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This week, Siobhán McSweeney is celebrating her first BAFTA nomination for her performance as the hilariously sarcastic Sister Michael in Derry Girls. You can also catch her in Holding, Acorn TV's four-part drama series based on the debut novel by Graham Norton. She plays Bríd Riordan, a farm-owning Irishwoman who had been due to marry a colorful local man, Tommy Burke, before his disappearance. This brings her into the orbit of PJ Collins (Conleth Hill), a village police officer taking on the case of his life.
You may also know McSweeney from The Great Pottery Throwdown and Extraordinary, but here are some things you probably don't know about her.
1. She was born and raised in Cork, the beautiful Irish county where Holding is set.
For this reason, getting to film there was an especially joyful experience. "I couldn't let this opportunity go, for a variety of reasons. I mean, joint first in the hierarchy of reasons – to go back to Cork. That's where I'm from," she told Digital Spy. "And not only am I from Cork; I'm from very close to that area [where Holding is set]. I never get to work at home hardly. I mean, that's not a complaint. I'm thrilled that I get to work at all, but there's something special about being able to go back to where you're from."
2. Sadly, she broke her leg while shooting the series.
After falling off her bike, McSweeney broke the back of her knee and her left tibia, leaving her with a limp for the remainder of production. "If I told you I did half of it with a broken leg, it’s a testament to the crew," she recalled on The Late Late Show. "So listen, if you’re watching and you get bored – though you won’t – you can play this little game. Siobhán, has she got two legs in this scene or only one? There are scenes, I kid you not, where I’m being filmed from the waist up because there's about three assistant directors holding me. That’s why it’s called Holding."
McSweeney then added, praising the crew once again: "Really, they did an extraordinary job. I couldn't be more grateful."
3. She has lived in London since she was 21, when she moved to the U.K. for drama school.
McSweeney has readily admitted that the scale and pace of London was, initially, a bit of a culture shock. "I liked to think I was a sophisticated woman on my arrival but, truth be told, I'd never been to London before," she told The Times. "Random things would throw me, like the size of the escalators at London Bridge Underground station. The only escalators I'd ever seen were the ones in Cash's department store in Cork. People go so fast on the London ones. How do you jump on? The amount of hand-eye coordination involved."
4. In her student days, she worked as an usher at a West End theater.
However, she wasn't too fond of the show running at the Strand Theatre at the time. "I worked there during the run of a show called Abba Mania, which was what you’d go to see if you couldn’t get tickets for Mamma Mia!," McSweeney told The Times. "They were a cruise ship band who retired to the West End in the winter. Even now, if I hear "Chiquitita," I get a feeling of dread. "Thank You for the Music" always inspires a sense of freedom, however, because it meant the end of the show – and the end of my shift."
5. Her dream role is the Doctor in Doctor Who.
McSweeney, 43, has said she would like to portray the Timelord "when I reach my late fifties." She has already thought about her take on the famous role, describing her potential Doctor as "the kind that is like your neighbor’s mammy and owns a farm."
6. She is making a documentary about Saint Brigid.
Brigid of Kildare – or Saint Brigid – is the patroness saint of Ireland, though sadly she is less well-known globally than Saint Patrick. "Saint Patrick hogs the spotlight but Saint Patrick's Day has evolved into something so gross; it’s just for students to get drunk and throw up on steps," McSweeney told The Observer. "It has nothing to do with Ireland."
McSweeney also said that Saint Brigid is "a great lens through which to look at contemporary Ireland" because she "became a figurehead for Repeal the Eighth," the successful campaign to legalize abortion there in 2018. "Without sounding woo-woo, I do think a feminine spirit has finally come back to Ireland," she added. "We've thrown out the dour masculine authority of the church and patriarchal amendments to our constitution."
7. She describes The Great Pottery Throwdown as a "punk" show.
McSweeney has presented the hit reality series – kind of like The Great British Baking Show, but for amateur potters instead of home cooks – since 2021. "Nice can be radical," she told London's Evening Standard. "Being mean is over – it's very easy, it's very basic, and it's had its moment. Being nice is not to be confused with being vapid, or not having an edge, or not being intelligent. That show is a deeply, deeply nice show, and I think that's incredibly radical and punk."
8. However, she had a bit of a torrid time on The Great British Baking Show.
McSweeney competed in a special charity episode featuring the Derry Girls cast. As she later recalled on The Graham Norton Show, her sponge-making skills weren't quite as stellar as she might have liked.
9. She definitely doesn't think actors should be told to keep their political opinions to themselves.
Like her Derry Girls co-star Nicola Coughlan, McSweeney was a vocal supporter of the Repeal the Eighth campaign. "Do you think that I don’t have an opinion about the outside world, I don't have any sort of an ideology?" she told The Independent. "Why is it OK for a teacher to be political, or a shopkeeper to be political, but not for an actor to be political? It’s a way of shutting us up."
10. And finally, she has a dreamy-sounding way of spending her downtime.
Namely, doing embroidery while watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote. Asked why she really loves this particular show, McSweeney told The Times: "Angela Lansbury in the lead role! She got in all her old Broadway mates who were in their sixties. They all wore appalling wigs, and the women played femme fatales, murderers, presidents of banks, and vineyard owners. Give me the equivalent now?”
Have you watched Siobhán McSweeney in Holding yet?