Derry Girls star Siobhan McSweeney is climbing aboard an electric bike to explore the rural landscape of Northern Ireland in a new four-part series.
Called Exploring Northern Ireland With Siobhan McSweeney, the series which airs on More4 sees her tour the lakes, mountains, coastline and forests.
The actress from Cork, 41, who plays Sister Michael in popular Channel 4 series Derry Girls, delivers her own “affectionate and mischievous take on the province” during her travels.
We find out more about the series from her.
WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL REACTION WHEN YOU WERE APPROACHED TO DO THIS SERIES?
“When the idea was first mooted, I think I was a little bit surprised – very surprised – that anybody would want me to do it. And especially because they wanted an outdoors feel to it. And I’m like, ‘Well, you’ll need somebody who likes the outdoors’. I mean, I love rambling, I love walking, hiking. But when I thought about it, I was delighted to leave the flat.
“I was very excited to show Northern Ireland in a way that I feel isn’t being shown at all, and I was very excited about exploring the place. And going back there, I feel like I’m at home.”
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT NORTHERN IRELAND THAT SURPRISED YOU DURING FILMING?
“We have four episodes and they each deal with a geographic area. Those areas would have very distinct feels, distinctive landscapes, and even the activities we’d get up to would be quite different in each area. And you got a different vibe from the place. And that surprised me, that surprised me a lot. I loved how different every place was.
“What didn’t surprise me was the vast and warm and generous welcome we got everywhere we went. And genuinely, not in a trying to hawk their business or smile for the camera way, but I think people really understood the intention behind the show… There is a great pride in Northern Ireland for their home place. It’s a very interesting place and especially here in Britain, we only see one aspect of it.”
HOW DID IT FEEL FRONTING THIS SERIES BY YOURSELF?
“Overall, presenting is great fun and I love it. But it’s a side hustle. It’s something that I feel I’m getting away with.
“Dermot O’Leary wasn’t available? OK, you don’t want real presenters, that’s fine. So, as a result, it was that paradox of feeling very awkward being myself, because I had no character to hide behind. But great personal validation of feeling, ‘Well, they know that I’m probably not any good at this, so I don’t have to be good at it. I can just be myself’.”
ANY MEMORABLE LOW POINTS? IT MUST HAVE BEEN QUITE TIRING TO FILM?
“We’d reach this point midway through each week where, instead of going out for dinner, I’d go, ‘Can we just order pizza? Let’s do that’. I was really confused as to how tired I was. That was quite surprising. I think on the north coast as well, I did quite a lot of physical stuff – for me, physical stuff, anyway. And even with the first episode, with paddle boarding, I felt a little bit apprehensive about getting into a wetsuit and being so visible in a wetsuit… I was nervous about it, because you’re aware that everyone has an opinion.”
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THOSE FEARS?
“I decided I don’t really give a s*** about what a******* on the internet [think]. And I know, because of my friends and family, that I’m lovely. And more importantly, I know that I’m very, very unoriginal.
“The majority of women are like me, and the idea of somebody not liking me is the equivalent of not liking your mam, your wife, your sister, yourself. So I got over it. And I think also, if we’ve got to a point where my belly is making primetime television, then I sort of have to go, ‘I’m not dropping this opportunity’.”
WHAT DO YOU HOPE PEOPLE WILL TAKE FROM THE SERIES?
“I think people have loads of misconceptions around Northern Ireland. I hope you see that it’s an incredibly beautiful, and poetic, inspiring country, filled with beautiful, poetic, inspiring people who – like the whole idea of Derry Girls – are just living their lives. They’re mortified and embarrassed and bored, utterly bored, by the way they’re portrayed and neglected. There are huge problems there, absolutely – but there are huge problems everywhere. And if you go there, you are guaranteed to have a wonderful time.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to the people of Northern Ireland for allowing me to stomp around their beautiful country. But if it means that more people go there in a respectful and open-hearted way, then you’re in for some craic, I’ll tell you.”
HOW HAS LIFE CHANGED FOR YOU THANKS TO DERRY GIRLS?
“The reaction has been extraordinary. I have more opportunities now, without a shadow of a doubt. Some people think I’m an actual nun, which is quite hilarious.”
DERRY GIRLS FILMING WAS DELAYED BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC, BUT CAN YOU TELL US ANYTHING ABOUT THE UPCOMING THIRD SERIES?
“All we know for certain is that series three is written. We’re hoping to do it this year; you can imagine what our schedules are like, it’s ridiculous. The intention is to get it done obviously.
“I know that nobody’s willing to sacrifice quality, so it means that we need a certain level of coronavirus restrictions to be lifted… not restrictions, there needs to be a certain level of safety. We won’t compromise on quality. It’s not fair to any of us, and it’s not fair to the people who love the show.”
Exploring Northern Ireland with Siobhan McSweeney stars on August 12 on More4 at 9pm.