Belfast-born actress Lola Petticrew talks to Meg Walker about her new film, Dating Amber, life in lockdown with her co-star and best friend Fionn O’Shea, and why LGBT films deserve to be full of joy and happy endings.
Tell me about Dating Amber – it looks like you, your co-star Fionn O’Shea, and the rest of the cast must have had a lot of fun making this film.
It was a bit like lightning in a bottle. From the first [script] reads, when I met Fionn, we knew instantly that we would be friends. So it was really class to be able to do [the film] with him. We had a lot of rehearsal time before the film started with the director [David Freyne], and really got to bond. We’re best friends now and spend all of our time with each other. We absolutely adore each other, and I think that really reflects when you watch the film. You can see how much fun we had and how much we love each other and just how much we really cared about the project.
I hear you and Fionn have been isolating together during the lockdown.
Yeah, we were with each other in London and then before everything went a bit crazy, we decided to come back to Ireland to isolate together.
So what have you been getting up to the last 10 weeks together?
We’ve been just trying to stay busy, like everybody else, trying to make our own craic – we’ve been going for runs, I cook a lot of food, we play a lot of games, and just watch an awful lot of TV and films.
And watching Normal People, I hear…
Yeah, we have a lot of friends in that show, and Fionn’s in the show, so we’ve been watching that.
Dating Amber has a real heart, and an important message – how much do you think we need this right now?
I think it’s really important right now. We’ve been talking a lot with Dave [Freyne, the director], and what’s interesting is that Dating Amber is an LGBT film that is hopeful and joyous and it doesn’t have a tragic ending, and it’s framed with hope and comedy. And I think, more than anything now, people just want to watch things that make them feel good.
I realised, watching the film, that you mustn’t have yet been born in 1995, when the film is set. What surprises you most about mid-1990s Ireland and how far do you think we’ve come in the last quarter-century?
Something we talked about a lot when we were making this film was that two years previous to this , homosexuality was illegal in Ireland. It wasn’t like it was just still taboo – it was completely illegal just two years earlier. So when these characters were feeling these things and even saying it out loud, even just to each other – how hard that was. And actually, we were on set the day they passed marriage equality and abortion rights in the North, and it just hit us that we were making this film about these characters and it was only in 2019 that these laws, these rights were being passed. So I think sometimes it’s easy for us to sit back and clap and go, “Well, aren’t we doing brilliant?” but you can sometimes sit back and see how far we really still have to go.
Amber is a real spitfire of a character. When you first read the script, what did you make of her, and what did you want to bring to the role?
Reading the whole script, I just laughed so hard, and I remember ringing my agent and was like, “I really, really have to do this.” I saw a lot of myself in Amber, and I think a lot of teenage girls, regardless of their sexuality, will see themselves in Amber. It’s just that age where you think you have everything figured out, and you have all of these opinions and philosophies about life, and you think that they’re all just so right. And what’s great is she meets Eddie [played by Fionn O’Shea], and he becomes sort of a soundboard for those political ideas and philosophies that she has.
How did you find mastering that accent?
I actually have a lot of close friends in Kildare, so it was both really helpful and really scary. I could go to them for help, but I was like, “Man, if I don’t nail this and they watch this film, I’m gonna get a lot of slagging!”
What do you hope audiences will take from this film?
What we’ve talked about a lot is that it’s definitely a love story – these two characters are without a doubt each other’s first love – if it so happens that that’s platonic love – and that it’s a real teenage experience. It is a queer film, but it’s also a comedy, and queer people deserve to have their lives framed with hope and comedy; and the idea that when you find your tribe of people, things get a lot easier, whether that’s in terms of your sexuality, your gender identity or just feeling that when you find people that love and adore you no matter what, things get a bit easier.
You’ve had quite a varied and busy career since finishing drama school, playing really strong characters and picking up accolades and critical praise – have you paused even for a moment?
Well, now I’m being forced into a kind of pause [because of the lockdown]! But it’s one of those things – I think that especially when you get out [of drama school], you’re just eager and hungry to be doing the thing that you’ve always wanted to do and that you were working towards. I love my work. And sometimes you might be in a hard shoot and think that you really want a day off and then you get it and you’re like, “No, I want to be back.” So, I love the work, and as long as I get to keep doing it, I’ll do it.
You have quite a lot of projects due for release later in the year – Bloodlands, Here Are the Young Men, Shadows – how prepared are you for the onslaught of recognition you’re bound to get?
I think that’s just part of the job. I try not to think about it too much. I think it’s really lovely if people have seen your work and they think it’s good and they recognise you. That’s such a lovely thing. But the reason I don’t give it much thought is the work is the work, and as long as you focus and keep giving your best to the work and trying to find good things and bring good things to people, that’s the most important thing.
When the lockdown ends, what would you like to do first?
Hug my mammy and daddy. And my dog. That’s it, that’s all I really want at this moment. It’s really hard. They’re both nurses and doing an extraordinary job. Obviously, with everything happening, we’re on the phone all the time and everybody’s just so proud of each other, but all you really want is a big squeeze from your mammy and daddy.
What do you hope life post-COVID-19 will be like? Do you think we’ll have all changed dramatically?
I think what people will take away from this experience, maybe, is that we didn’t value physical communication as much. It’s a very incredible thing – social media and phones and computers and being able to be in touch with each other, even when we’re not physically there; but just that people understand the importance of picking up the phone and arranging to meet somewhere, even if it’s just a walk in the park or a coffee… that sometimes when we made plans and then backed out for whatever reason, that now we understand that physical touch and communication and just sitting with your friend in a park is something that’s so lovely and necessary. And I hope that we maybe put our phones away a little bit more than we did before and just go out into the world.
And when things eventually do return to whatever the new normal will be, what’s your personal plan for the next 12 or 18 months?
Try to work. You know, just keep working and trying to find projects that I love and that make my heart sing and that feel important and that I want to be part of, and give my best to them.
I hear you’re an avid reader. What are you currently reading during the lockdown?
I’m just about to start Patti Smith’s Just Kids. I’ve seen everybody’s been reading it, and it’s something that I’ve meant to read for a long time, so I’m actually going to start that today. I’m going to sit in the sun, have a coffee and just get into that.
What about films, TV and music – what’s been keeping you entertained?
Just recently, [Fionn and I] went back and started watching Succession. We watched that together last winter and became obsessed with it. And the other night we were like, “Oh I just wish we could watch it all over again.” And then we were like, “Well, we’ve got all the time in the world – let’s do it.” I’m also excited for a lot of new music. I’m a really massive fan of The 1975 and they’ve just released a new album [Notes on a Conditional Form]. And Phoebe Bridgers is releasing an album in June [Punisher]. Those are two artists I really love and I’m really excited to hear their new albums.
Dating Amber, written and directed by David Freyne and starring Lola Petticrew, Fionn O’Shea, Sharon Horgan, Barry Ward, Lauryn Canny and Simone Kirby, launches on June 4 on Amazon Prime Video.
Watch the trailer here.
Main portrait by India Mullen, styled by Oisín Boyd.