The Fall's Valene Kane: 'I'm the first person Spector tried to strangle so we have a special connection'
The Newry-born actress talks about being attacked by a serial killer in the hit TV drama
Valene Kane is surrounded by devastatingly handsome men these days. Not only does the Newry-born actress (28) have Jamie Dornan as her ex in the upcoming series of The Fall, she is engaged to the equally attractive Ed Cooper Clarke - Lord Merton's son, Timothy Grey, in Downton Abbey.
The pair fell for each other while acting in the touring production of RB Sheridan's play The Rivals, a long-running comedy of manners.
"We played lovers - yes, it's the old cliche!" she says. "I fell in love very reluctantly, he's not my type at all. He's very, very English and very polite and lovely - not Irish in any way, whereas my dad is really Alpha, a former Gaelic footballer. You know, the strong man who doesn't talk about his feelings. That's the type I went for before."
So how did the posh English lad win her over?
"I don't know, his charm maybe! He's incredibly charming and very intelligent - smarter than me. And he's incredibly handsome, like a model."
They make a striking couple in a nonchalant portrait by photographer Phil Sharp (check out Ed's online Tumblr page), both young, dark and angular. It's six years since they met and they live together in London, Valene's home since she left the strict Sacred Heart grammar school in Newry at 18, to study drama.
Her eldest sister Toni works as a banker in London, and filming both The Fall and the current Troubles thriller, 71, have given her plenty of time to see her other sister Liz (36), a Newry primary school teacher, her brother John (40), a Belfast-based sports psychologist, and her parents Geraldine and Val, as in Valentine - a former Down GAA star player.
"I'm the only one of the family in the business - I was into plays at festivals since I was five and went to the Annmarie Morgan School of Dance," she recalls, down the line from London. "I didn't have a pushy mum or anything - I pushed myself all the way growing up. And I was always weird and geeky at school. Not cool at all."
A summer with the National Theatre in London at 15 sealed the acting deal for the teenager. After her training at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, she went into theatre and began experimenting with improvised short films, which she uploaded to YouTube. One of these grabbed the attention of Irish director Ivan Kavanagh, who cast her in the leading role in his moving film The Fading Light, which won the 2010 Irish Film Festival.
"I found it really hard to let go of that story, about a woman whose mother is dying," she admits, Newry inflections creeping back into her voice. "The thought of the mortality of my parents in general - bringing that to the fore was quite emotional for me.
"Because I wasn't seeing them so much then, thinking about the death of one of them was really hard to deal with. I think that's what was really holding me during that month of filming. Some scenes that we shot were horrific and stayed with me for days."
In the same year Valene won the sought-after role of Girleen in Martin McDonagh's play, The Lonesome West, attracting favourable reviews. "Valene Kane gives Girleen a schoolgirl reality, her confident swagger and challenge covering the only genuine feelings for anyone else that the play possesses", wrote one impressed reviewer.
Then came The Fall. With her long dark hair, pale skin, slim build and pretty face, Valene, as Rose Stagg in the drama series, is exactly killer Phil Spector's type - and the opposite of his tall, curvy blonde wife, played by Bronagh Waugh. She first appeared briefly in series one when the icy investigator played by Gillian Anderson calls her in for questioning. Her role has subsequently developed into something meatier for series two.
"I'm the first person Spector tried to strangle and he has a special connection with me," she explains. "It's a harrowing role - the material is quite dark and there are some juicy developments, but I really can't say what they are. I saw the first episode in a private screening in London the other day - it's super nerve-wracking and exciting."
So did she swoon at former supermodel Dornan's feet when she first met him?
"No - he's super ugly in real life," she dead-pans. "No, really, he's stunning, incredible looking. And he's a nice family man, not big-headed at all. I've met his wife Amelia and the baby, she's a beauty. I was more nervous meeting Gillian but she's really warm and giving; she's the most amazing actress."
It was Valene's film and TV work led to a part opposite Richard Dormer in the big-screen Troubles thriller 71, currently doing big business at the box office. Like most actors, she's a bit secretive about her current projects but according to her IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) page, she is filming Frankenstein with Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, as well as The Hoarder with Mischa Barton.
Both are set to be released in 2015. She obviously doesn't need her fiance to put a word in for her with the makers of Downton Abbey, or anything else coveted by the current crop of young actresses.
"Downton's not my vibe at all!" she laughs. "I'm also doing something very, very cool and exciting for the BBC, which should be on next year."
Evidently, 2015 will also be the year she'll tie the knot with Ed, after half-a-dozen years together. But there's no point in looking forward to star-studded ceremony on these shores.
"We're getting married on the Isle of Wight - Ed has family there - and no, I'm not telling you how he proposed! That's far too personal."
With that, the English PR girl butts in to cut me off. But if Valene and Ed continue on their starry path, it might not be long before we're reading all about them in Hello or OK - proposal, wedding the lot.
- The Fall returns to BBC2 in mid-November
Why fiance is a class act, too
- London-born Ed Cooper Clarke graduated from London's Drama Centre in 2009 and secured his first role on TV as a scientist on BBC's Spooks
- More recently, he played Mark Hooper, a slightly unhinged crypto-zoologist, in ITV's Whitechapel
- Clarke is also known for his role as Captain Fitzroy in the Theatre Royal Bath production of The Madness of George III, which ran in London's West End in early 2012,having toured the UK during 2011
The women in his sights
- Valene's character Rose Stagg in The Fall is one of an increasing line of pretty brunettes in Phil Spector's murderous world.
- West Belfast's Karen Hassan (33) plays accountant Annie Brawley, who survived strangulation by the fetching psycho at the end of series one. But will she be sufficiently compos-mentis to identify her attacker in series two?
- Laura Donnelly (32), from north Belfast, played solicitor Sarah Kay, who was stalked by Spector before being throttled slowly (Spector has a weak hand) in series one.
- Dublin actress Aisling Franciosi (21) plays the annoyingly coquettish Katie, a 15-year-old girl who babysits Spector's children.
- Another Belfast actress, Seainin Brennan, plays Liz Tyler, a woman counselled by Spector, in his unlikely day-job, after the death of her son. Seainin reappears in series two - but will she become a target for her creepy counsellor?