Valene Kane: ‘The Fall changed everything and it put Northern Ireland on the map’
19th Nov 2023
From gritty thrillers to Hollywood blockbusters, Co Down actor Valene Kane has built a career that reflects her determination to live a whole and authentic life she can be proud of.
photography Naomi Gaffey
styling Corina Gaffey
Growing up in Newry in the 1980s, there was no chance, thought an 18-year-old Valene Kane, that she could fulfil her acting ambitions there. So at the first given opportunity, she did what aspiring talents do, and relocated to study at a prolific drama college in London. While she climbed that slippery ladder of success, she found that it served her better to hide her upbringing and switch to the standard English accent. “There weren’t many Northern Irish voices on screen, and the accent was seen as a working-class accent and synonymous with violence,” she says, speaking on Zoom from Bristol, where she’s currently filming. On a day off but full of energy, she’s dressed down in a vest top. Hair up, glasses on. “I had to erode that part of me completely. But it meant I was constantly competing with girls who had grown up speaking the standard English accent. And it’s not just an accent, it really is a way of holding yourself.”
At least the shift worked. Though she left college without an agent, with tenacity and skill alone, she landed a lead role in The Fading Light, Ivan Kavanagh’s film that won Best Film at the Dublin International Film Festival. Other short films and indie movies followed, “but The Fall changed everything,” she says. Playing Jamie Dornan’s ex-girlfriend Rose Stagg – a role that grew over its three series – she experienced how “it changed my life, it changed Jamie’s life, and it put Northern Ireland on the map. The accent was no longer just associated with the IRA. Then you had Game of Thrones and Star Wars filming there, and suddenly it became a hotbed of creativity. So many auditions I’ve gone for recently have been located in Northern Ireland. My 18-year-old self would have been shocked.”
The emergence of Northern Ireland as a production base went hand in hand with her growing confidence, which manifested in even more high-profile roles – like the mother of Jyn (Felicity Jones) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and most notably, as Jacqueline in Sky’s glossy crime thriller Gangs of London. She plays the sister within the Wallace clan, who wants to escape the family’s life of crime. While the second series has just aired, she’s already looking forward to the third because “for that series, I know that they want to utilise me and Michelle [Fairley, who plays the mother] in a very different way than they have thus far.”
The Fall changed everything – it changed my life, it changed Jamie’s life, and it put Northern Ireland on the map.
“I do think there is a change happening where female roles don’t have to be just moving pieces for the male’s story. I think you’re really missing something when you don’t utilise interesting women on screen.”
New roles are on the horizon too, including a part in BBC One drama Blue Lights, located in Northern Ireland again, which we’ll see towards the end of the year. “It’s a brand new crime cop show,” she explains. “Like The Wire in Ireland, that kind of vibe.”
It comes as the 35-year-old enters a new era within herself – one where she’s consciously quashing anxiety, and embracing an inner and pure acceptance of herself. We speak on the week of her one-year anniversary of giving up alcohol. She gave up not because the demon drink was a severe problem in her life, but because “I started to feel quite disconnected after I would drink, so I made a decision to live a more soulful, integral life where every decision I made, I’d be doing it with 100 per cent of my body. So there’s no part of me that’s ten per cent hungover, or ten per cent thinking about when I’m going to next go out and have a glass of wine.” She pauses and rewinds what she just said to herself. “I sound like I’m really zen, but I’m just trying to become someone that isn’t affected by anything external at all. Because for so much of my life, I’ve lived with deep, deep anxiety and my happiness was always dependent on other things happening. When I get that job, I’ll be happy. When I have this much money, I’ll be happy. It’s an exhausting way to live, particularly in my job where nothing is in my control.”
Kane, who still lives in London, with her husband, the actor, writer and teacher Ed Cooper Clarke, has found this new way of being works for her. She starts every morning with hot ceremonial cacao, “and when I do that, then I feel like I’m not bothered or heightened by any of the stuff that comes along. “It’s taken me a really long time to come back to my authentic self, the stuff that made me unique,” she concludes. “But I am trusting that everything is happening in its right place and time.”
With her steady climb upwards, the universe appears to have provided.
Photography Naomi Gaffey. Styling Corina Gaffey, assisted by Orlaigh King. Make-up Christine Lucignano using Sculpted by Aimee Connolly. Hair Joe Hayes at Toni & Guy. First look, earrings, €310 at timelesspearly.com. Long-sleeve sequin dress (worn as a top), €515; lace-up pinstripe dress, €615; both Sportmax at Brown Thomas. Second look, earrings, €310 at timelesspearly.com. White cut-out suit jacket, €129; and suit trousers, €79.99; both H&M Innovation Collection Archive at H&M. Shoes, €60 at River Island.
This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2022 issue of IMAGE Magazine.