Onstage, she's a fiery redhead, prone to picking fights and breaking eggs over people's heads. In her dressing room, she's a quiet, dark-haired lass with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a bowl of Twizzlers waiting to be eaten. This is the Irish actress Sarah Greene, making her Broadway debut and receiving her first Tony nomination for her performance as the feisty Helen in Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, opposite Daniel Radcliffe in the title role at Broadway's Cort Theatre.
The whole Inishmaan experience has been a whirlwind for Greene, a native of Ireland's County Cork. She also earned an Olivier nod for her Helen in the dark comedy's London bow last year. Before a recent performance, she shared her thoughts on her big year, an outsider's view on the New York awards' season, and the precise meaning of that "f-word" they say so much in the play (it's not what you think).
As a newcomer to Broadway, what's your take on awards season so far?
We don’t really have press like this at home, so it’s a new world I've had to get used to, very fast. It's a funny thing to be nominated. The first week after I got nominated, I felt everyone was judging me. There was an expectation, and if you don’t meet that expectation, people think you don’t deserve it or something. I think all actors are like that, we all feel like we're going to get found out. I'm actually terrible. [laughs] I'm not. But that fear never leaves you. But it’s a part I adore playing and I've worked really hard on her, to make her somewhat likable. 'Cause she's not. But I think we've done a good job.
You say Helen isn't likable, but I kind of disagree.
I think she's a really insecure, vain young girl who is, for her age, and the time that this is set, really brave. She is a really strong character, but with massive issues. There are no parents there, no talk of their parents. Yes, she's very cruel, but they say it how they see it. With her brother Bartley, she's cruel to him, but I think that’s just to toughen him up, to make him stronger. Because if not, you're not going to survive. She's saving money to buy him a telescope, so she does have a big heart, she just doesn't let anybody see it.
Are the characters Martin McDonagh depicts accurate to the way people are in Ireland?
Yeah, they are. I think they're heightened versions, but these people absolutely exist. These people [in the play] are bored. That’s why the biggest gossip on the island is about a bloody cat and a goose. That's all that’s happening. Helen doesn’t read; she has no interest in reading. There's nothing else to do except wind each other up and gossip and throw eggs.
You probably can't eat eggs anymore after tossing them at people for so long.
Yeah, I don’t eat eggs. It's terrible. None of us do. We've all been off eggs. And I used to love eggs. You can't, really. Poor Conor [MacNeill], one of the yokes went up his nose and spat out his mouth. When he's annoying me, though, when he's really getting on my nerves, I go for it. One night I tried to break it over his head and it wouldn't go so I thought, oh, I'll try it again, and nothing, so I thought. do I pick up another egg? Well, Helen would commit, so BANG. [laughs]
I have to ask you about the word "feck," which your character says a lot and I'm told doesn't mean to Irish people what we Americans think it means.
It's not a curse word at all; it's a term of endearment. It's a softer version of the curse, but it's not seen as a curse word at home. That was one thing we realized here. I had to tone down how I used it. In London I would say FECK and really commit to it, whereas Americans think it’s a curse word, so I had to pull back because they really didn’t like it. It took me a few days to not be so vulgar with the word. Helen doesn’t think she's vulgar or an ugly person.
How are you finding New York so far? Is this your first time here?
I've been here before. We did a show called Little Gem, and we won the Best of Edinburg Award and came over for two weeks in 2010 to The Flea. Two weeks is the longest I've spent here. I've always wanted to live here, so I jumped at the chance. I just adore this city. You never want to leave, so fingers crossed I can stay. I'm going to try to get my green card and get that process going.
Did Mr. Radcliffe impart any wisdom on dealing with American theater audiences and their well-known vociferousness?
He told us how great the audiences are, and how willing and ready [they are] to listen to you. Dan is an incredible leader. Massive credit is due to him because it's such an ensemble piece. He picked this [play] and he didn't pick the showiest role. He's the audience, really.
How are the audiences different on Broadway, compared with those in Ireland and London?
They're more vocal, I think. There's a lot of "Oh, Jesus Christ, oh no." One man shouted, "Oh, for heaven's sake" one day. When we were in London, I left the stage and one woman said, "What a horrid little girl." That was funny. They want to have a good time here. They really want to listen. They're really supportive from the get-go, which is a nice experience. They're being really kind to us.
Would you want to take this play and this production back home to Ireland?
Eh, no. Once you go to Broadway, you can't go anywhere else.