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Jayne: 'I'd a crush on Johnny Depp, so when I met him I was like, wow, you are actually real'

Ballymoney-born star Jayne Wisener tells Una Brankin about her cat that thinks it's a dog, becoming seriously star-struck on set, why she still suffers from stage fright and how her dad is the family joker

Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling was pictured looking very downcast recently after leaving George, his elderly terrier and the "love of his life", into an animal hospital. The A-list actor wrapped his companion in a blanket against the cold, whereas in the summertime, he shaves the shaggy mutt's undercarriage and sides to help him cope with the LA heat.

Thousands of miles away, backstage in Belfast's Grand Opera House, Jayne Wisener is feeling Gosling's pain. She's missing Doogie, a pedigree cat who is separating her from her husband, Wayne, this Christmas.

"Doogie was so stressed last time we put him in a cattery, he wouldn't eat and went into renal failure and nearly died," Jayne explains. "I'm going to my parents for Christmas and Wayne's staying with Doogie at home in London. We can't even bring him outside - his immune system can't cope."

Pampered Doogie is fun, however, according to the 29-year-old actress. "He thinks he's a dog - he plays fetch," she says. "When he hears me coming in from work, he runs and hides behind the living room door and we go, 'Where's Doogie? Where's he gone?' Then he'll jump out and pounce on me with a big 'waarraang' every time! He's so funny and gorgeous."

Out comes the smartphone and a snap of an undeniably cute cat with Batfink ears. His owner has a slightly feline beauty herself. She's standing in front of a huge mirror in her dressing room, putting in blonde hair extensions for her role as Cinderella at the annual Grand Opera House panto. She's petite but curvaceous, with a perfectly symmetrical oval face, big blue eyes and a tasteful tan.

She also does her own stage make-up for the show, with the help, I notice, of Number 7 foundation, Benefit bronzer, false eyelashes and about a dozen different cosmetic brushes for her eyes and cheeks. The full slap goes on ahead of the matinee performance. 

"The primer - Clarins Beauty Flash Balm - helps the make-up stick, so I only need to do a quick retouch for the evening show," she says, showing me the contents of her well-worn make-up bag. "I use most of this in real life, too, and Mac stuff.

"I was always obsessed by make-up. If there was a scrap of it lying about the house, I'd pick it up and smell it and then put it on."

In reality, Jayne's more attractive with minimal make-up and looks more like a teenager than someone turning 30 in May.

It was her fresh, unadorned face that landed her a role opposite Johnny Depp in the 2007 blockbuster Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Initially, she made the mistake of piling on far too much war-paint for her audition and was turned down because she looked too mature for the part of a 15-year-old.

"I'd no idea - I thought actresses wore lots of make-up, but you can see it on screen, especially with HD, so you have to have good skin," she says.

"I look really young without make-up - I have to show ID when I'm buying wine - so I sent the film people a picture of myself with none on, then got the part."

Then 19, Jayne had been spotted by a talent scout while performing in a youth production of West Side Story at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry. She was invited to audition for the role of Johanna Barker, Johnny Depp's on-screen daughter in the Tim Burton-directed gothic horror.

Coincidentally, she resembles two of the women closest to Depp - his real-life daughter and his French ex-wife.

"It's funny, a few people have said I'm like Lily Rose recently, and when I was younger, they'd say Vanessa Paradis," she smiles, chuffed. "It's the cheekbones, which I get from my mother. I'm very like her and have the same facial structure.

"She doesn't care about looks, though - she's outdoorsy and has a horse she keeps in stables in Portrush. She's 52 and only learned how to do her make-up properly a couple of years ago after I kept showing her. I'm far more girly than her and my sister."

Like most of Depp's co-stars, with the exception of his now suspiciously quiet ex, Amber Heard, Jayne has only good things to say about the Kentucky-born superstar. She had a teenage crush on him which vanished after she met him, however.

"When I met him, he was suddenly a real person, not this teenage idol I had in my head," she giggles. "He's still absolutely beautiful. There's no denying in the flesh he's the most stunning thing you've ever seen, but it was like, 'Okay I've met you and you're real'.

"He was very, very lovely to me. It was a strange situation for me because I'd never done anything before, and he was very aware of that and made me feel comfortable. Him and Tim Burton are quirky, but he was very nice - he took time with me." 

Jayne was born in Ballymoney but grew up "shy, odd and very quiet" in Coleraine with her younger siblings, Gillian, now a music teacher, and John, a lawyer.

She's still reserved and softly spoken and admits to nervousness before red carpet appearances. In need of a prompt now and then to finish her sentences, she fairly laid-back in conversation and hasn't lost her accent.

These days, she goes by Mrs Austin, having taken her Bromley husband's surname on her driving licence and passport, but she has kept Wisener as her stage name. The unusual moniker comes from her father John's German ancestors. Her mother Margaret's family - Twadells - have roots in Scotland. John senior's a retired civil servant while Margaret is a former psychiatric nurse, now working as a classroom assistant.

Amateur dramatics helped their eldest overcome her shyness as a child at Coleraine High School - "I didn't have to think of what to say on stage and make up the lines". Her dramatic flair she attributes to her father. "Dad, definitely - he's crazy," Jayne says. "He would have been an actor if it had been a normal thing to do when he was growing up. There are so many kids from here now going into the business, and James Nesbitt and Michelle Fairley are from Coleraine.

"It was very rare in dad's day, but there was plenty of amateur drama. Dad was constantly telling us stories in silly voices when we were kids. It was very entertaining, and he and mum were always very supportive of me wanting to do acting. I picked a ridiculous career, but they're behind me. They just want me to be happy."

Lots of actresses, from Sharon Stone to Halle Berry, have entered beauty contests in their youth en route to their acting careers. Jayne followed suit in 2005, representing Antrim in the Rose of Tralee competition and joining the Musical Theatre 4 Youth troupe.

Since then, she's starred in risque Channel 4 comedy The Inbetweeners and the BBC Northern Ireland drama 6Degrees, as well as doing the occasional bit of musical theatre, including Cinderella in the 2012-13 panto in Belfast.

After Sweeney Todd, she moved to London and met her future husband, Wayne Austin, 10 years her senior, at a birthday party.

She laughs at the suggestion she’s an old married woman now, having got hitched comparatively young at 25.

“Well, my hubby’s 10 years older than me and I knew he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, so I thought ‘Why wait?” she recalls. “No point hanging around — might as well have a party and get married.

“It was something at first sight, but I don’t know about love. We definitely connected across the room, locked eyes and made a beeline for each other.”

Out comes the smartphone camera-roll again. Wayne is bearded with nice eyes. “He has a lovely smile too. He has a kind face, hasn’t he?” she asks fondly.

Jayne would like to start a family sooner rather than later, and she admits that the recent birth of her sister’s baby boy has put her in the notion.

“I’ve been broody since I was 23,” she admits, tugging at a hair extension. “But my career is so unpredictable, I don’t know… it’s hard to plan. I know for most people there’s never really a right time, though.

“We’ve been married for four years now and people do ask (about having children), especially over here!

“It would be a dream to settle back here eventually. I do prefer the pace of life at home and most of my auditions are taped now, so there isn’t the same need to be in London as there was before, and there are so many working actors here now.

“My hubby loves the lifestyle here too and he’d get a job no problem — he’s a smart boy. He works for Barclays and when he talks about his job, it’s like a foreign language. I have to listen to a few key words and I dictate them back to him in a sentence, so it sounds like I know what he’s talking about.”

She’s enjoying playing Cinderella opposite former Pop Idol finalist Gareth Gates — she was a big fan of his as a teenager — and she’s very fond of co-star May McFettridge, also known as John Linehan.

“He’s hilarious all the time and he’s the kindest person,” Jayne says. “I’m going to a drinks party later on that he organises in the Europa every year for cast and crew and pays for himself. It’s such a generous thing to do. He’s a lovely guy. I don’t feel like I’m working at all with him: I’m entertained all day.

“He has amazing blue eyes. It’s like looking into the ocean in a hot country.”

Later on, I run into Linehan with May’s lurid splodges of eyeshadow ruining the effect of his dazzling peepers, and he is equally complimentary about Jayne. “She’s a great girl — she has to jump over a wall at one stage and she really goes for it, hair flying everywhere,” he says. “She really gives it her all.”

Panto is looked down upon in some snooty thespian circles, and it does seem a far cry from a Hollywood production with Johnny Depp. But then again, the current London Palladium production of Cinderella boasts an all-star cast, including Amanda Holden, Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Paul O’Grady. Hardly has-beens.

Jayne dismisses the snobs, describing Cinderella as a “dream job for me”, and pointing out the “magical escapism of panto” and its role in introducing young audiences to musical theatre. She also gets to sing in her role as Cinders.

“I can sing — I think I would have a soprano voice but it’s more Britney Spears style for this,” Jayne says. “People have asked me about doing a recording career, but acting is my passion. I’d love to work in the States, and I’m going out there for auditions in pilot season in the new year.

“I really admire actresses my own age, like Jennifer Lawrence — she’s absolutely incredible — and Anna Kendrick — she sings too, and she’s so talented.

“My problem is I’ve played teenagers for too long. I’d love to play my own age. Characters in their 30s are much more interesting. Because I look so young, it’s hard to find characters I can relate to as I get older.”

So turning 30 next year doesn’t bother her?

“Of course it bothers me — it bothers me massively,” Jayne admits. “It’s not about getting older, it’s just that when you’re young and look ahead to being 30, you think you should have achieved so much by then and have two kids and bla bla bla. But you reach it and you still feel 19 and it’s like, ‘oooops’.”

She has yet to see Kenneth Branagh’s lavish adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella, but she has a hardback version of the fairy tale book that she takes from a bag to show me.

“I’m going to read it to my nephew at Christmas — we’re all going to mum and dad’s house , all except Wayne!” she exclaims, slapping her hands over her eyes at the thought.

“But it wouldn’t be fair to put Doogie on a boat. I love animals so much. I haven’t eaten meat since we got Doogie. I couldn’t.”

I tell her my friend’s ex’s cat came over from Australia in a cage on the airplane. “Really?” she says, wide-eyed. “The only thing is Doogie can’t go outside.” So, what’s she going to do with the mischievous moggy when a baby comes along? “I don’t know,” she admits. “He’d definitely jump up —I’d worry if I had a child in my arms. The cat would have to go on the floor.”

A voice blares from the intercom, announcing house open, and the star of the show hasn’t started tonging her hair yet. “Oh dear, I seem to have talked an awful lot about the cat,” she worries as I take my leave.

I tell her Pixie Geldof was the same about her chihuahua when I met her recently, and she breaks into a radiant smile. A perfect fairytale princess, if ever there was one.

Cinderella is being shown at the Grand Opera House in Belfast until January 15. For more information on the production, visit https://www.goh.co.uk

Favourite Christmas movie?

That's a REALLY hard one! I'm going to have to go with A Muppets Christmas Carol. My brother and sister and I used to watch it every year on Christmas Eve. The music takes me right back to my childhood.

Best Christmas toy you ever received as a child?

When I was young, Santa brought me a Fisherprice beauty salon. It was really amazing! It came with a swivel chair, a wee sink with a dip in it like they have in the hairdressers and on the other side there was a mirror with some pretend lights around it! I am such a girl, I was thrilled! My dad got it for me down from the roof space a few years ago for the banter.

Most special gift received as an adult?

My husband and I got our cat, Doogie, for Christmas five years ago as a kitten. He is my most treasured gift and makes me happy on a daily basis.

Most special Christmas ever?

I actually think this year is going to be one of the most special yet, because I'll get to spend time with my family and my baby nephew. I hope my sister dresses him in something ridiculous like a Santa suit!

Favourite Christmas song?

I think Oh Holy Night is hard to beat, especially when it is sung with beautiful harmonies by a choir - that gives me tingles to the core.

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