With only a few days left in women’s history month, we are taking time to highlight some of the ‘wonder women’ in entertainment. Today, it’s Irish sensation Caroline Morahan. She’s had an extensive career in Ireland, and some very recent and exciting wins here in the states. Including an appearance on ABC’s Once Upon A Time. I flew to LA last week for the exclusive interview that she granted Ace Of Geeks. She told me a little bit about her life long career in entertainment, her love of fantasy characters and costumes, and the fabulous female influences in her life. Most of all, she shared how her decisions shaped her life and put her on the path of her own happy ending.
How did you first get into entertainment?
There have been many phases and different incarnations. But I guess my first professional job was as a teenager on a soap opera in Ireland called Fair Cities, which has been a breeding ground for many different kinds of Irish actors. I have many friends that are still on the show, and their characters still come back. I did that when I was 15, and it was an exciting, but terrifying experience that nearly turned me away from acting for life. In fact, I was away from acting for many years.
Yes. Because my character was 19, but I was 15 playing that role, and going through adolescence. Compound that with all of the insecurities that come along with being that age. Also, my character was a bitch. You know, people watch soap operas and the characters become a part of their lives. The public spends quite a bit of quality time with these characters, often in the privacy of their homes. I mean, they even have their dinner with these characters. It truly is a large part of their lives. So separating the character from the person can be difficult. Cut to me walking down the street in my school uniform (In Ireland, what makes the American Catholic school system unique and identifiable is actually the norm, because you’re in a school uniform and a nun is teaching you). Well, people would drive past and scream abuse out the window at me because of the things my character was doing. I’d be traumatized when this happened, and I was not a fan of the attention. I even had a teacher who had a misconception of me. So, as you can see it turned me off for a long time. My next resurfacing on television was nearly a decade later as a tv host. That was a bit of a change. When I got back into acting, which had always been my first love, it was after I kind of grew up a bit and realized, “You know what? Do what you want to do!” But it was a hard lesson to learn at that age. Especially learning to not associate yourself with what other people say and think of you. It’s something I still need to do better at. haha.
Don’t we all. So, how were your parents back then?
Well, actually that’s an interesting question because I had been in drama school at a very young age and my mum would allow me to go to certain auditions. What I didn’t realize, which she told me on the eve of my signing the contract as a tv host, was that when I was younger, unbeknownst to me I had booked many other roles and she just did not allow me to do them.
Yeah, had no idea.
Did she say why?
She didn’t think it was suitable for a child to be in an adult working environment, being out of school and missing all the things that she would deem as a normal upbringing. Also she was probably worried that I’d turn into a precocious little so and so. On a set a child in pandered to in every direction, and they’ll do whatever the child wants. So she had struggled with that, and eventually sought counsel from my dad and one of her brothers. They supported her decision, and thought she was doing the right thing. I didn’t know about any of this until I was in my early 20s. She told me and I had a mixed reaction to it. I was awestruck by her foresight, and then also thought, “God, I would’ve love to have known I booked those roles!” Because when you’re little you’re thinking, ‘Oh why didn’t they pick me? What’s wrong with me?’ You go through so many different sets of emotions. Anyway, she allowed me to do the soap opera because it was written as a one scene, one day character. Her thoughts were, ‘ok, you’re gonna miss a few days out of school is all. But then they liked the character so I got written into the show long term. In Ireland at that age, people often do what’s called a transition year where you’re not in a traditional school structure for your final year school. She looked at it as a transition year. Then the end of the year came and they offered me a three year contract. It was at that point she put the decision in my hands. I chose to not do it, and instead go back and finish my schooling.
Do you feel like the fact that she held off so many contracts helped to make the decision to continue with school?
Who actually knows what could’ve been different or should’ve been different. I truly have no regrets about how any of that was handled. But yes. My mum instilled in me, and always said that you can do whatever you want to do. Always instilled that in me. She did also say, ‘know that if you choose acting, it’s the hardest life you can choose’…except for dancing. Haha. That’s harder, because guess what? When you go down on your ankle you are off the show. Whereas as an actor, you can age into different roles. Also, unless you’re creating your own work you’re relying on other people and rejection is continuous. So her words of advice were always in my mind, and I think that’s why I wanted to get my full education and not go straight into that world. Not to mention lack of confidence at that age. It wasn’t until I got another taste of acting later in life that I was reminded how much I loved it, and began pursuing it again.
What would you say is the span of your career as a tv host?
TV hosting? Well, I still do hosting. For instance, I went back to Ireland last year to host their academy awards equivalent. Kind of the oscars or Irish film television awards there. So I still do hosting jobs, but I’d say for at least ten years was hosting prime time television regularly.
Back to back?
Yes. I was very lucky. I worked on great shows all the time. I was never twiddling my thumbs, so to speak.
What would you say attributed to your success in that realm?
I think I was lucky. My sister actually got me into tv presenting. She saw this network was looking for a fresh face host. It was such a rare opportunity to have someone who hadn’t been groomed for something walk in and scoop a prime time show. I write as well and contributed to writing many scripts, and I’ve been very involved with every show I’ve done. There was only one where I didn’t really write. I worked with two amazing comedians on a late night comedy chat show and they wrote the scripts with such precision. That was the one show where I wasn’t as involved, but most of the other shows I would contribute and give creative input. Therefore, what you would see would be absolutely authentically 100% me. People know and recognize when someone is faking it, or pretending, or being saccharine, or over enthusiastic when they’re heart’s not in it. Like, one of the shows I did for the longest stints. I did about six seasons of a makeover show, and so I’d be in the trenches with the people getting a makeover. Sometimes it’d be a big thing for them and sometimes it’d be fun ‘dress you up for the day’ thing. But most times it’d be like a therapy because you’re helping somebody change the tracks of their future life. They’d lived a certain way with a certain mindset and they’ve been held back by their own self imposed limitations. That’s deep. It’s not just lipstick and a new haircut. It’s often profound. People would see that I cared about those with whom I was working, and was there in the trenches with them. I think that’s why I’d get other shows because know that I genuinely care. And also having a knack for it. Thinking quick on your feet when things go wrong because that is often the case with live tv.
Like we saw at the oscars.
Oh my God yes!
Flash forward. You’re working as a television presenter in Irelend. Then you come to America. What prompted you to come to America and get into TV here?
It was a complete knee jerk, quick decision. I was winding down on a show I did for a long time, and I wanted a creative change. I went on a trip to LA with my boyfriend at the time, because he invited me. I couldn’t spend more than literally a weekend in LA, but while I was there, I had this pining to get back into acting, because I was exposed to writers, actors, and producers all around. I remember thinking, Wow, here’s a place that I could actually do this and have the space to truly give it a go. Also, doing any kind of acting work you have to be so vulnerable. I didn’t like the idea of being around people who had an idea of who I was and where they’ve seen me. In Ireland there was a lack of anonymity. I wanted privacy to have my own journey, and be able to fall on my face. I guess it seemed like LA was a new place that I could go and try that new chapter. I needed a big change. So we came here, I think it was March or April, and by October we moved. So it was very sudden. I didn’t even believe I was doing it myself. It happened like a lot of things do. Out of nowhere.
How did Once Upon A Time come about?
Well, I’d just signed with this manager and he sent me an audition. It was the very first audition I did with him. He said they were looking for a Scottish queen. I got the breakdown and I was like, Oh my God it’s the Emma Thompson role from Brave. What an amazing character. A beautiful and empowering story for girls and women! I mean, when I watched that cartoon I was balling in tears. It moved me so much. I’m Irish myself, but I have Scottish cousins. So I called my beautiful Scottish cousin Kira and I said, “Can I talk to you and make sure that I’m absolutely authentic with the accent?” I knew that Amy Manson who played my daughter was Scottish so having her ‘thumbs up’ on set would be the true test. I was happy to say that she didn’t realize I wasn’t Scottish until we had finished our day and I spoke to her in my own voice.
I bet that felt great!
Oh yes. That entire experience was wonderful. We had a wonderful director and it was his directorial debut on the show. The episode was beautifully written, and was a big epic two parter with a massive battle scene. it was quite an undertaking for him, but we had a ball. Besides, I am completely into fantasy characters and costumes. So I was a lunatic in the costume department with everyone. haha. I think I was just as enthusiastic as they were because I could see that they were so excited about how excited I was at their exquisite attention to detail in everything. There truly is nothing on Once Upon A Time that isn’t 100% authentic. They are truly historians as well as costumers. Their attention to detail was breathtaking.
That explains why people love it so much. That element of authenticity comes across to the audience.
Absolutely! And of course imagination on top of that, because they also bring in their own twists to things. It’s a beautiful marriage between their imagination and attention to detail. There really is no end to what they can achieve.
Last question. It’s women’s History Month. Who are the women in your life that you feel have most influenced you?
Without question, my mother. I’m very lucky to have the mother I have. She is a sage person and keeps me sane. Also she works in alternative medicine. So whenever I go home it’s almost like visiting a clinic or a spa. Very healing. Also my sister in Ireland who was my manager through my hosting career. She’s my older sister so she always went through everything first then told me what not to do. haha. She blazed a trail for me in every respect. Moving away from them was very hard, but we FaceTime and chat often. I’d definitely say they would be the two big female influences in my life.
Wow. Thank you, Caroline. It really sounds like you made some powerful decisions to take initiative in creating your own happy ending.
You can catch Caroline’s appearance as Queen Elinor in Once Upon A Time season 5, episode 9. You can also watch her in the Irish series Fir Bolg as Mandy Gilbride.