A petite lady with brunette hair (some curtaining her forehead) and no taller than 5”5 arrives ten minutes late to our interview . She quickly apologises while greeting me, letting me know she was on the phone to an old friend. Her name is Bronagh Gallagher.
Thing is, you have already met Bronagh, on many occasions without even knowing so. “I look back on it now and say, ‘oh look, there’s the great cameo!’” as she laughs, Bronagh lifts her skinny glass filled with carbonated water to her mouth.
Bronagh Gallagher has acted in two cult classics, The Commitments (1991) and Pulp Fiction (1994), as well as worked with stars like Robert Downey Jnr in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), but what are these experiences like for a humble lady from this little island?
Usually, any 16-year-old growing up during the troubles in Derry, this would be affected by their surroundings, but Bronagh flourished. While her school results were taking a slight toll in her eyes, she was flying to London every so often to chase her dream.
Her passion brought her to Dublin, where she was auditioning for a role in theatre. But her fate was not to be determined on stage.
“I got a call from my agent and I was told whatever I do, don’t leave Dublin, I have an audition tomorrow for The Commitments. I thought, ‘BY GOD’, they couldn’t still be auditioning for that?”
Bronagh smiled, as she greeted a waiter passing by, where we sat in the upstairs of a modern pub on Fairview strand, just ten minutes’ north from the city centre. Currently living in Dublin, I thought she must be well accustomed to the various different accents that the capital had to offer.
“I think I just have an ear for [accents] them. When I got the call from my agent, I went down to Arnott’s on Henry’s Street. I walked around for a bit, and then I talked to one girl at the till, and that was it.” This ear for accents, and her conversation with a lady in Arnott’s, got her the part as a north Dublin back-up singer to the Commitments band.
The Commitments followed a north Dublin soul band trying to make the big time. While the characters ran into some difficulty with their success, the film did not, grossing $14.9 million on its tour of the USA, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing and won four BAFTA’s including, Best Film and Best Direction. But all the limelight didn’t go to Bronagh’s head.
Bronagh leaned across the dark wooden table slightly, “None of us knew this was going to be [a huge success]. I thought, right, this is going to last a few weeks and that’s it.”
“I think I also knew that, in the back of my head, I didn’t want to end up back up the North. So I was determined.”
The friendships she made opened the door to the illusive, exclusive Hollywood. Commitments co-star, Maria Doyle was acting in Los Angeles. From here, Bronagh was invited to New York to meet Quentin Tarrantino on a new movie that was in development.
“He wasn’t the Quentin Tarrantino of today. I was brought into this room. He was this nerdy kid from college. He explained everything to me. I knew I was in.”
“When I met John [Travolta]? He is lovely. He gets an awful lot of grief from the media. He really is lovely. Inside I was like, ‘OH MY GOD IT’S JOHN TRAVOLTA.’ He had been in Grease. I felt kind of bad, cause when there is always people hassling you, you just want to go and say, ‘do you want to sit over here?’” Bronagh points towards a quiet part of the table beside her.
Her career today has taken a little turn from her norm of acting to another passion; singing. To which she has a “great band”. But why soul music?
She admits that it is the music she had, ‘grown up with,’ but the cynic inside believes the influences of her soul experience with the Commitments really installed the genre to her passion.
It is safe to say, without The Commitments, the majority of the cast would not receive the credit they deserve for their acting. But what seemed more important to Bronagh was the friendships she made. Especially with actresses Maria Doyle and Angeline Ball.
“That’s actually the reason I was late, I was talking to Angeline [Ball] on the phone.
“We’re close the whole lot of us, we always keep in touch.”