Earlier this month, I spoke with one of Ireland’s talented young actors who is a former Young Offender and is now amongst our ranks at UCC. As she trades a busy schedule for another, Jennifer Barry was delighted to sit down and talk with University Express. After some perfectly timed connection issues and a few camera/microphone cuts, we were finally able to get our Zoom call up and running and I asked Jennifer a few questions ranging from acting to student life to her new role as a personal trainer.
First and foremost, you are now a student at UCC. How have you been finding it so far?
Yes, just started! I was studying Arts initially, but recently I got approved to Theatre and Performative Practices. It was definitely not what I expected. It is a bit tough with online learning and stuff. It’s hard going into first year and not really knowing anyone, but still being expected to make friends. Thankfully, everyone I have met so far [has been] really nice though! It’s been so far, so good – so let’s hope that it continues.
Everyone and their dogs know you as Siobhán from The Young Offenders. Can you take yourself back to the feeling of finding out that you landed the role?
It was pure and utter disbelief. It was just a pure shock; pure fluke as well to be honest! I was a sixteen-year-old from West Cork going into fifth year. I was just this normal happy-go-lucky kid and then to have this huge thing just land into your lap – it just does not happen normally. I was very, very lucky.
Your character had her own arc in each season as a girlfriend, then a pregnant teen, then a mother. Were you aware of how your character would develop in the series early on? What was it like playing these roles?
I only knew she was going to get pregnant once we read the script for the episode, so it was kind of like a major bombshell at the end when she takes out the pregnancy test and finds out it’s positive, that’s what it said on the script. I just remember being like… how am I being trusted with this job on a television show?! I could not believe it. I did not see it coming and that was for sure. My mom obviously had read the script first because I was sixteen at the time, and when she told me I was like “WHAT? OH MY GOD!”
What would you say was your favourite scene to be a part of in The Young Offenders?
Probably the last episode of the last series when we were all swimming in Myrtleville. That was just so special. It was all of us together. We knew ourselves it was the last scene in the last episode, so it was really hard for us to film, but probably that one. Another one would probably be in the graveyard singing at Jock’s mom’s grave. It’s a tough choice between those two for sure.
As well as The Young Offenders, you landed a starring role in Lisa McGee’s play Girls and Dolls alongside Derry Girls’ Jamie Lee O’Donnell back in 2018. What was the difference between performing on the stage in comparison to being in a television
It was a huge difference. It was my professional theatre debut – my first time ever. I did not study theatre or anything at the time. With television, you know you have a second chance, you know that you can do as many takes as you want or what you are comfortable with. Whereas, in theatre, you only have one opportunity to impress a room full of thousands of people. You have to catch their eye, catch their imagination, and you have to catch their attention right from the very start or else it is just not going to work. In a TV show, you have the chance to develop. On the stage, you only have the one chance, you must give one hundred percent all the time. Once the curtain comes up, you have to give it your all. That was what definitely struck me during Girls and Dolls. Definitely.
Who would say was your biggest influence, overall, when growing up that made you pursue acting? Was it a family member, a friend or a Hollywood actor?
There are a few, but definitely Irish Actors. Saoirse Ronan obviously, she was so young, younger than me, when she started out, and she achieved so much. Cillian Murphy, obviously, as he is from Cork. Fiona Shaw too, she went to UCC. Just mainly Irish actors. I know once this interview is over there will be loads more that just pop up in my head that I forgot to say, but for me, I think that Irish talent inspires Irish talent. It is about seeing what is there and hoping to become that, like a circle. I hope in the future that someone looks at me and says “Oh, I want to be just like her.” That’s the real goal at the end of the day isn’t it?
You have been such a big advocate for mental health awareness and body positivity and have recently announced that you are coaching with FlyeFit and opened your new body positivity Instagram page @JenniferBarryPT. Can you tell us more about this and why you are doing it?
I suppose, when I was sick, I was diagnosed with depression, and I am still living with anxiety. One of the things that helped me out so much was exercise, particularly the gym. There was just something about it that just taught me to love myself and to embrace my
body. It allowed me to love myself for who I am. I knew that I would not have the points to [study] Psychology, and I will not ever get the chance to become a Psychologist, so, I wanted to find another way to help people, without becoming a counsellor, or a therapist, or a psychologist. With personal training, there is so much more to being a personal trainer than just being a PT. They are your friend, your PT, your counsellor, and your therapist all in one. That is why I wanted to become one. I just wanted to help people feel the best that they can through exercise. It does not matter what shape or size you are – you can do it!
Outside of your busy schedule with acting and college, what is your favourite pastime?
That is SUCH a hard question, because I have a good few! I’d say camogie would be the main one. It sounds good but trust me, I am probably the worst player in the entire world. It’s kind of an ongoing joke between me and my team because I am useless. I am literally just there to have the craic with my friends. I would definitely say camogie. I also like watching films, does that qualify as a hobby? My favourite would probably be About Time. Forrest Gump as well would be up there. It is such a classic.”
You have already achieved so much in your career at a young age, what is your main ambition for the future?
I just want to be successful at what I do. I do not mean just to be rich or famous, but to be successful. I just want to be happy with what I do, because as cliché as it sounds, acting is like a second pair of lungs for me. It can be really hard. There are about a hundred million noes before that one yes. So, I would like to get a few more of those yes [moments], to be successful. But most importantly, to be happy.
You are at that stage now where you would be considered a role model, with young children and teenagers looking up to you. Do you have any advice for those wishing to become an actor?
Just believe in yourself, genuinely. If you do not believe in yourself you will not be able to get there. You will not get there unless you, yourself, believe that you are good enough. You have to try your hardest and be patient, but the most important thing is for you to believe in yourself.
As the call ended, I thanked Jennifer as I let her go back to her college work, while I was glad that my laptop recorded the whole thing. I would like to thank her for not only doing this interview, but for her hard work on mental health and body positivity that does not go
unnoticed amongst all of us. She was an absolute joy to interview and I wish her nothing but
the best in her future endeavours – especially with camogie.