Cathy Belton has excelled at playing a a slightly scary TV character in the form of Red Rock’s Patricia Hennessy so one could be forgiven for thinking the Galway woman might resemble the ice-queen in real life. However the charming, softly spoken, actress could not be more different to the villainous Hennessy matriarch.
Ms Belton, who hails from Renmore, has mixed it with the best while enjoying a stellar career in theatre and film. She played the role of Sister Claire in Oscar-nominated feature film Philomena and recently appeared in Alison Deegan's movie A Little Chaos, alongside none other than Kate Winslet.
However it is the role in TV3’s new home grown drama that has really seen the actress enter the public’s conscious. The twice-weekly soap which first aired in January has impressed critics due to its witty dialogue and quality shooting.
For those who have not become enthralled with Ireland’s latest soap, the programme centres around the comings and goings at Red Rock Garda station and the ongoing feud between the Hennessy and Kiely families.
Patricia is the head of the Hennessy family following the death of her husband Jack. She's a ruthless character and a woman who gets her way, in business and in life.
Cathy Belton says she is immensely enjoying playing such a strong, fiery, role. “I am loving it, I think she is a great character, you never know from one week to the next what Patricia is going to be up to. There is a dark side to her and she is very controlled. It is interesting to play a part like this, she is not like any character I have played before. I am really enjoying it, and I have become quite attached to her, it is a luxury to play a character for a certain length of time as you tend to grow and evolve with her. You get to know the character better.”
So are there any similarities between the actress and the feisty Patricia? She says family loyalty is something which is also hugely important to her, but you sense that her acting prowess is so immense that the similarities are few and far between. She does have one wish though; “That I had more of her neck..her gumption!”
Red Rock, which is filmed in the old John Player cigarette factory in Dublin 8, has a core cast of 14. This is a relatively small number for a programme which airs twice weekly, meaning that shooting schedules tend to be hectic, depending on the storyline.
The writing team is led by Peter McKenna who previously worked on Eastenders and Holby City and the actress says after being suitably impressed by the quality of the scripts she could not turn down what has turned out to be an extremely juicy role. “When I read it, I thought the writing was of such high calibre that I couldn’t say no to it. Peter McKenna came up with the whole idea and there is a wonderful group of writers working with him and it gives me great faith in the future of Irish television writing. There is a lot of great talent out there. Lines are easier to learn when they are written well.”
The reaction to the show is described as ‘incredible’. TV3 reports extremely healthy viewership figures with the soap having built its audience to become one of the channel’s most watched programmes, second only to the UEFA Champions League coverage. The actress says it gives her great pleasure when people walk up to her on the street and say how much they are enjoying the show.
The actress, who is based between Dublin and London, is extremely proud of her Galway roots. She cites growing up in such an arty city as the main grounds for being enticed towards a life of thespianism. Her mother Anna and a large extended family still reside in Renmore and she returns home as regularly as her busy schedule permits. It is clear that she is very passionate about her birthplace. “Galway will always, always be home. It was a wonderful place to grow up in. The reason I am an actress is because I’m from Galway, I really don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing today if I was born somewhere else. I was exposed to drama so early on through local pantomimes and variety shows in Renmore along with Druid and the extraordinary Galway Arts Festival. It is a great city, there is so much going on there, the buzz about the place is amazing. To have consistently kept that buzz going over the years is an immense achievement. I am in awe of the city really. Galway is a huge part of me and always will be.”
So how does one make the transition from the streets of Galway to become a highly respected film actress and theatrical stalwart? As a youngster, Ms Belton was sent to drama classes because she was quite shy as a child. This planted the seed and the acting bug was firmly contracted. “I had a brilliant drama teacher named Rebecca Bartlett and she is another one of the major reasons I am where I am today. She was such an inspiring teacher and really nurtured and supported me on the journey. When Driud started up we would go to plays. My parents were not huge theatre-goers but everybody in Galway went to Druid. One of the first shows I went to was Conversations of a Homecoming by Tom Murphy. I thought it was amazing, I couldn’t believe how you could go to a theatre, buy a ticket and be transported to another world. I just decided, I want to do that.’’
She went on to complete a degree in Drama and English in Trinity and following on from that it was fitting her first big break in theatre was to be a part in Home is the Hero by Galway playwright Walter Macken. Druid co-founder Garry Hynes then cast her in A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant in the famed Abbey Theatre. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The future is certainly very bright for the affable actress. Along with a starring role in the ever more popular Red Rock, she is excited about the release of A Little Chaos, a period drama directed by award-winning actor Alan Rickman. The film sees her treading the boards with former Oscar winner Kate Winslet who is described as an inspiration. “It is a beautiful film set in Versailles. It is a love story with an incredible cast including Alan Rickman himself and Stanly Tucci. I have a small part and all my scenes are opposite Kate. We had a lot of rehearsals together and got to know each other quite well. It was an absolute joy to work with her, she works so hard, and is great fun. I always find the bigger the stars, the nicer they are.”
The summer will see the Galway woman making a return to her spiritual home on stage. She is unable to reveal any further details, as yet, but it is a ‘major role’ and without divulging anything, you get the sense her next play could be set for a run in her beloved Galway. Cathy Belton is certainly a truly fantastic ambassador for her homeplace.
+A Little Chaos goes on general release next week
+Red Rock airs every Wednesday and Thursday on TV3 at 8.30pm.