Jayne Wisener: 'Having a baby changes everything'

Actress Jayne Wisener talks to Claire O'Boyle about the joys of parenthood, why she and her husband Wayne are considering setting up home back in Northern Ireland, and her new play Kiss Me, Kate at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast


Actress Jayne Wisener with baby Michael and husband Wayne Austin

Actress Jayne Wisener with baby Michael and husband Wayne Austin

Jayne played Johanna in the film Sweeney Todd

Jayne played Johanna in the film Sweeney Todd

Jayne at the London premiere with co-stars Laura Michelle Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp

Jayne at the London premiere with co-stars Laura Michelle Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp

Jayne with her husband Wayne Austin

Jayne with her husband Wayne Austin

Jayne with mum Margaret and dad John

Jayne with mum Margaret and dad John

Jayne with Kiss Me Kate co-stars Norman Bowman and Melle Stewart

Jayne with Kiss Me Kate co-stars Norman Bowman and Melle Stewart

Actress Jayne Wisener with baby Michael and husband Wayne Austin

She's just a year into motherhood and already actress Jayne Wisener has been hit by 'mummy guilt'. The Northern Irish star, who shot to fame with her role alongside Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, became mum to son Michael in January last year.

And as she prepares to star in a three-week run of Cole Porter's classic Kiss Me, Kate at Belfast's Lyric Theatre, Jayne (32) admits the dreaded mummy guilt has got her.

"Oh yes, big time," she laughs. "I'm feeling a serious amount of guilt coming to the theatre every day for rehearsals.

"Normally I spend every day with Michael, running after him, feeding him, washing bottles, and just hanging out. I was going through pictures the other day and realised I've taken more than 5,000 of him already, in the space of a year.

"Now I'm here every day just being me, the actress, and I almost can't remember what that's supposed to feel like."

Along with little Michael, who celebrated his first birthday earlier this month, Coleraine native Jayne lives in London with her husband, banker Wayne Austin.

Getting home to Northern Ireland for her first extended spell of work since becoming a mum has been a blessing.

"It's been brilliant because my parents have taken Michael for me every day I'm rehearsing," says Jayne. "He loves it, but I'm still feeling terribly emotional about it.

"I've done a couple of small filming things since he was born but that was different because it was quick, intense bits of work rather than long days over an extended period of time. There was one day I didn't see Michael at all last week because I left before he was up and he was already sleeping by the time I got back, so it's been strange.

"But I guess coming to the theatre for me must be the equivalent of returning to work after maternity leave. Every woman goes through it in one way or another and everyone says it gets easier so I'm just trying to enjoy it."

And of course, she says, Michael is having a blast with his grandparents John and Margaret.

"He's so happy," says Jayne. "My mum and dad send me videos of him, and my sister is there with her three kids to see him so he's absolutely fine.

"Doing this with my family on hand is a massive help."

Because, admits Jayne, venturing into motherhood without her family on hand hasn't always been a walk in the park.

"Sometimes it's been quite overwhelming," says Jayne. "I think because I'm in England it can be quite difficult because I'm by myself a lot and my family isn't around.

"I've been very lucky though in that my husband is great, and I've made a lot of mum friends. They've become like a second family to me and we have play dates and we're messaging each other all the time for advice. I couldn't have done it without them, honestly, because I've found it quite hard sometimes.

"Michael's amazing though. He's a very good child and I know I'm so lucky with him. He's an absolute dote. He's funny, he loves to laugh and smile and he just looks like a wee angel with blond hair and blue eyes. He's really like his daddy."

So what about a permanent move home for Jayne and her family - could that be on the cards?

"Well we've definitely talked about it," she says. "The future goal is to eventually live over here. I just think it's a great place to live. London's great to visit but it can be quite stressful, especially with a little one.

"And the appeal of having family nearby is obvious. I think it's invaluable to have your family to call on, even if it's just to say, 'I don't know what I'm doing here'.

"I know we're all winging it really when it comes to parenthood, but if you've got someone a bit more experienced to call on with your family, then they're able to tell you, 'Oh you did that when you were that age', or 'It's just a phase'. That's what I miss."

Jayne says the couple had looked seriously at relocating to Northern Ireland a few of years ago, but then she fell pregnant. "I'd wanted a baby for a long time, and when we found out I was expecting we just thought we couldn't do the two big things at once," she says. "I think we've decided to try to enjoy this part of Michael's childhood and think about moving down the line, although we'd like to do it before school starts so it's not too disruptive.

"Wayne is English but he likes the pace of life over here, and my family and all the people really are great... it's definitely different in England.

"I like where I live at the moment and the community we've managed to build up for ourselves, but there's something about the people at home that makes you feel more like yourself the minute you land at the International Airport."

Jayne has spoken before about her longing to become a mother, and now she is one the actress says it's changed her for the better.

"It completely changes everything," she says. "Absolutely. It's strange because I've always aspired to be a mum, and I didn't realise quite how huge an impact it would have. I honestly don't know what I did with my life before Michael came along.

"It might sound dramatic but I feel like I've completely changed, in the best way possible, and I think before I had him I must have been very self-involved.

"That might just be the way it is for actors a lot of the time. You think about your work, and how you look and what's coming next. But now I don't think about myself most of the time. There's no time.

"Everything is just about him and things I might have considered important before I see now that they're probably just nonsense. I'd have been quite anxious about work, but now when it comes to auditions I'm more worried about really practical stuff like what time it's over at so I can get home again to the baby."

And opening up a little more about the worries she's experienced through the course of her career, Jayne, who also made a stand-out appearance on cult Channel 4 comedy The Inbetweeners, admits she's not always been comfortable in the spotlight.

Spotted by a talent scout aged just 19 as she appeared in West Side Story in Londonderry's Millennium Forum, she was propelled into the world of celebrity without much preparation, with her debut film role as Johanna Barker in Sweeney Todd.

"When I was younger and had a flavour of all that stuff at a higher level, I didn't deal with it very well," says Jayne.

"I was a very shy person and when I spoke to people and did things in the spotlight it felt almost like people were trying to take something from me.

"Even when people locally in Coleraine, where everybody knows everybody, would come up and speak to me I didn't know what to say. I'd really panic and I almost felt like I needed to be a recluse.

"When I moved to England then it was still bad. If people recognised me I'd be so embarrassed and I'd think, please, please don't say you know who I am."

Now she's in her 30s though, with more than a decade's experience under her belt, Jayne is coping better with having a famous face.

"I'm still not 100% comfortable with it," she says. "But it does get easier when you're used to something. My mum friends have said things like, 'Aw was that you in The Inbetweeners?' and I don't feel embarrassed anymore. I'm actually quite proud of it, and all the different jobs I've done. It's a cool thing to do.

"In the past if people asked me what I did I'd feel so embarrassed to say I'm an actor. It sounds silly, and there were so many times I just didn't know what to say. But there comes a point when you just have to get on with it."

She's far from alone in her industry in that regard though, says Jayne. "A lot of us aren't very outgoing," she says. "Honestly. A lot of actors I've worked with are the absolute opposite. They're complete introverts. They're properly shy.

"And it might sound strange, but that was part of the reason I liked being on stage when I was a teenager, because I was shy. I used acting as a way to build up my confidence and if I was saying someone else's words it meant I didn't have to think of what to say for myself.

"It's easier for me now, but it takes getting used to.

"I've grown up a lot over the last 12 years and I'm not the person I was. Now I can walk into a room and chat to anyone like a normal, Northern Irish person - because everyone in Northern Ireland is chatty.

"But I wasn't. In the spotlight, I was awkward and shy because everything happened so quickly and I was only 19. I didn't have a clue how to handle it."

And with her little boy Michael's future now in her mind, Jayne says she hopes he chooses a different career path than she did.

"I'd rather he didn't follow in my footsteps if I'm honest," says Jayne. "It's getting harder and harder, the industry. Everywhere is just saturated because there are so many people doing this type of work and there's less and less available.

"I was very lucky to have a relative level of success so early, but I have had a quiet couple of years which was quite tricky. But the reality is there's a tiny percentage of actors working at any one time and you need a lot of resilience and ambition to keep going.

"I wouldn't want to see my son upset or broken hearted about a role, or to struggle finding work."

Luckily for Jayne though, says the star, she has learned to value herself in ways outside her work.

"I don't really mind my profile going up and down," she says.

"It has never been about the fame for me, it's the acting. But a few years ago I realised that my self-worth doesn't come from outside factors like how successful I am work-wise.

"It's not about what people are saying about me. My value comes from within me and when I was able to find that, it was a really good thing.

"Having a good support network with my family and my husband, for people to really support and encourage me, has been massively important.

"I've got a strong Christian faith, too, and I think more and more people are being open about how important having a spiritual outlet is in helping them be happy.

"Whether that's through meditation or yoga, or a religious faith, learning how to value yourself as a person rather than in what you do or how you look is massively important. It's really helped me find happiness as I get older."

Jayne stars in Kiss Me, Kate at Belfast's Lyric Theatre from February 1-22. Tickets from £12 available now at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or 028 9038 108

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