- Film & TV
- 16 May 23
Danielle Galligan discusses her role in gripping new Irish drama Lakelands, as well as her work on Netflix fantasy hit Shadow And Bone.
After her TV debut in a small role on Game Of Thrones, actress Danielle Galligan has stepped into the spotlight with Netflix’s fantasy epic Shadow And Bone, season two of which is currently streaming. But this month is all about quiet Irish dramas. She appears in a small role in queer coming-of-age story Who We Love, and also gives an IFTA-nominated performance in Lakelands, the quietly devastating film from Patrick McGivney and Robert Higgins.
In the stunning, Longford-set drama, Éanna Hardwicke (Normal People, Fate: The Winx Saga) plays Cian, a GAA player who helps his taciturn father run the family farm. A star within the small community, Cian’s life is upturned when he gets a bad concussion, endangering his sports career and ability to run the farm.
As he struggles with the severity of his injury and the loss of identity that comes with it, an old flame Grace (Galligan) returns home for a visit. The quiet connection between them leads to questions of what it means to belong and have a life path – and what happens when you’re knocked off it.
“I read the script, and I kind of stopped for a second and stared at the window,” says Gilligan, sitting in Dublin’s Brooks Hotel and looking stylish in a fringed leather jacket. “I thought it was so beautiful non-conforming. It doesn’t go for any big dramatic beats, which are so much of what we see today with all the blockbusters and Harry Potter remakes.
“So in the middle of all of that noise to get this meditative, emotional, almost delicate story, it’s really special. Everyone will get something different from it, and different layers will come to the top, depending on what kind of person you are and where you’re at in your life.”
Galligan plays Grace, a nurse working in London who returns home to take care of her sick father. While visiting, she reconnects with Cian, and the pair unearth the kind of connection you can only share with someone you’ve known your whole life. Galligan understands this draw well; having lived in London for a year-and-a-half to work, she recently moved home, needing to be closer to family.
“It was nice,” she says of living abroad. “It was good. I’m glad I did it. But I’m just too much of a homebird. There is a very specific part of your personality or identity that is activated around your family. So that’s another thing I really related to with Grace, because you come home and everything is the same, but everything is different in a way. Relationships move on and you’re trying to find how you fit in, because you’re growing and changing.
“Once you move away, you grow at a pretty rapid rate, because you’re in this new environment and it’s sink or swim. What I love about Cian and Grace is that they allow for both sides of the argument – he loves his hometown and being a farmer, and Grace is there saying, ‘Yeah, but there’s so much more.’ She didn’t ever feel that sense of belonging and went away to find it. When she comes back, she is put back into that traditional kind of role of a woman, as a caregiver and daughter, and she struggles with it.”
It’s not the first time Galligan has played a smart, strong woman – indeed, in Shadow And Bone, she plays the much-loved Nina Zenik. The show is based on the YA book series by Leigh Bardugo and depicts a war-torn, magical world.
Some humans called ‘Grisha’ have the ability to manipulate the elements, and Nina is a powerful ‘Heartrender’, with the ability to damage someone’s internal organs.
Scrappy, smart, loving and determined, Nina has a lot of the qualities that Galligan naturally exudes – though the actress still had some trepidation about taking on such a beloved character.
“Yeah, it was terrifying, I’m not gonna lie!” she laughs. “I felt a lot of pressure. When the role came up, I had two days to prep, so I didn’t have time to read all the books. But I read the character description and thought, ‘Wow, this is a real woman, so brilliant and strong and interesting.’
“I looked her up online and there’s just a wealth of fan art, all these different interpretations, which was amazing but also scary – you know how important she is to fans, and how they see her in their heads. I remember having the stories I read growing up and seeing them turned into films and being disappointed – or thinking, ‘Oh, that’s exactly how I saw it!’ So I just tried to cut myself some slack and say, ‘You’re not gonna be able to please anyone.’”
Galligan catches herself and cackles. “I meant ‘everyone’! You’re not going to be able to please everyone! Oh, Freudian slip!”
The slip might have come from some of the controversy that swirled around her casting. In the books, Nina is described as a plus-size woman and understandably became very important to many female fans. Galligan’s body – which she describes as mid-size rather than plus-size - became the subject of analysis, and a flashpoint for a much bigger conversation about plus-size representation onscreen. She admits it was a strange and difficult experience to have her body discussed so much, but was grateful that the conversation was happening.
“It’s obviously hard to have people talk about your body, but the conversation was a bit of a wake-up call to what I thought I understood,” she reflects. “I had so much more yet to understand about what it meant to be plus-size and the importance of that representation. It’s an education and all you can do is just listen and take it on. But yeah, I had moments of thinking, ‘Oh, they should have cast someone else’, because plus-size women are crying out for representation.
“And I myself get angry when there’s a new show coming out and there’s a line of six girls and not one of them can be a funny, sexy, lead character – and be plus-size, too. So it is important to talk about. It’s a much wider issue that cannot be solved with one show or one character. It needs to shift everywhere. And Nina Zenik has helped me so much with my own body image, seeing how much she is loved and what a great character she is. So hopefully the conversation continues.”
nina zenik impresses me more and more every day pic.twitter.com/J8TNyR72tC
— Shadow And Bone (@shadowandbone_) March 23, 2023
Galligan hasn’t yet heard about season three of Shadow And Bone, but is hoping to appear again.
“Nina has more to say! I just feel she has more to do and more to show of herself, and I really want to see that arc completed in a way that does her and the fans proud.”
For now, the actress is settling back into life in Dublin. Coming home from London was important to Galligan, even though she recognises the many societal problems Ireland needs to address.
“The cost of living crisis, the housing crisis, Direct Provision – it’s all really hard for everyone right now,” she notes. “It’s really great to live here because of the people ultimately, but it is hard. My boyfriend and I just moved, so I have very recent, first-hand experience of the housing crisis, and how awful and greedy it is. But I still just love Ireland, my friends, the vibrancy of the arts scene.
“I was asked in an interview recently about the actors that inspire me, and people expect you to say Cate Blanchett or whatever. But I always say my friends. This industry is so hard to exist in, so to see my friends grafting and not getting the job, and moving on and getting a better one – that, to me, is the most inspirational kind of environment you can be in.”
But while Ireland prides itself on art and culture, it often does little to support the sector, which Galligan wishes to see change.
“It’s really tough out there,” she says. “The fact that we’ve only had the basic artists’ income in the past few years, when other European countries have had it for several years, is a joke. And I think they should have done more done to support the arts during Covid, because what did everyone do while they were in lockdown? They read books, they listened to music, they watched movies and shows and animation.
“Artists do a lot to make people feel some sense of normality or escapism, or give them an opportunity to forget their current situation. I don’t think that was reflected in how we were supported. Like, I know artists aren’t heart surgeons or frontline workers, we’re not out here saving lives – but art saves souls, you know?”
• Lakelands is in cinemas now.
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