The confident good looking woman who swept in to meet me on a sunny Friday morning bore no resemblance to the frightened housewife who had just been strangled the night before by her violent husband in scenes, unfortunately, not uncommon in many situations of domestic violence. I asked Sabina Brennan, Fair City’s Tess, how she felt about the character she played.
“Tess had been married very young to a husband that was always a bully. Marty knew everyone’s little buttons and subtly pressed them to the extent that they were not even aware he was doing so. He even managed to get her to allow him back into her life again by telling the children and so putting pressure on her. Suddenly she is not a woman making a decision on her own. She is a woman who is going to hurt her two young kids if she doesn’t let daddy back into their lives – she is not aware she is being bullied. Bullies have a way of making the victim feel like it’s their fault. She didn’t see herself as back in the position she was before because she was standing her ground and talking up to him.”
Sabina Brennan felt very much that Tess was an animal trapped in a snare. “Her decision to go ahead with sterilisation may have seemed a strong one but she was actually fighting for her life – if an animal is trapped in a snare they’ll gnaw off part of their own anatomy to escape and she was prepared to mutilate herself. She didn’t want to have a sterilisation – that wasn’t a matter of choice for her at all but she could see the Marty of old. She would be forced to have a baby and bring it into a situation that was still quite volatile and unfair to the other children – again she is putting herself in third place and that’s her downfall.”
Unlike her character Tess, Sabina Brennan herself is a very strong person but that has made her realise that in order to be a good and strong parent you must put yourself first which might seem strange. “If you’re on an aeroplane and it’s going to crash you must put your own oxygen mask on first and then you put your kids’ masks on – that’s being responsible and looking after your children and that applies in life.”
Brennan says that she becomes the character she plays. Though she has enjoyed her role in Fair City (which involved some major story lines since her first appearance 2 years ago) she is anxious to move on and, at least initially, play a very different role – something not new to her. “Seven years ago, I worked in the Irish Life Assurance Company in Pensions Investment! So anybody in the ESB who has a dream, go for it – the best thing I ever did – jacked it in! I always wanted to be an actor but never had the guts so I went and got a permanent and pensionable job. I acted from the age of 8 and loved it. Having kids made me realise you’ve got only one life and I decided I was not going to let my children do what I did – I’m going to tell them spend their childhood finding their dream and then when they hit adulthood find a way to make their dream come true.” Sabina decided the best way to teach them was through example so she broke the news to her husband, who had no idea she wanted to be an actor.
Acting says Brennan is a full time occupation – even if you’re not working you’re looking for work and trying to raise your profile. Fair City has opened doors for Sabina as a result of the high profile she had on the soap. “Last year I was on screen for 7 months – what I’m hoping is that people will see I can go across the whole gambit, from the high drama of last night to the emotional stuff and the fun stuff. I also hope that having done the 2 years that I am not going to be typecast – I think it’s just a short enough time. I’d love to get more work here – Tess was a great character but very different from me. The minute he raised his voice to me I’d have said get the f*** out of here and don’t you dare come back!”
Having secured a London agent Sabina expects that most of her work will come from England. “What people don’t realise is we have no rehearsal on Fair City. Everything you saw last night was one take pretty much with no rehearsal. So I’m quite proud of my work in the show. What it has done is really boosted my confidence in my own ability. If I can produce that in one take with no rehearsal what can I produce when there is time to explore stuff, do reaction shots and close ups.”
Sabina Brennan now has a show reel of work that she can be proud of and is impressing the agencies. “If I had the level of coverage in England that I got here it would be huge and I would be quite employable. It would be nice to make an impact with something big over there. I am extremely ambitious and I’m very focused. I have a wonderful husband, two great healthy kids and a lovely house – I am now free to follow my dream.”