Screen star Geraldine Hughes takes time out from her shopping trip on Belfast’s Boucher Road to tell Stephanie Bell about her soaring career and her starring role in Clint Eastwood’s new film
It is not every day that you run into a genuine Hollywood star when you are out doing your shopping on Boucher Road in Belfast. But then again Geraldine Hughes is no ordinary movie star. Originally from Divis Flats on the Falls Road, Geraldine (37) now rubs shoulders with Hollywood royalty such as Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood.
It is all a very long way since her days attending St Louise’s Comprehensive School in Belfast in the ’80s.
Having starred as Marie in the boxing blockbuster Rocky Balboa, playing alongside Sly in 2006, the actress was on a brief trip home to catch up with family and friends before the release of her latest film, Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood no less.
The film, due out next year, tells the story of a disgruntled Korean War veteran, played by Eastwood, who sets out to reform his tough neighbourhood.
“I have just spent three weeks in Michigan filming with Clint,” Geraldine says quite nonchalantly as she browses for a new pair of jeans in the newly-opened Jeanery on Boucher Road.
Here is a true daughter of Belfast unaffected by the trappings of global celebrity!
“In my new film I get to play Clint Eastwood’s daughter-in-law and it is very special to me personally. I think that this may be Clint’s last acting role. Even though he is 78-years-old, he is still a stunning, handsome man with tons of charisma,” she says.
“It is the most amazing film I have ever had the privilege to work on. Clint is a fantastic director because he understands actors. There is no sense of anyone being better than anyone else — there is no sense of status or hierarchy on the set.
“When you are working with Clint Eastwood there is a sense of pace and urgency because usually it takes ages to make a film.
“Normally, you go into hair and make up and then you get called to the set to rehearse a scene and then they come in and they light the set and you go off and wait again until you are called,” she says.
“When Clint makes a film you have to arrive totally prepared to get straight into it because you get your hair and make up done, you go on to the set and Clint says ‘Let’s go’ and you go into the first take – usually without rehearsal.
“He loves that natural, spontaneous response and even if you mess up or hesitate, he leaves it in the take because he likes the raw, authenticity of it.”
This kind of rawness certainly suits Geraldine’s character as it is obvious she is first and foremost an actress who is in love with the craft of acting, and all the celebrity trappings take second place.
She moved from her native Belfast to America over 18 years ago, having attained a private scholarship to the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) where she earned a BA from the School of Theatre, Film and TV.
She then moved to New York to work on the stage, starring in Brian Friel’s Translations on Broadway, and she also picked up numerous television roles in top-notch American dramas like ER.
It was during a stage performance in New York that a casting director spotted her and asked her to audition for the role of Marie in Rocky Balboa.
Geraldine says: “That was a career highlight for me of course. I was amazed because Sylvester Stallone loved my audition tape and the next thing I know I am in this movie with him. It was such an honour as the Rocky films are iconic in movie history and I know I will forever be a part of that.”
While she is now no stranger to big-budget Hollywood movie sets and red carpet premiers, acting and her family come first to Geraldine.
Her recent trip back to her home city was primarily to spend time with relatives on holiday in Carlingford and to appear at a Feile an Phobal literary event in West Belfast.
She also plans to return next month to shoot a movie in both Belfast and Newry.
“I’m really looking forward to this new film project and it is great to get to work on home turf,” says Geraldine. “It is a piece I am very familiar and comfortable with as I performed the premier in New York. It is a play called Pump Girl and it is really gritty and dark.
“I also have a script of my own that I am trying to raise the funding to make in
Belfast and I hope when I come back to shoot Pump Girl in October I can generate some interest towards by own project as well which is a real character-driven comedy. That is what people in Belfast do so well and naturally as we have a great natural sense of humour.”
Her natural affection for her home city shines through and despite her star status, Geraldine loves to get back to her roots, family and community whenever she can and regularly makes trips back to encourage young people in her former city to make the most of their talents and embrace their ambition to be the best that they can.
She is living proof that with determination, hard work and talent you can reach the highest echelons of the acting profession.
“Belfast will always be home to be,” she says. “I have been in the States now as long as I was in Belfast and I lived in Los Angeles for 16 years and have been in New York now for nearly three years.
“New York has been amazing for me. I have worked so much there including plays on Broadway and an episode of Law and Order as well as other television parts. For me, New York just works.”
Now a familiar face on the red carpet at movie premieres, Geraldine says that she is just an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances and this is reflected in her personal style.
“I love to get a pretty frock on like any girl, especially for a big, glitzy Hollywood event, and I love the designer Nanette Lepore,” she says.
“But fashion is not of huge importance to me and I love to just wear jeans and T-shirt. I like natural white skin and natural make up.
“In LA, it is so warm all the time that casual is just the most practical way to dress. I love jeans and as soon as I heard that Ireland’s largest jeans store had opened in Boucher Retail Park, I just had to take time out while in Belfast to stock up on my favourite denim brands. Jeans are my fashion weakness along with shoes and handbags!
“Accessories can change an outfit totally and I love that you can dress up or dress down simply by adding a killer pair of heels and a nice handbag.
“I own about 20 pairs of jeans because that is what I feel most comfortable in. I generally do all my shopping in New York because there are some fabulous stores there but I have to say my trip to The Jeanery today has been heaven as it stocks all my favourite denim brands.
“People in Belfast have become so fashionable — it is unbelievable the fashion consciousness that people have now in contrast to when I lived her 20 years ago.”
So from her early acting days while at school in west Belfast through to starring alongside Holywood legends, Geraldine Hughes has certainly kept her feet firmly on the ground.
She is looking forward to getting home in the coming months, not only to make another film, but to spend time in the place that she loves most with her friends and family — the things that she describes as the “real stuff”.