Recently we had the chance to talk with Orla Brady, who is reprising her role as Lydian in the upcoming third season of Into the Badlands.
So were you always going to be an actor or did you kind of fall into it, like a happy accident?
Orla: Well in one regard I wanted to be, but when I was younger I was not very confident so even though I wanted to I never thought I could become an actor. So I sort of crept at it sideways, I did a couple of courses and then I went away and worked with people like Philippe Gaulier, who taught at L’Ecole in Paris. After training with him I came home to London and sort of gingerly found an agent and she told me I’d be at the back of the stage carrying spears and I said fine, I’d love to do that. Then low and behold, the right thing came up and I auditioned for it, which was a play called the House of Bernarda Alba, and I got one of the leads and it just happened then, I was surprised into it so it wasn’t really a happy accident, it just took me a while.
Acting is a tough business in terms of a career. Did you ever think about doing anything else, have a backup plan or was it acting full steam ahead?
Orla: (Laughs) No backup plan, it’s like tightrope walking, you just have to believe it will work. The thing is, you have to be part crazy because the odds are very, very bad and anybody who is not crazy would look at the odds and think yes, I must not do that. Eighty-five percent of our union doesn’t work at any one time and then the work you do get will probably be things you don’t really want to do but you do to keep the money coming in. I think my attitude in the beginning was, I can’t have a backup plan, I will make this work somehow because I have a theory that if you decided to be happy, you can be happy unless something dreadful happens to a loved one or yourself. So no, I did not have a backup plan, I’m totally unemployable in any other area of life, it would be a disaster is I had to do something else, so here we are.
You’ve done a lot of work in television. Was that a conscious choice or did it just work out that way for you?
Orla: No, not at all. When I started I went on stage and I mean, I knew film existed but in Ireland, at the time there was little filming being done. There was the odd film that came in, it was usually American, there would be few Irish extras but it wasn’t a big thing here. I went on stage, I had no idea I would end up doing television at all and it was only several years down the line that somebody asked me to do a TV show, which I did. The thing is, part of my rational of becoming a theater actor was I’m a night owl, I love staying up late and I do not like getting up early, so theater life suited me perfectly. You go to the theater, you do your show, you go out after, have dinner at midnight, have a few drinks and go to bed at three in the morning and up at the crack of noon the next day. I would get up, make breakfast and watch the one o’clock news, it was the perfect life for me, absolutely perfect. Then I did my first TV show and I couldn’t believe I had to get up at four o’clock in the morning to start work, it was quite a shocker. No, I didn’t make any decisions around that, you just follow the scripts, follow the work. One of my favorite jobs I’ve ever done was an absolutely beautiful play called The Clearing and it was done by the BBC radio players and I just adored that experience. You could turn up looking like a bag of washing and still do your job, you didn’t have to look like anything. Sometimes job with great money come in and you think no, I can’t do this, it goes against everything I believe in and is right so you turn those things down but honestly, you could end up doing anything that comes in, theater, TV, movies, anything.
So how did the part of Lydia on Into the Badlands come about for you?
Orla: It came about in the normal way. I was asked to do an audition, sent pages, scenes and I was in New York filming American Odyssey and in fact, I was so busy on that show, I had so little time that I missed the deadline when submissions had to be in. Three weeks later a friend of mine was coming to New York and I just said, will you read if I go on tape? He agreed and we did it in two takes, we didn’t make a big deal out of it, I didn’t prepare an accent because I didn’t have time to do that so I did my own accent, and so I sent one of the tapes off. An hour later the phone exploded, can you do this, can you send us that and what had happened was, although they wanted to finish up and cast the part weeks earlier, they had switched their focus to something else, forgotten about that part, whatever. They hadn’t found anybody in the first round and when the casting director saw my tape, she told me anyway, she just thought, that’s Lydia, that’s her.
Lydia has been through hell and then some yet still managed to stay alive and sane. How much fun has it been playing a character like this?
Orla: Oh my God, I love the character, I really do. I love where she started, which is s woman who’s being rejected, I woman who has become almost invisible if you like to her husband. Marton did this wonderful thing that I was kind of hoping he would do, which was amazing, which was in the very first scene that we played together, he actually never focused on me, he just kept looking around the room, trying to get rid of her. I ended up grabbing his face and bringing it around, making him look at me in the scene and it worked so well, it was the perfect dynamic, he did it instinctively as well so I was very pleased. That was very much the first season, that dynamic and the second season got more fun for me personally because I started to fight and we all want to fight on this show, we’re all desperate to get on the fighting unit and start throwing a few kicks around. I’m not a violent person in my personal life let me tell you but we love playing it.
When you work with a large ensemble cast like this do you change the way you approach the character, since you play off so many other people, or do you approach it like any other role?
Orla: No, you approach it like any other role. It’s funny, I just did EPK yesterday for a film I’ve just done and I got asked a similar question because I was playing a woman who is quite well known in Ireland, would I play her differently and it’s really no different. You still have to look at what’s on the page, interpret it, play it, imagine that character. You have your own method, your own way of dreaming up a character and wondering what they’re inner life is like, what they’re motivations are, what drives them, what makes them happy and sad and all those things. No, the size of the cast, the budget of the set, you do it the same whether it’s a low budget film of bigger one, like the one I did last year called The Foreigner, it was a very big set and Martin Campbell is an amazing director on these huge movies and it’s exactly the same. You don’t do any more or less you just enter it in the same way, it’s just about you and the words on the page and you’re trying to just lend yourself to the character, understand the character and believe in who she is, so it’s the same.
The characters and storylines on Into the Badlands are interesting and really well written. Does this allow you to concentrate more on your character, knowing you have such a solid team behind you?
Orla: What I would say is that I felt I knew who she was in the first season, I felt I really understood where this particular woman was coming from, what drives her, what are her needs are. There’s a lot of plot in this and there are some pieces you do that are much more complex in terms of character, whereas this is a very driven narrative so in a sense, it’s a simpler thing to play because it is more story driven, plot-driven. It’s more straightforward than if you have to be in a French film and it’s all close-ups on the face.
So what is in store for Lydia in the upcoming season of Into the Badlands?
Orla: At the end of season two there is a moment for her, where Sonny hands her the knife, they are having this final conversation, she’s telling him he’s probably going to his death because he’s going after Quinn and he hands her his long sword. I took that as a lovely moment, a big life change where instead of being this wife and living her life through hope, a son and daughter, instead she was becoming her own person and a warrior, like something was being bestowed on her. That for me was a lovely shift for the character and indeed she does get to fight this year, not a lot but I do get to fight. Also, the other thing that happens, Quinn is now dead and she is on her own, she is very determined to find out who she is and what she wants in life. She assumes this life will be on her own and then in walks someone from the past and I must say I was pleased when I saw that piece of writing. Here was someone you failed to be with as a young person, you loved each other but couldn’t make it work and then in he walks again. The character of Nathaniel Moon played by Sherman Augustus, he’s my sweetheart, I adore him, he’s fabulous, such a lovely and generous actor to work with and he was so good in the one episode he was in last year they asked him to come back as a series regular this year. We begin with Lydia back with her people, taking care of refugees and then one day in walks Nathaniel Moon and they both see each other and that begins a journey.
Besides Into the Badlands, what other projects do you have coming up?
Orla: I have a TV series called Collateral, it just came out on the BBC, I have an Irish sort of African film, a story of a young woman who’s rather extraordinary, Aja Naomi King plays the lead, Barkhad Abdi has a significant role in it and a gaggle of wonderful Irish actors so that’s what’s coming up.
I want to thank Orla for taking the time to talk with us
Season three of Into the Badlands premieres Sunday, April 22 at 10 pm on AMC