Take one look at the IMDb credits of Genevieve O’Reilly and it’s hard not to be impressed; New Tricks, Waking the Dead, Episodes, Midsomer Murders, The Honourable Woman, The Fall, The State Within, The Secret, The Matrix Reloaded, Rogue One, The Young Victoria.
No stranger to science fiction and fantasy, the Irish-born actress is currently starring in ABC’s paranormal series Glitch, as Dr. Elishia McKellar.
But she has Australia to thank for her performing debut, after emigrating to Adelaide at the age of 10.
“I remember the day we arrived it was 42 degrees, and I’d just come from winter in Ireland. It was this amazing sensory experience,” she recalls.
“I have these extraordinary parents who sold it to us as a big adventure.”
She trained at NIDA in the late 1990s, graduating in 2000.
“We did a show that was part of the Olympics Arts festival with Barry Kosky. I cut my teeth as an actor at the Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir Street and the Ensemble Theatre. I did a bit of telly on All Saints and a few bits and pieces. Then I went to London.
“I really wanted to keep working on stage, and hopefully have the opportunity to do more work and telly. So I thought my avenue would be more in London than LA.
“So many Australian actors build their skills in LA and then come back and do fine work. I guess they are just swimming in a bigger pool. But I really wanted to work in theatre and the culture of theatre in London is a hotbed of activity.”
London was ironically home base for the BBC-Showtime tinsel-town comedy Episodes. O’Reilly featured in 3 seasons as Jamie Lapidus, the blind wife of network president Merc (John Pankow), secretly having an affair with Matt LeBlanc (as Matt LeBlanc!).
“One of the first scenes in Season 2 was me giving him a hand job! Blind! It was so funny but really great. Matt is incredibly generous, very funny, very naughty and a wonderful guy. He was a pleasure to work with and we had a great connection. It was easy to find the fun because he’s a fun guy.
“We shot the whole first season in the UK, so there was a lot of green screen. But from the second season on, we went to LA to do the exteriors, with the interiors in the UK. The sky and the light is different (in LA).
“People in our industry really love Episodes because it’s so true at times. The heartbreaking and horrific things that happen (prompt) people to say ‘That couldn’t possibly happen!’ but it’s exactly what happens.
“Jeffrey Klarik & David Crane who wrote it are both super-successful at writing and producing in America and they were just pulling on all their experiences.”
In the acclaimed The Honourable Woman she played the private secretary to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Nessa Stein, written, directed and produced by Hugo Blick.
“I was so excited to work with Hugo. He wrote and produced The Shadow Line a few years previous which I thought and I remember thinking at the time ‘Bloody hell, this is so brilliant. Why is there only 1 woman in it?’ And then Honourable Woman came along,” O’Reilly continues.
“He said he felt the same thing, he had to write something for a woman. And gosh he did. It was such a delicate, intricate, brave piece.
“I loved working with Maggie. She’s a great girl and become a darling friend.”
Yet the Australian-filmed colonial drama Banished didn’t attract the same critical acclaim with writer Jimmy McGovern criticised for overlooking the Indigenous experience -despite his mentoring of writers on Redfern Now.
“I missed the Indigenous story being part of it,” O’Reilly concedes, before adding, “What he wanted to do -and it’s no excuse I completely understand- but he wanted to set-up a story within a camp, as an English story…. He didn’t want tokenism. He didn’t want an Indigenous man or woman standing on a cliff and that was all they would play. And I believe Jimmy when I say that because he believes in Indigenous character stories.
“He set up things in the first season for them to go into the bush in the next season, but the second season didn’t happen. That’s telly.”
O’Reilly followed Banished with Glitch as Dr. Elishia McKellar, assisting Sgt. James Hayes (Patrick Brammall) when bodies begin to rise from a cemetery in rural Yoorana. This time the Indigenous element is pivotal to the storyline. But as viewers discovered at the end of Season 1, McKellar too has a past of her own….
“We ended the series finding out that she has previously been dead. So that’s where S2 starts, really. So we have to find out who is Alicia McKellar, why is she dead and if she was dead, who is she now? Why does she love John Doe (Rodger Corser)?” she explains.
“That plays this season, that connection she has with Rodger’s character.”
In Season 2 the writers will explore the many secrets Dr. McKellar has been withholding from the beginning as John Doe questions whether he can trust her.
“I think they’ve really raised the stakes,” O’Reilly suggests.
“They’re incredibly ambitious as television makers and I think they’re really embedding themselves in the genre and the questions they set up in S1. The boundary, the bleeding eyes, coming back from the dead…
“They have pushed it to play on world scale in a genre that is not typically known as Australian. And I think this genre plays beautifully in the Australian bush.”
Glitch airs 8:30pm Thursdays on ABC with all episodes now on iview.