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The Conversation: We catch up with Michelle Fairley

By Roger Crow

The Coleraine-born actress (50) talks about glamming up after the mud and blood-soaked drama of locally-shot TV epic Game of Thrones, and why she's loving her roles in 24 and Suits.

What was it about the role of British entrepreneur Ava Hessington that attracted you to Suits?

I thought she was fantastic. You don't actually know the trajectory of your character, and it changes. She's strong; she's independent; she has a PhD. She's a woman in a man's world, and she's powerful. She thinks like a man; she is a powerful businesswoman who has worked her way up but at the same time, she does have a heart and standards, and she is emotional; she expects loyalty.

Why do you think Suits keeps going while other US shows fall by the wayside?

I think it's a combination. We have a fantastic team of writers, directors and the cast are brilliant. They're all very different individuals; sassy people. The boys, the women – they're all beautiful. They have fantastic costumes. Also it's absolute fun and serious, but it doesn't take itself seriously, and it's increasing its audience every season. Everybody who's involved in it works incredibly hard, and really cares about it. It's got all of the (right) DNA and it deserves to be successful.

After a few years of being covered in blood and mud for Game of Thrones, was it a treat to glam up?

Oh my God, I was delighted. Absolutely. Going to work with the amazing costume designer, Jolie (Andreatta) was like going virtual shopping. It was just fantastic. Everything was tailored and she had such fantastic ideas. The way she puts these ideas together and executes them, and it was an absolute delight to be wearing contemporary clothes.

Was it strange suddenly becoming on of the world's most talked about TV characters in Game of Thrones?

I don't think you can think of it like that really. My job is to interpret other people's words, and I love it. To be involved with something so successful is testament to the quality of the work, basically, and that comes from amazing writing; George RR Martin's books, and amazing cast and crew, and it's such a delight and honour, and very humbling that people love it and continue to do so from all over the world.

Your final 'Thrones' episode was unforgettable. What was the atmosphere like on the set?

It was fantastic. It took a week to shoot it actually; we shot it chronologically and bit-by-bit. We started off with the wedding, and then the feast and the dawning. We had the most amazing crew and director, and as you knock the days off, you're getting to the climax basically. It was incredibly exciting, but you have to keep everything in check, and realise you do what's on the page, and you're trusting of your other actors and your director and the crew, that whatever you're feeling inside, it's transferring through the camera and onto the screen. It's very much a work in progress and you take it as it comes.

How was it working on Philomena?

It was a lovely job actually. My involvement was very small, but it was just a joy to be working with Stephen Frears. It never set out to be 'glitzy' or 'glammy'. It was just to tell a story in a very honest way, and that's what he achieved. It touches people, and Judi Dench's performance is amazing.

One of your most recent projects is the new run of 24. Were you a fan of previous seasons?

I had watched previous series, and my sister Simone adores it. Also when I got the part, they sent me the box sets and it's a very specific style. It was good to refresh myself in that world, because there had been a four-year break. To be immersed in that role and just to see the quality of the performances ... and the production values are incredibly high. I was very delighted to be involved with it.

Finally, tell us about Jimmy McGovern's new drama, Common.

That was shot up in Liverpool, and it's based on truth. It's about mothers whose sons have been put into prison through this (Joint Enterprise) law, even though they were not the ones who committed the crime. They approached Jimmy McGovern, and he was so outraged and touched by their stories, he actually wrote the piece. It's fantastic, with a great cast. Susan Lynch, Dave Westhead, Michael Gambon. A fantastic young cast of male actors as well. I was only on it for a couple of days, but it was great.

 

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