Broadway Q&A: Laura Donnelly of ‘The Ferryman’

Outlander star Laura Donnelly was nominated for a Tony award for playing Caitlin Carney in The Ferryman. The action takes place in 1981 in rural county Armagh Northern Ireland. Caitlin’s husband had disappeared ten years earlier. Her brother-in-law, Quinn Carney, took in Caitlin and her son. The Carney family farm is teeming with kids (ages 9 months to 16), assorted relatives and livestock, yet they cling to their deep bond and traditions. Written by Jez Butterworth, The Ferryman won a Best Play Tony Award and was nominated for nine Tonys, including a nomination for Donnelly. She also won an Olivier Award for playing Caitlin in London. Donnelly next stars in the HBO drama The Nevers, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and The Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon. The science fiction show centers on a gang of Victorian women who have unusual abilities.

Where were you when you heard you were nominated for a Tony award?
Laura Donnelly: I was in bed. I was in California and it was 5:30 in the morning. I have to say, I didn’t sleep all that well. Then the phone started going at 5:30. It was messages and calls. So I, I figured it had to be good news. I don’t think everybody starts calling you because you didn’t get nominated. So, I had to get up.

Is it different for you that you are not playing Caitlin anymore?
LD: It’s such a lovely way to be able to come back to it. I never really wanted to leave her behind. It’s something that I felt like I was ready to do for various reasons. I still miss being in the play. I miss the character. And so being able to come back and revisit it without all the hard work is great.

Playing Caitlin is such an emotional role. How did you prepare to take it on and do it repeatedly?
LD: It’s a strange thing. I think that over time, it starts feeling like a slightly heavier weight. I had been playing the role on and off for two years. I definitely started feeling the weight of it in a way that I had to be a little better about self-care outside of the job. But at the same time, the play is so beautifully written. The characters, my character in particular, is so layered, fleshed out, complex and so fundamentally human. It makes it so much easier to play as well. So all I ever had to do was go on and begin. The rest of it just took over.

Why did you leave, and what are you doing now?
LD: What made me leave the show is that I wanted to go back to being a mum for awhile. This play had been two years. And whenever I had played the character in the West End in London, I had been pregnant the whole time. I have a two-year-old and a one-year-old who needed me back. That was mainly why I left. Now I’m going to go into some TV work. I’m doing a new show (The Nevers) for HBO starting in the summer. As much as I adore theater, I am not ready to move on to something else yet. I would so dearly love to be starting rehearsals for another play, but I’m not even almost ready. It’s going to take a long time to shake this one off.

This play is such a feast. You have babies, animals and a cast of 30. What was that like for you to have a plethora of people on stage?
LD: It was so fun. And it also feels like a huge support network that you have under you. Every single person in that cast was so incredible, and had become like family. Particularly when we brought it to New York. None of us are from New York. It was a bit like the circus coming to town. We just supported each other, and had a really fun time on stage. It works quite like an orchestra. If one little part drops or something goes a bit wrong, you just feel the energy of everything else suddenly settling underneath it to support and make sure that it continues smoothly. And that actually made it incredibly exciting. I got to a point where I was hoping things would go wrong. I was looking for ways that it might just go off in a direction where we all have to suddenly deal with it. That is what keeps it alive.

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By Jeryl Brunner

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