From Adelaide Avenue to Game of Thrones

This article is part of the Our CQ Winter Edition. To read the online edition click here.

Award winning actress Michelle Fairely is a frequent visitor to the North Coast when filming schedules permit.

There’s no place like home for Coleraine actress Michelle Fairley. Famed for her role as Catelyn Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones, one of the most successful fantasy series of all time, Michelle takes any opportunity she can get to return home to the North Coast.

CQ Magazine caught up with the critically acclaimed actress who has enjoyed huge success for her many roles on stage and screen on a recent visit to the town.

“I remember life in Coleraine as a child very clearly,” said Michelle, daughter of well-known publican Brian and nurse Teresa Fairley. “We lived in Adelaide Avenue before moving to Ballycastle when I was eight or nine.

“Obviously the family still have business in Coleraine so there is a strong connection with the town.”

Michelle’s interest in acting was sparked when she joined the Ulster Youth Theatre. However, there was no real light bulb moment that triggered her desire for an acting career.

“To be honest I don’t know where it came from, it was always there. We didn’t do drama or anything like that at school, I just remember singing. 

“You got stimulated by going to the theatre with your dad or watching films on TV and at that stage you didn’t know it would be possible to have a career as an actor. There wasn’t one person who was a trailblazer for me in that respect. “

Having left school, Michelle joined Belfast amateur drama group Fringe Benefits before moving to Manchester to study drama and she has never looked back since. 

“That’s basically where it all started,” she continued. “After a few months my tutor put me up for a job in Christina Reid’s play Joyriders at the Tricycle Theatre, London and I got it.

“Yes, there are times when I have questioned myself but that’s the nature of being a human being and over the years I have done other jobs in the interim I have but I never lost focus on what I wanted to do.”

That move to London in 1986 saw Fairely establish herself as an impressive stage actress in ‘Oleanna ‘at the Royal Court, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ at the Old Vic, as Lady Macbeth with the West Yorkshire Playhouse and as Emilia, wife of the villainous Iago in the Donmar Warehouse’s production of ‘Othello’, for which she was nominated for an Olivier award and on the strength of which she was offered the part of the fiercely matriarchal Lady Stark what was to become the biggest show in the world – HBO’s Game of Thrones.

“I dont think anybody, not even the creators realised what a hit Game of Thrones would be at the time,” said Michelle. “The carrot for me was working for HBO. I loved what they did, the quality of what they did and I had always wanted to work for them. It’s humbling to be involved in something so successful.”

The Coleraine actress has a lengthy and impressive resume including 24, Suits, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, the mother of Hermione Granger in the final two Harry Potter movies, In the Heart of the Sea, Best: His Mother’s Son, Hidden Agenda; Hideous Kinky; The Others and Misfits to name but a few. 

She has recently been on our screens playing Marian Wallace in the second series of Gangs of London on Sky Atlantic.

The brutal British crime drama is dark and gritty and Fairley’s character isn’t afraid to use extreme violence to exact revenge on those who aim to hurt her family.

“I enjoy working with the entire production team and getting the opportunity to play someone like Marian Wallace.

“When I first read the script my initial reaction was good, I’ve got something wonderful to get my teeth into. The directors have been fabulous and everybody strives to make the scripts as good as they can to make the characters as real as can be.

“The company works really hard to make sure it sounds truthful and real within that world.

“It’s very violent and very male populated, it’s tough work but I enjoy it.”

Before returning to Coleraine, Michelle had transformed into the strong-willed Princess Augusta to film the Bridgerton spin off – Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story which will be released by Netflix in 2023. However, despite her many successes on screen, the theatre is Michelle’s first love.

“My background is theatre. I started in theatre and anybody who does it knows that’s where you are tested the most and you just love it. 

“You get your grounding there, you learn how to approach a script, how to work with people. Anyone who does theatre knows how wonderful it is but how hard work it is. This is where I started, and I hope it’s where I end up.”

Currently in New Zealand filming, the 58-year old actress hopes to be back on the North Coast in time for Christmas.

“Filming gives you a lot of leeway and when schedules permit it’s easy to commute between my places in London and here. 

“I am hoping to come home before the end of the year. Coming back allows me to get away from it all. You have the most amazing scenery, most amazing beaches and coastline and peace and quiet, it’s absolutely beautiful.”