Mrs Brown’s Boys’ star Fiona O’Carroll reveals unusual rule dad Brendan had at home



It would be easy to think that actress Fiona O'Carroll got her fervour for acting from her famous father Brendan. She's been in the family business of Mrs Brown's Boys for over a decade, starring as Maria, the put-upon daughter-in-law of Agnes.

But in actual fact, it was her teachers at school who inspired her to hit the stage. And she was a trained actress before she ever set foot on a stage with Mrs Brown.

A lot of people think we are only on the show because we are his kids,' she says of herself and her brother Danny who plays Buster Brady in the hit show.

'But it comes with a lot of responsibility because there is even more expectation on you to perform even better and thankfully my brothers and I do that.

And we work really hard at what we do and because of that we are able to continue working with my dad. Because to be honest, he loves us but at the same time if we were s***e he'd have no problem firing us.

'He was still dabbling in stand-up when I had a single in the charts! I was just 10 years old and my school had a single called The Christmas Rapper. I think it got to number six in the charts that was where my love of performing really came from.'

She credits the wonderful teachers in her primary school Gaelscoil na Chille for giving her a love for the stage, even before she was in double figures.

'They were all about the performing arts and they really encouraged us to do all that,' she says. 'It was then that I actually knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life

Martin and Fiona at an Imelda May gig in 2017. (Pic: VIPIRELAND)

Fiona started picking up roles after school and went to the Dublin School of Acting before going to college to study film. She was actually working on Irish Ferries, funding her course when she got an emergency call from her father. One of his stars on the live Mrs Brown's Boys show had been ruled out of that night's performance and he needed her help.

'My dad was at a loss and was really stuck for someone to stand in,' Fiona says. 'I think I was working for Irish Ferries at the time and was in the middle of the Irish sea when he called me and said: "You need to get off the boat" because he was opening in the Waterford Town Hall and he had no one to play Maria.'

Fiona told her father she couldn't just abandon ship but she asked her superiors if she could have time off and they agreed.

'When we docked in Rosslare, Dad picked me up and handed me the script which I'd never read before. I mean, I'd seen it performed but I hadn't even read it.

She started to go over the script in the car and arrived in Waterford at 6.30pm.

'My dad said: 'The show starts at 8pm and Jenny will run lines with you, I will see you at the theatre.'" It was a rollercoaster ride — involving a very quick costume change when she was in the wrong outfit — but somehow, Fiona managed to do what few other actresses could have pulled off.

'I did a good job and when that actress decided to leave I was in college and Dad said to me: "Look

I will never forget the weekend you did for me in Waterford, I would like to offer you the part of Maria.

Don't be under any illusions that I am offering this to you because you are my daughter, I am offering it to you because I saw you and you were good."' Brendan told her he knew she was in the middle of a college course but he also understood the size of the opportunity he was handing his daughter.

'He told me: "I understand you are in the middle of college and it will mean you have to leave but I will say two things to you — college will always be there if you ever want to go back and if you don't take the part there are plenty of other actresses out there who will and you may not get offered another one.

'So I said I would do it.' From them on Fiona became part of the behemoth that is now Mrs Brown's Boys - along with her boyfriend and subsequently husband Martin Delaney.

'I went on tour, I had a fantastic experience where we got to travel as a family, perform as a family,' she says. 'The chemistry was great and I got to learn my dad's work ethic and see how he works.

'As a kid I knew how hard he worked but I never really saw it up close until I started to work with him and I found a new appreciation for the business and the industry itself.'

Now, for the first time in a long while, she's stepping outside the family business as she has taken a different role as Gretchen in Copper Face Jacks: The Musical.

Currently playing to packed houses in Limerick with the final night tonight, the show will return to the Olympia Theatre on Tuesday before heading to Cork at the end of the month . 'The energy of the show has been amazing,' Fiona says. 'I am overwhelmed with the whole thing - the feedback has been so good and the cast members are lovely.

Fiona has done more acting than Maria Brown but since the show took off and became one of the biggest selling arena shows here and in Britain — and of course, there's the TV shows and a film as well - there hasn't been much time to play other parts. (Pic: BBC)

Even though we have only had a week's rehearsal, we've already become a close family which is rare to have such a bond.'

Fiona has done more acting than Maria Brown but since the show took off and became one of the biggest selling arena shows here and in Britain — and of course, there's the TV shows and a film as well - there hasn't been much time to play other parts.

'Usually anything I was offered clashed with the Mrs Brown dates and I have huge loyalty to Mrs Brown and to my dad,' she says. 'Copper Face Jacks: The Musical came at the perfect time and I couldn't believe it. Mrs Brown's did a six-week tour around the UK, I finished on the Sunday night and on the Monday I was straight into rehearsals for Coppers. It couldn't have come at a better time and I felt the universe has sent it my way because it has been fantastic.'

Her four boys aged from 16 to nine years are in Portugal with their father Martin Delaney, who plays Trevor Brown in the show.

Together since they were 16, they split in 2019 but are good friends and co-parent together. The boys will be back to see her star as Gretchen, the feisty American who causes chaos for lovestruck garda Gino Wildes and nurse Noleen in Paul Howard's hilarious, rip-roaring comedy.

'The chemistry among the cast and the crew is actually very similar to Mrs Brown's,' says Fiona. ' I wasn't expecting it to be like that as though I've met the likes of Johnny Ward before at events I had never worked with him. But I am delighted to be working with him and and the rest of the cast.

'There's not a huge difference between this and Mrs Brown's Boys in that they both have a high level of energy and the laughs are coming thick and fast. There's a buzz about it, it's great.'

Playing the part of Maria Brown has meant that Fiona has been working with her family and, unlike so many other working actresses, has been able to manage having her four boys and bring them to work with her if she needed to.

'You don't get the opportunity to do that much in the acting industry,' she explains.

'It is very rare but my kids have grown up backstage and they are well versed in theatre ethics and what you can and can't do backstage. It's a kind of homefrom-home for them. I have been very lucky to be able to do that.' A lot of people, she says, don't get the privilege and have to leave their kids behind while on tour, going back to a lonely hotel room when the curtain comes down.

'I was always surrounded by family, I had Martin there and I never had to be away from my kids for too long.'

She and Martin are good friends, they work together and Fiona insists although the marriage is over, they are still very much a family.

'At the end of the day we were friends first,' she says. 'I met Martin when I was 16 and there was no massive fallout, we just grew apart.

'It's a very unfortunate thing and a very sad thing when that happens. I still love Martin very much and he still loves me but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't and it’s unfair on both of us and on the kids, I think, to try and continue a relationship that's not really working.

'I don't think anyone should have to settle. It's important for everyone to pursue happiness. Martin is living his best life in Portugal and I am delighted for him. We co parent and we are both on the same page when it comes to our kids and that will never change - our children will always come first.

'You have to do what you feel is best for you and your family at the time,' Fiona adds, pointing out that you never know what is around the corner in life.

Family has always come first for the O'Carrolls, though Fiona will admit Brendan was strict with his children as a father and is still strict as a boss as well. (Pic: RTE)

You just have to take each day as it comes and deal with it the best way you can. I think once you have good intentions and are fully focused on making sure your kids are ok, that's the main thing.'

She has great support from her parents Doreen and Brendan, who also negotiated a marriage break-up to bring up wonderful children.

Family has always come first for the O'Carrolls, though Fiona will admit Brendan was strict with his children as a father and is still strict as a boss as well.

'He was a very strict father growing up and he is the same when we are working,' she says.

'There are strict rules and guidelines that you have to follow when we are on tour. You have to bring your A-Game to every show and that's why he loves to improv and adlib because he loves to keep you on your toes. Out of ad-libbing and improv, that's where a lot of the magic happens.

'He's all about trying things but at the same time if it's the punchline of a joke it has to be done a certain way and timing is very important and he has been a wonderful teacher. I have learned an awful lot.

'He doesn't really work like many people I know and he has a very different style but it's good.'

Growing up Brendan was very strict about manners and having respect for others and - this one is hard to believe - he didn't allow his children to swear at all.

'He has never liked us cursing and he'd be very adamant about that,' Fiona says.

'When we were growing up he used to say: "Look guys, unfortunately you are my kids and because of this there is going to be huge expectations and people will have judgements already before they even meet you. So it is important that you don't fall into that trap of allowing people to tar you with something you don't deserve."

'His stand up was so rude and crude but he wasn't like that at home. And he would say to us: ''People will be outside in the street and there will be a kid cursing in the corner and you will hear the adults saying 'ah that's terrible, isn't it? Look at that kid cursing, isn't that awful!' . But if you do that they will look at you and go, ah sure that's Brendan O'Carroll's daughter, sure what do you expect? So don't ever give them the opportunity." 'This was good advice for us. He is a very clever man.'

Her mam Doreen is a homemaker who doesn't like the limelight at all and is also a great support to her children. Fiona knows she is there if she needs her but as an independent mother of four, relying on her parents is not something Fiona wants to do.

'My mam is always there to help and as much as I have her to fall back on I am also very aware that's not her job, it's my job,' says Fiona.

'I decided to have four children and it's not her responsibility to look after my children. Her only job is to love my children, spend time with them, have fun with them.

'Parenting is a tough job and a lot of people make the mistake of trying to be their children's friend. But you have to have that boundary where you are the parent, and you have to say no. Although it's hard and they are upset, you know in the long run it's better for them. 'But as the grandparent you don't have to do that, and you can do all the bold things when the mammy isn't looking. That's what grandparents should be and that's what I want my parents to be for my kids. I don't want them to see my kids as a chore or a job.'

Coppers is, of course, a hilarious love story based around the famous Dublin club which has spawned many relationships and marriages. Fiona admits she has only ever been there twice in her life, and that was with Martin, but she's hoping the cast will have a night out while they are in Dublin.

As for romance in her own life, that is firmly on the back burner.

I wouldn't even know where to start,' she says. 'Times have changed since I was 16 and I wouldn't know where to begin. I have no interest in that at the moment. My primary concerns are my kids and my career and that's it.'

She isn't putting herself out there for dating, instead she's finding out who Fiona O'Carroll is now.

'I am very happy and I am rediscovering who I am,' she says. 'The split has afforded myself and Martin the opportunity to be individuals and find out who we are.

'When you live together, work together and grow up together you become this one unit and one person and you merge into each other. Having that bit of separation means we are getting to rediscover who we are, what we like and what we don't like.

'It's weird,' she admits. 'But it's also nice at the same time and I am enjoying the journey.

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