I’d just like to kick-off with a disclaimer here and say that, as the Rapid Sessions progress, I’m unlikely to know every person I’ve managed to body slam into answering these sometimes deeply personal questions. But I do know Justine from birth.
It’s hard to put a shape on our relationship, other than to say that I was Baldrick to her Blackadder, Igor to her Frankenstein, Donkey to her Shrek; until I zipped her into a nylon suitcase and hooshed her down a steep flight of stairs in the mid eighties. There was a palpable frosting of relations after that, crystallised by her move to Hong Kong. We’re back on track now though and have been for about twenty years. So much so, in fact, that we are now writing a YA novel together. Justine is not only the smartest person I know, she is also very, extremely funny and freakishly wise.
Having studied Drama and Theatre at Trinity college, Justine went on to the now defunct Webber Douglas school of acting in London. She has worked for the past twenty years in British and Irish theatre, co-wrote and performed in the RTE sketch show ‘Your Bad Self’ and is currently in the middle of writing a novel (with me!), a sitcom and a play. She was winner of the Irish Times Best Supporting Actress in 2002 and bagged the U.K. Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2015.
Here follows her gold.
OR: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
JM: An actress in the musical Annie – preferably the one who played the eponymous role – but any one of the anonymous orphans would have been freakin’ magical.
OR: What or who were you most influenced by in your mid to late teens?
JM: Music. Movies. The kids who smoked at the back of the bus.
OR: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an actor and/or writer?
JM: Oh God – far too early on. It’s only very recently that I stopped taking myself seriously and threw some of that energy at the actual work.
OR: Did you have a mentor or someone who championed you along the way?
JM: Loads. Drama teachers, English teachers, certain directors, casting directors, writers etc – it takes a village.
OR: How do people react when you tell them what you do
JM: At home – not well. My dog just tells me to fuck off. Mostly people just ask if I’ve been on the telly.
OR: In terms of how you work, what is your craft/graft/ instinct ratio?
JM: 10% instinct. 90% hard work.
OR: Do you believe in writer’s/ creative block?
JM: Yes. In my case stage fright and writer’s block are linked. Both related to the delicate eco system inside my head being invaded by a shit storm of bullies, narcissists and neg-addicts. Kindness helps.
OR: What do you love most about your job?
JM: That it changes my mind.
OR: What do you find most challenging?
JM: Sometimes getting out of my own way feels impossible.
OR: What is your super power?
JM: Ignoring shit.
OR: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken, personal or professional?
JM: Saying no to stuff that is lucrative in the short time but potentially creatively uninspiring.
OR: What’s your biggest fail – professional or otherwise – and what did you learn?
There has been so much failure and rejection. To name one would feel like betraying all the others. Best advice: feel all the feelings – the pity, the jealousy, the sadness – then do it all over again like the beautiful masochist that you are. There is gold in them there failures – big and small. And no straight lines in nature. We are programmed to believe that a successful career trajectory goes in a priapic straight line. That’s just not true. Especially for women. Follow your own lead. Keep on failing. You’ll fail betterer each time – to mangle the master, Mr Beckett.
OR: What is your relationship with time and ‘time management’?
JM: I think that frittering it away can sometimes be just as important as ‘diarising’ the jaysus out of every minute.
OR: What experience has most shaped who you are today?
JM: Psychotherapy. And seeing Annie at the Gaiety Theatre in 1982.
OR: What would you say to an 18 year old now, hoping to trace your career?
JM: Listen to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Stop drinking until you fall over.
Justine is about to open in ‘Bodies’ by Vivienne Franzmann at the Royal Court Upstairs and starts rehearsals for ‘Beginning’ by David Eldridge for the National Theatre at the end of August.