With her signature mix of talent, charm and wit, Amy Huberman has captivated audiences and readers alike. ROSALEEN McMEEL sits down with IMAGE’s first ever guest editor, the award-winning actress, writer and rugby’s First Lady.
When I informed the team in early November that Amy Huberman would be coming in to the o ce to guest edit the January issue, there were audible squeals of delight. Since her rise to fame on our screens in The Clinic over 14 years ago, she has become a wife to rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, mother to daughter Sadie, three, and son Billy, two, and arguably one of the most popular faces in the country. A talented actress and highly accomplished writer, Amy appears to have developed the Midas Touch. This doesn’t, however, prevent me harbouring low levels of anxiety at the prospect of handing over the reins of my beloved title to someone who has never worked on a magazine before. Thankfully, my fears are unfounded.
Within minutes of arriving in IMAGE HQ, Huberman declares she did her work experience on the magazine in 1995, and managed to get a glowing endorsement for her photocopying and faxing skills. “It was child labour,” she says, laughing.
“I was dragged in at age 16.” While a week of photocopying in the 1990s doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence, her enthusiasm, energy, passion and commitment over the course of our production cycle wins me over entirely. Huberman is no stranger to a challenge, as evidenced by her recent and highly successful collaboration with Newbridge Silverware and her ongoing partnership with Bourbon Shoes. “I’ve often wondered how I have roped myself into things, but I’m quite curious, so when something crops up that I think would be fun – if someone said, ‘Do you want to do a computer course?’, I’d say no because I’m not good at that – but curiosity around the things that I do like, I’ll agree to,” she says.
“I love the type of magazine IMAGE is and the support you offer women. I think that’s really lovely. Outside of acting, I really enjoy fashion, so collaborating with Newbridge and with Bourbon on the shoe line has been such a joy, and I feel really lucky to be able to do it.” I ask her if she ever gets nervous exiting her comfort zone. “I think you feel nervous when you care about something. You have a responsibility to do it well. The nerves come about when you have to section off time for it, to make sure you have done it justice, and you’re not just phoning something in. Everything is so fast-paced these days. I’m trying to take stock so it’s not all a blur. Yes you can fall on your face, but at the same time you have to try, you have to be brave – I don’t just mean with this, but with anything when you’re putting yourself out there.”
Having focused on comedy for many years, Huberman returns to our TV screens in January with Striking Out, a four-part legal drama. Having started out on RTÉ with a string of hits, including On Home Ground, Showbands and The Clinic, Huberman hadn’t appeared on the state broadcaster for seven years, until her appearance on Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope last September, so she’s excited about the new series. “I went full method and went to a firm, because I needed to know all the legal shorthand.” Apparently, a stint on jury duty a few years back didn’t quite cut it for this immersive role. “That was terrifying, but that was in the High Court, so I wanted to go to the everyday courts and see the comings and goings. I didn’t realise you could sit in, so I did, and people do that.” I jokingly ask if she’s still doing that. “Yes, Wednesday is court day, where I go in and have a nose,”she laughs.
Huberman plays Tara, a solicitor whose life has panned out exactly as planned; she’s engaged, has a great job, but something happens to derail everything. The show follows the dichotomy of Tara’s pain play out through other people’s stories. When asked if her own life has panned out as she’d expected, Huberman is quick to respond: “Not in the slightest. I’ve done everything by fluke and by accident.” When suggested she might be selling herself short, she reconsiders. “When I say fluke, I mean I didn’t have a real plan. My family has an attitude of ‘just try’ – if you have a genuine love for something, that will always stand to you. If you’re in any way good at it, it will bolster you. Once work started to come in, I had to channel my resources, my time and my energy into it. But I didn’t go to drama school. I didn’t study English in college, and yet I ended up writing. I always loved creative things, I loved storytelling, I loved the chance of something different and fun. I don’t think this life is for you if you crave routine. I love not knowing what’s coming next. In ways, it’s terrifying, but I love how different it is.”
In case you think Huberman is about to take a long, well-earned break before her next acting role, she confides she’s working on a film script with Treasure Films and the Irish Film Board in her “spare time”. “I took it on thinking that writing another book would take too long. However, I have been writing this lm script for over two years,” she laughs. “It’s been a challenge and a steep learning curve. I probably underestimated what it was going to be, but I’ve loved it. It’s a female- driven story, and I want to write from the heart.”
Huberman makes a welcome addition to the growing army of female voices helping to redress the gender balance both on and off screen. “I feel hopeful that the tide is turning,” she says. “What annoys me is the backlash, because people say, ‘We’ve heard you all talk about this before’, but that’s not good enough. Nothing will change without conversation and debate. When I was working on Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, there was a female writer, female producers and a predominantly female cast. With Striking Out, it’s predominantly female producers, a female director. On the next job, there may be loads of men, but not by design, but because that’s a story they needed to tell. I’ve seen a difference in auditioning too, where the female parts are more rounded. When I started, it was all about going in for the ‘girlfriend role’, and that’s great, as long as you have a proper person to play, because the same can happen to men, but you should feel like you’re playing a human being, and it’s considered. When I was in the States recently, I saw a big poster for a female show and thought, that’s great, but immediately wondered if we were at the turning point, where in ten years’ time, we’ll be saying, ‘Remember when there was nothing for women and we were all talking about it?’
“There’s also a joy in seeing how much men enjoy honest female portrayals as well. It’s bizarre to me that we’ve created a culture where we don’t have a voice; that doesn’t make sense when there are people who want to hear it and people who want to tell it. If the story is honest and credible, then people will have an appetite for it because they’ll relate to it.”
Parenting both a son and a daughter has impacted both the actress’ work and views. “I think I’m more emotional now. I suppose I always was. But now, I find myself getting so upset about injustices in the world. I feel it in the context of my children. Things like marriage equality resonate. I want my children to grow up in a world where things are more accepted, and embraced, and people are supported for their choices and their values. Especially in today’s culture – there’s been a political shift in a way that’s scary, so I love to see minority voices get a platform. What gives me joy is not just the people themselves being given a voice, but watching others come together and say, ‘We will help you’. That always makes me quite emotional, and maybe that’s thinking of my own kids, living in a world that has more choice and more support and less derision about the good things, about humanity and simple human rights.”
Huberman cites “everyday heroes who live well and fairly” as inspiration. “The older I get, the lower my tolerance levels for bullshit, bitching and one-upmanship becomes.” She also believes in celebrating difference and the assertion of self.
“Women supporting one another is so important. I feel like I’m preaching the religion of Amy Poehler, but when I read her book, that thing she says about “Good for her, not for me” stood out. It’s such a great mantra. We are so hard on ourselves, and everything has to be a competition, but I don’t understand how it can be a competition if all of the factors of your life are different. It can only be a competition if most things are on a par, but most aren’t. Everyone’s life choices are going to be different.”
Sharon Horgan is also a huge influence. “She’s amazing and again, really supportive and is always trying to bring everyone else along with her. She isn’t afraid to tell the story, and if you find it shocking, so what, because it’s honest.”
Having witnessed her politely field questions about her famous husband at press conferences over the years, I ask her if it’s difficult to deal with certain press attention. “I take it now for what it is,” she says, pragmatically. “I understand people want to ask about Brian. I’m so proud of him, so I’m happy to talk about him, but, in the beginning, I’d be made out to look lesser in comparison because I was female, but this doesn’t happen as much anymore; but I do understand that they want to ask about him and about us.”
While refreshingly open on social media (she adores Instagram: “I feel like I’m doing the dirt on Twitter”), she is also, understandably, guarded about exposing too much of her personal life. “I love what I do, but I also love to be able to retreat and hide out for a little bit. I’m conscious if you give too much, you can’t take it back. I don’t think everyone should live like that, but it works for us.”
Her positivity throughout the production of this magazine has been contagious, and leads me to ask if she’s always so upbeat. “I think I am positive, but like anyone, I have days of self-doubt and question things. But I hope I see the good in people, and try not to judge. I really am a believer that what you set out is what you will receive back. If you’re constantly giving out and being negative, you’re setting a tone for this kind of bubble that’s going to follow you. I try to enjoy life. Not everything is going to work out the way you want it to, but we’re only here for a short time.”
While devoted to her young family, Huberman likes to indulge her independent spirit occasionally. “I still love time on my own. I love going to London for meetings, and next week I’m going for a sleepover with one of my friends. I love family life, but it’s also good to be just you again and tap into that and recharge the battery. It’s healthy. I like honouring that independent streak from time to time.”
A natural in front of the camera, Huberman lit up during her shoot for IMAGE. “I loved it. It was edgier than anything I’ve done before. I was kind of nervous because you’re breaking the fourth wall by looking in the camera [after each set-up]. In film, you never look at the camera; plus, I always feel like a bit of a nob posing! It doesn’t come naturally to me,” she explains. “I drooled over the clothes. They were so gorgeous,” she says before whispering to an imaginary rail of clothes,“See you in the sales.”
On the subject of creating her own fashion line, Huberman is remaining modestly coy. “Gosh, I don’t know. My dad was a fashion designer. It’s so time consuming. With the jewellery line, the looks aren’t going to change massively from season to season, but with clothes, it’s different. I do love it, so who knows what the future will bring? But at the moment, my priorities are acting and writing.” If either don’t work out, I suggest that there’s always a job for her in IMAGE HQ.
“Can I get a swirly chair? If so, I’m in.”
Striking Out airs on RTÉ One on January 1 at 9.35pm. And next month sees the Irish premiere of her new film, Handsome Devil, at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on February 26, diff.ie.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY OLIVER PEARCE, ASSISTED BY DANIEL HACK. STYLED BY SINEAD KEENAN, ASSISTED BY KATIE GROGAN. HAIR BY JACQUI FAY AT KAZUMI. MAKE-UP BY ZOË CLARK USING LANCÔME, ASSISTED BY NIAMH CONNOLLY.
This interview originally appeared in the January issue of IMAGE magazine, on shelves nationwide now.