A “Downton” Villain Takes a Cheerier Role

Maria Doyle Kennedy, last seen as Mr. Bates’s scheming former wife, talks about her new series, “Orphan Black”

by Barbara Kantrowitz

She’s best-known for playing forlorn and bitter wives—Henry VIII’s rejected first queen, Catherine of Aragon, in The Tudors and the abandoned first Mrs. Bates on Downton Abbey. But happily, Maria Doyle Kennedy’s personal life has taken no such dark turns: A mother of four sons, she’s been married for nearly 25 years to musician Kieran Kennedy. But the Irish actress is husband-free in her new project, BBC America’s 10-part miniseries Orphan Black (debuting March 30 at 9 PM ET).
MORE: Your character, Mrs. S, is the foster mother of the main character, Sarah (played by Tatiana Maslany). How would you describe Mrs. S?
Maria Doyle Kennedy:
She’s tough. It comes from a life of learning to live with the indignities of the system.

More: But not mean?
She has a very strong moral compass.

More: What is her relationship with Sarah?
It’s quite strained.…They’re very alike, both rebellious and stubborn, both quite anarchic.

More: Playing a good character is a departure from some of your recent roles. Would you still go for playing someone bad?
Yes—it’s so much fun to be bad without the real life consequences of your actions.

More: This is filmed in Toronto and you live in Dublin. How do you like the city?
I have fallen in love with Toronto. I’m having a great time.

More: When you played Catherine of Aragon, who was from Spain, you fell in love with Spain, too, and even moved your family there. Was the Spanish you learned for The Tudors helpful when you lived there?
No [the Spanish I learned] was all about the Cardinal and his spies.

More: Catherine wasn’t happily married—Henry VIII eventually divorced her—and neither was Downton’s Vera Bates, who took spectacular revenge on her husband by setting him up for her murder. Catherine was a victim but Vera seems like she was just mean.
At one stage, they [Vera and John] were very passionate....I hate it when people are only one dimension. We all have bits of bad and bits of good, bits of jealousy and compassion. We can be made from contradictory bits.

More: Those roles must be the most challenging to play.
I like people who are interesting, who are complex.

More: Downton has an amazing cast.
Yes, it was a great thrill to be at a table read with Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton.

More: How does doing a TV miniseries compare to doing a movie?
Good TV is fantastic. Certainly the best parts for women over 40 are on TV. Edie Falco is my absolute heroine.

More: You’re also a musician. What do you like better—acting or music?
Acting is another way to tell a story.  I like the energy of being part of a collaborative group—finding a way to interpret someone else’s words—but I don’t miss acting when I’m not doing it.

More: And music? You write with your husband.
It’s an expression of how we see the world. If I didn’t have to be recording or performing, I would still be singing.

Next: Downton Abbey Season 3: Available (Early!) on DVD

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First Published Tue, 2013-03-12 11:01

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