Wonderland.

LEAH MCNAMARA

The actor talks her lead role in Danny Boy and life after Normal People.

Leah McNamara Floral Pants And White Shirt Hand On Face

All clothing LOUIS VUITTON earrings ALIGHIERI

Leah McNamara Floral Pants And White Shirt Hand On Face
All clothing LOUIS VUITTON earrings ALIGHIERI

For Leah McNamara, gratitude is everything. Growing up in Limerick, isolated from the creative industries’ main hubs, the Irish actor had to fight for her chance to shine. “I’m just really appreciative of the opportunities when they come, because I understand how many people would love to be doing this,” she shares. Throughout our interview, she humbly name-checks almost everyone who has helped her get to where she is today – from casting directors to family members. And now, McNamara’s efforts are undoubtedly paying off.

Despite impressive performances in The BBC’s Dublin Murders and History’s Vikings, McNamara is perhaps most recognisable for her portrayal of Rachel in 2020’s most talked-about show: Normal People. A fan of the Sally Rooney book herself, the actor admits it was a dream to be involved. Touched by its unexpected, cult-like status, she believes its success was all about timing. “It came out right at the beginning of lockdown, when people were confined to their homes for the first time,” she explains. “It was a really challenging period, so it was great people could put something on that took them away from that.”

Leah McNamara Red And White Highneck Dress
Leah McNamara checkered suit arms out

(LEFT) All clothing GUCCI
(RIGHT) All clothing VICTORIA BECKHAM shoes WANDLER

Leah McNamara Red And White Highneck Dress
All clothing GUCCI
Leah McNamara checkered suit arms out
All clothing VICTORIA BECKHAM shoes WANDLER

The impressive role saw the rising star working alongside some of the industry’s newest breakouts: Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. Her co-stars, she explains, are what made the experience even more special. “We were all the same age and at early stages in our careers, so we had so much fun.” In particular, the close bonds she formed on set with Edgar-Jones, Meadhbh Maxwell (who played Lisa) and Niamh Lynch (Karen) were especially meaningful. McNamara humorously credits the girls for introducing her to reality TV show Love Island. “We used to go to each other’s rooms with snacks and just watch it on a laptop with sweets all over the bed,” she says. Despite the fond memories, she doesn’t see herself repeating the experience this year without her friends to watch it with.

From Dublin Murders to Normal People, McNamara’s Irish heritage is something she hasn’t shied away from when considering the roles she plays. She emphasises how proud she is of where she grew up, but how hard it was to pry open acting’s metaphorical door and kickstart her career. “In Ireland we don’t really have that creative outlet [within school] so you really have to fight for that stuff yourself outside of lessons.” Despite having no agent or plans, and being turned down from all the main drama schools in the UK, Leah eventually risked the move to London as she saw more opportunities there. “I thought that going to drama school was the only way I could break into professional acting, so to get to the final round so many times and never secure a place was so disappointing. I think it was a good lesson to have early on about the importance of having a thick skin in the industry. Also to know that there is no one “right” way into this thing, everyone’s path is so different. These initial obstacles, she explains, have made her recent successes feel even sweeter.

In fact, McNamara’s career highlight was unexpectedly booking Dublin Murders – her first job after moving to England. “It was such a great role after a kind of slog in those early days in London,” she says. “I was living in a flat in Hackney, it was hard paying rent and doing other jobs… [while] also doing so many auditions and taping for so many things.” McNamara has since got many more of those – less surprising – phone calls, but she still speaks about each job with as much excitement as the first. It doesn’t seem in her nature to be complacent.

Leah McNamara Floral Pants And White Shirt
Leah McNamara White Shirt Black Belt

(LEFT) All clothing LOUIS VUITTON earrings ALIGHIERI
(RIGHT) All clothing FENDI shoes NEOUS

Leah McNamara Floral Pants And White Shirt
All clothing LOUIS VUITTON earrings ALIGHIERI
Leah McNamara White Shirt Black Belt
All clothing FENDI shoes NEOUS

The actors’ latest job sees her return to The BBC for a lead role alongside Anthony Boyle and Toby Jones in Danny Boy, a biographical film directed by I May Destroy You’s Sam Miller and based on the life of war veteran, Brian Wood. The film largely explores the uncertainty and moral conflict that surrounded the infamous Al-Sweady Inquiry in the late 00s. “When I got the script, I thought it was great. I find it so interesting that it’s a story about real people,” she explains. Playing Brian Wood’s wife, Leah was thrust into a hard-hitting and thought-provoking role that is sure to touch many people. “I hope people will be able to empathise with everyone in it,” she says of the drama.

When she’s not acting, McNamara tells me she’s into sustainable fashion. She divulges how her close friend runs an online vintage store Second.Soul (where she regularly shops) and how she loves fashion designer Freya Simonne, who upcycles textiles for her designs. Thanks to lockdown, she has also recently got back into reading. However, travel always remains her first love. “I want to be everywhere; anywhere that you can think of, I’d like to go,” she says. A massive perk of her job is being able to see new places, and she hopes to “go to every corner of the world and be able to play different people from all kinds of backgrounds and life experiences.” Having finally got representation in the US, she even sees herself moving to LA eventually.

“It’s all going to work out, just keep going,” explains McNamara, when asked what piece of advice she’d give to her younger self. And it’s true – with a stream of impressive roles on the horizon, as well as an ever-growing fan base, things are working out just fine for the Irish actor.

Danny Boy is now available on BBC iPlayer.

Leah McNamara purple top winking

Dress TODS

Leah McNamara purple top winking
Dress TODS
Photography
Elliott Wilcox
Styling
Annabel Lucey
Styling Assistant
Oliver James
Words
Jessica Carroll
Hair and Makeup
Kate O'Shea at Carol Hayes Management
Special thanks to
Indra Studios
LEAH MCNAMARA

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