stay as spiritually well as I can.

“With regards to inward reflection, it’s about staying close to the truth of creativity. The business is the business and it has to work that way but my job is to take care of the art form, and it is delicate and ferocious all at the same time.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career thus far that you would share with young aspiring Actors?

“’What other people think of me is none of my business.’ What we do is so subjective and I think it’s important not to look for the validation outside ourselves. I do have some close friends and collaborators who I would ask for an opinion from so I can learn but other than that what others think about a performance is not my concern.”

How have you channelled your creativity during lockdown?

“I have used lock-down to read, write, and explore. The business is always out of our control and the only way to handle that for myself is to stay as creatively well as I can. I have spent time reading, writing, exploring music, and art. There has been so much online from around the world, which has been amazing; streaming plays. A highlight for me was the Berlin Philharmonic they had a great concert series and of course catching up on film.

“I stayed away from television because I can end up watching it too much, but of course I did catch the brilliant ‘Normal People’. I have always used poetry when I'm out of work, working on either writing it myself or investigating a poem; I find the muscularity of the language, the rhythm, and the compact feeling within a poem sits where acting sits.”

Click here to read more of our interview series.

Casting Directors share insights at Casting Conversations hosted by IFTA
“Foyle holds a special place in my heart;” BAFTA nominee Kris Kelly discusses Wind and the Shadow ahead of its premiere at Foyle Film Festival
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