Megan Cusack joined the BBC’s Call the Midwife this season and viewers can’t get enough of her as quirky Nancy. She tells Emma Connolly how she’s loving everything about the role, except having to ride a bicycle!
West Cork actor Megan Cusack is following in the footsteps of her grandparents on both sides by joining the massively successful BBC One period drama Call the Midwife.
Megan, who is from between Ballydehob and Skibbereen, made her début as Irish student nurse Nancy Corrigan in the 10th season, which has just wrapped up, and she’s confirmed she’s already filming for season 11.
She’s part of the Cusack acting dynasty. Her paternal grandparents were actors Cyril and Maureen Cusack; her dad is theatre producer Pádraig (originally from Dalkey), and her aunts are Sorcha, Niamh and Sinéad (married to Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, who lives nearby), while her cousin is politician Richard Boyd-Barrett.
Growing up in West Cork, though, ‘dynasty’ wasn’t a word she ever heard in their home and she admits she still finds it ‘very bizarre’.
She obviously knew her family ‘did the acting’, and popping over to London to see shows was a regular part of her childhood, but she really just remembers ‘lots of people coming through the house telling great stories!’
Coincidentally, her maternal grandma Margaret Harris, was a midwife in the UK. She now lives near her family in West Cork, and not surprisingly is taking a great interest in Megan’s latest role.
Megan went to school locally (Schull and Rosscarbery), and there was no great surprise when she decided to follow the family tradition, leaving to study in the London Academy of Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) in 2015.
‘This is my third year out now,’ she said. ‘I managed to get work in Ireland before this so I was to and fro which was was really nice.’
Her first year out she appeared in Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls, in The Abbey and toured with it which ‘was gorgeous.’ She was in a Druid production of Chekhov’s masterpiece Cherry Orchard at the beginning of lockdown, and later appeared in a pandemic version of Lady Gregory. That saw her perform in a series of Lady Gregory’s one-act plays directed by Garry Hynes.
‘It was spectacular to be able to do anything considering the year it was.
‘I love Galway. so spending a summer there wasn’t too shabby at all!’
She was back in London when she got the call to audition for the role of Nancy.
‘So I got the call on a Friday, worked on it on Saturday, filmed it on Sunday, sent it off on Monday and got the call on Wednesday. It all happened very quickly,’ she remembers.
The 25-year-old had to film five scenes, including a birthing scene, which she did in her front room, and which ‘obviously went down ok’ as she got the part.
Her acting schedule is quite busy and her days can often see her on set from 4am to 9.30pm, not that she’s complaining. Up to eight million people tune into the show every week, which is something Megan hasn’t quite yet grasped. Fans have even created gifs with her in them.
‘I don’t think I’ve gathered the scale of it yet, it still feels very bizarre. We have this huge cult following of fans. I don’t think I was wholly ready for it, but I’m really just delighted to be working, which is all I wanted. It’s great to have stable work during such unstable times,’ she said, speaking from her London home in Gypsy Hill.
While she doesn’t look like her character Nancy, the two are quite alike in temperment, she admits.
‘She’s erratic, terrible at routine, terrible at her studies and has no filter. Absolutely, that’s me. I’m shocking and can’t deal with any of that.
‘But it’s quite nice to see that on the show where everyone else has their stuff together. It brings a sense of humanity I think to see someone who isn’t like that all the time.’
And of course fans of the show (spoiler alert), will know the last season ended on a bombshell, with Nancy revealed as a single mother which, given that it’s 1966, was quite the shocker.
Viewers saw Nancy speaking with Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter), and telling her she had given birth to a daughter back in Cork. As she was only a teenager at the time, the baby was taken to an orphanage in London. Season 11 will focus more on that back story.
Bikes play a big part in the show and on a side note, Megan says the crew found it difficult to find one that suited her.
‘The first day they gave me this huge bike, my feet couldn’t even touch the ground. I’m 5ft 2” which isn’t that small but I’m wondering were people really tall back then? I don’t know!’
She’s been given lots to try out since, and joked that she’s not being given that many bike riding scenes, which isn’t something she’s unhappy about.
She shares a house with a fellow LAMDA student and a hair and make up for theatre artist (who did her hair for her Nancy audition)
‘We have a lovely place, it feels so homely and it’s the first time I’ve felt settled in London since moving here,’ she said.
She describes herself as one of the lucky ones, as she was able to continue working during the pandemic, which in a sense ‘bypassed’ her.
‘I’ve a few friends who live on their own and it hit them hard. But it seems we’re coming out of it and it’s about looking forward.’
For now she’s fully focussed on Call the Midwife, but her ambitions include doing Bedbound by Enda Walsh, and her end goal is to play any of the female roles in Dancing at Lughnasa.
‘But I’ll just see where things take me,’ she said.
And hopefully that will be back to West Cork sooner rather than later as she’s missing home ‘desperately.’ Aswell as dad Padraig, it’s where her mum Denise and sister Kitty (20) live.
‘I still call Kitty the ‘little one’ which she gets really fed up about! She would have been in Cork studying this year but is still at home.
‘Mum is a graphic designer and she also makes her own puppets, they’ve been in different parades and stuff. The kitchen table would have been taken over for ages, but she’s moved to the garage now so dad is delighted.
‘The last time I was home was October. I would have loved to have been home for Christmas. The boarders are so strict and rightly so, but as soon as I can I’ll be back.’
And the first thing she’s looking forward to doing is hopping into the sea at Kilkilleen with dad Pádraig – no wetsuits either.
‘I can’t wait!’