Winner of the Best Actress award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, Eileen Walsh is an Irish actress known largely for stage work and an Irish TV show, Pure Mule. But her new movie Eden, which won her the award at Tribeca and opens today, has already introduced her to American audiences with her tender, heartbreaking performance as Breda, an ignored and lonely wife. The martial drama started as a play performed in Dublin, and Walsh knew the director, screenwriter, and her co-star Aidan Kelly, all of which went into making Eden the emotional experience it is. Having traveled again to New York while five months pregnant, Walsh talked to me about getting into her lonely character, and the grand experience of making the movie with who she calls "the boys."
Were you in New York when the film was at the Tribeca Film Festival?
I was here for three days. My birthday is in late April, so I got to be here for my birthday.
And you won the award too!
I wasn't here for the award. I didn't even know i was nominated, so I didn't feel I was missing out on anything. Until the phone call came.
Did that come as a surprise?
When I got home, I got up the next morning and there were 18 missed calls from the boys. And suddenly my house phone rang, and I picked it up, and it was 'Hi, you're live on air on Irish Radio! Congratulations!' I'm standing here in my slippers, can you tell me what's happened? It was great. The excitement was lovely.
This is a very universal story, but it seems to have parts that are particularly Irish? What do you think it says specifically about relationships in Ireland?
In my opinion, the fact that divorce isn't so readily available in Ireland. It's available, but it's difficult. You kind of have to work things through a little bit more. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, it's tricky. Other than that, I think it's not necessarily a sole Irish problem. It's kind of everybody in a relationship worldwide.
Your sister played the role of Breda in the stage play, and you knew Declan [Recks, the director] and Eugene [O'Brien, the screenwriter] beforehand. So how did that lead to you getting the role?
I got an e-mail saying we'd like to see you for Eden. And I thought, 'Catherine had never mentioned it before. Does she know?' So I replied back, absolutely not. I didn't want to break her heart. Then she phoned me almost immediately, 'I've spoken to the producers, they're going to go younger. You'd better get it.' She was fantastic.
Did it surprise you that this would even be a movie, given how spare the play is?
i know, but the story is great. And even bigger names who had seen the play, were interested in this, because it's a great character part, both male and female.
Did you talk to your sister at all about the part?
Because I had seen what she had done--we have such similarities between us, that I could see. I think after I had gotten the part, we didn't really discuss it, because I didn't want to be rubbing salt in any wounds, just in case. And I also wanted to put my own stamp on it.
And have you talked about it since the movie came out?
Well, she's seen it. We watched it together for the first time. And she's very supportive. We're both theater animals as well, so we understand how it works. These opportunities don't come around all the time. So she's very understanding. She's my best friend. It's very rare that you get another actor you can talk to, and not feel like they're jealous.
How is the transition between doing plays, television, and a movie.
It's interesting, because I met Aidan-- the guy who played my husband-- on the play that I was doing. So we finished that on Saturday, then traveled on a Sunday, and were actually filming as a married couple on Monday. But actually it was brilliant, because we were way ahead of the process on our relationship front. We could start by ignoring each other. There was no need to try and impress each other or anything like that. Because of all the theater study that I did, anything that I've learned film-wise I've had to pick up along the way. I love that, the learning your trade. the difference is that with film you can be so intimate. There is so much freedom in that.
How did you get into Breda's shut-away personality, and did you find yourself feeling like she did?
Absolutely, but I think anybody in a long-term relationship goes through periods anyway where you don't feel like the prettiest girl in the room, and you don't necessarily feel like your husband is paying enough attention.
Are you heading in any specific direction with your career, or are you mostly taking whatever comes along?
It's more like taking whatever comes along, in the sense that thankfully the level of things that I'm being offered has taken a step up. It's not like you're taking any old rubbish that comes your way. Things are being discussed that I wouldn't have been offered a year ago.
How do you want people to feel when they come out of this movie?
I think already people are reacting far more than I could have imagined. The reaction that we're getting is just so great. People are coming out seeing their own relationships mirrored so much.
Do you feel like the older you get, the better roles you're offered?
I think I'm at a great age now. There's a huge window of opportunity now. Hopefully by the time I reach my mid-40s and 50s, because of the fantastic Meryl Streep and those levels of actresses, by the time I get there there should be more scripts available.
Is there a worry of hitting 40 and having roles dry up?
Of course there is. but any actresses that I completely admire always have theater CVs. And if you have a theater background, you're going to have an extended career.