Derry Girl’s Saoirse-Monica Jackson On Life During Lockdown

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Best known for her role playing Erin Quinn on the critically acclaimed Channel 4 sitcom, Derry Girls, actress Saoirse-Monica Jackson has enjoyed a whirlwind few years. 

Honoured with the accolade of Best Female Comedy Performance at this year’s Royal Television Society Awards – beating off competition from Fleabag’s, Phoebe Waller-Bridge – the talented 26 year old may be a relative newcomer but her star is set to ascend.

She talks to THE STYLE EDIT Editor Jenny Taggart on keeping creative during lockdown, missing her family and why her heart will always be at home. 

THE STYLE EDIT: Firstly, a huge congratulations on your latest award for Female Comedy Performance at the Royal Television Society Awards! How did it feel to win and how did you celebrate?

Thank you, I still feel very privileged to have won – I was amongst some serious female powerhouses in the category. To be nominated alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge was rewarding enough, I’m still so touched. It wasn’t quite the evening we had planned and I didn’t get to wear the outfit that stylist ‘By Rotation’ had styled me in, but nonetheless we still had a brilliant night. I was able to scream the house down, I don’t think that would have been quite the vibe had we had actually been at the ceremony!

TSE: I’m sure at this strange and unprecedented time you’re missing the rest of the Derry Girls cast. Have you managed to stay in touch?

I live with Louisa (who plays Orla McCool), so my withdrawals from Derry Girls haven’t been too bad to be fair. We have a WhatsApp group and have been checking in with each other.

I live with Louisa (who plays Orla McCool), so my withdrawals from Derry Girls haven’t been too bad

TSE: How does a Derry Girl keep herself occupied during lockdown?

I’ve been drawing a lot actually. I enjoyed art at school, but after school finished I sort of left that side of me behind. It’s been nice to take the time to check in with myself creatively, I think it centres you a bit. I love my job, but so much of it focuses on interpretation – to pick up a paint brush and just ‘create’ is something I’ve really been enjoying.

TSE: For anyone who hasn’t yet watched Erin & Orla’s Bunker Diaries, can you explain what it’s about and where the idea came from?

Myself, Lisa (creator and writer of Derry Girls) and Louisa wanted to make something to cheer people up a bit. It was at the very beginning of lockdown and I think people were scared and anxious. We just thought, why not make the most of Louisa and I living together? Lisa is brilliant. We asked her thoughts on the idea and within a day she sent us this perfect short script, it was so apt to the time we were all living in at that moment. Then we gave her a virtual tour of the house to figure out where it was best to shoot it. Another actor and friend we live with kindly agreed to direct it. It transpired to be something that lifted the spirits in our house probably more than anyone else’s.

TSE: We all thoroughly enjoyed watching the Derry Girls cast on Celebrity Bake Off at the beginning of the year. Have you been perfecting your baking skills during lockdown?

I wouldn’t even dare to try baking again – it’s like a science experiment and science was never a strong point of mine! I started the year off with a bang in winning Bake Off, but I think I’m better off just leaving it there.

TSE: Obviously filming as normal is off the cards at the moment, are you still managing to plan and rehearse as best you can for when filming is able to resume?

I’m still working on various scripts for other upcoming projects, sending thoughts back and forth. It gives me a bit of time to properly research and decide what I would like from a character. I can’t wait until it’s safe to be back at work. I’m so happy on set – the energy of everyone working towards one goal, the talent from all the different departments – it’s just such a special place.

TSE: What have been your wardrobe go-tos during the last few weeks while confined to your home in London?

I began, like many, wearing mainly gym gear. I was living in yoga pants and old t-shirts, but my housemate Lauire is a real fashion guru and I think I started to make him depressed – I had to get my act together! I’m now in dungarees 90% of the time, or nice little light cardigans with denim shorts. I feel much better for actually getting dressed, it makes things feel a bit more normal.

TSE: What have been your highest and lowest points of lockdown so far? Is there anything in particular that you’ll carry with you when this is all over?

I believe we’ve all had ups and downs through all of this. I hate to say this because even I’m tired of hearing it, but obviously we’re living in ‘uncertain times’ right now. I think that can make you feel quite unsure, even in your own decisions.

I went through a week or two of being very homesick – I’m very close to my grandparents. I’ve been in England for eight years now and sometimes it’s just hard to spend that quality time with your loved ones. At the very beginning of the lockdown, I really struggled with the decision of whether to go home to Derry or stay in London. I wanted to have that time with my grandparents that I usually wouldn’t be able to have – it seemed like the most important thing and in my heart, it was an absolute no-brainer. This was far from the reality though, my social conscience kicked in and made me question how possible that really was. We don’t know enough about the virus to know that it would be a safe decision to join them at home, so I decided to stay here in England. I’ve found that quite hard.

However, I’m enjoying my time here in our house, we’re having great craic. I’m in the best environment to be able to focus on work, but truly, my heart’s at home. Highlights include going on my evening walks listening to music, I’m living for that now. I also recorded a play over zoom written by James Graham, which just aired on the BBC on the 26th of May. It’s part of a series called ‘Unprecedented’. It was so exciting to be a part of, I’ll always remember the experience and recording something from home during all the madness.

“At the very beginning of the lockdown, I really struggled with the decision of whether to go home to Derry or stay in London”

TSE: Is there a message of support you would choose to share with fellow actors who are self-employed and may be struggling at this difficult time?

To be honest, I don’t think I could answer that at the moment. I’m in no position to know the answer in regards to the state of our industry when this is all over. Unfortunately our government did not make it mandatory for production companies and some theatres to close. Obviously these workplaces don’t function successfully with social distancing measures, so unfortunately it meant that they had close – and with good conscience they did.

I’m worried for these independent companies. With that said, people thrive off art, and I hope in time, the industry will bounce back. I’m sure there are so many talented writers out there that have taken this time to conjure up some groundbreaking work that we will all be delighted to enjoy after this time comes to an end.

TSE: What do you miss most about life before lockdown (other than filming, of course) and are most looking forward to returning to?

That’s easy: music festivals, I honestly can’t wait!

TSE: Are you able to give us a hint of what we can expect from the new season of Derry Girls? Just to keep us all going through lockdown, of course!

We would never be trusted with any important information, so anyone’s guess is as good as mine. The cast are always torturing Lisa to find out about future storylines, but I think she knows we would never be able ‘to hold our water’!

TSE: What are the best elements of your job that you look forward to returning to after lockdown?

The people, I miss all the people. Honestly, it’s always been my favourite part of the job, I’ve been so lucky to meet some really incredible people along the way. I get that ‘first day of school feeling’ on repeat and it’s brilliant.

TSE: What would you say has been the highlight of your acting career to date?

I would have to say winning the Royal Television Society award.

TSE: When things resume back to normal, what’s next for you and your career?

I’ll be working on a few exciting potential projects in the coming months. Last year I shot two comedy films that will be released, but I think drama is my next biggest pull. Although I love comedy, I would absolutely love to act in a biopic film. I also have a film coming out this month on Sky that I worked on with Robbie Coltrane. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds, but I’m excited to see where it takes me.

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