A successful, enthusiastic Belfast-born actress with a great career ahead of her.
Bronagh Waugh, 29, hails from Coleraine in Northern Ireland, but has enjoyed an international upbringing living in Thailand for many years before moving to back in the UK. In 2008 Bronagh landed the role of Cheryl Brady in Channel 4’s soap drama, Hollyoaks for which she was nominated for Best Newcomer, Best Actress and Best Comedy Performance at the British Soap Awards in 2010. Bronagh’s first acting gig was in the Thai soap “Khrop Khrua Angrit”. She’s also presented on MTV Asia and appeared in Miss Conception alongside Heather Graham. We caught up with her in Belfast to find out more about her acting career and life in the public eye.
When did you first get the acting bug?
I never remember not wanting to perform. I was like a little performing monkey when I was younger. I can remember aged four mimicking peoples’ voices and accents to get the attention of my granny and mum to make them laugh. I love to make people laugh.
Did anyone else in your family act?
No one else. We have quite a working class background, but everyone is quite academic and bohemian, and I grew up surrounded by poetry, plays and music. My granny actually went back to university to study to be a lecturer in English, she loved to read me stories and the way in which she told them when I was young was so dramatic. I fed off all of this during my younger years and couldn’t wait to get on the stage.
When did you first step on to the stage?
I joined the Riverside Ulster Youth Theatre at the age of nine, taking part in performances at the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine. It was run by a wonderful tutor, Zoe Seaton, and I got a lot of inspiration from her.
How did your acting progress during your childhood?
I got my big break during my teenage years. My mum worked for IBM and got the opportunity to go and work in Thailand. I can remember aged 11, looking forward to goin to Dominican Convent High School and being so cross that mum was taking me to Thailand. It was daunting starting my new international school there, I was one of the few white pupils. However, when I got to Thailand they were casting for the film, “Good Morning Vietnam” and many of the American soldiers were cast from my school. I got a part as a soldier’s daughter, but I think the casting director was just humouring me because the scene was never used!
Was it just you and your mum in Thailand?
Yes, as a single mother my mum always worked very hard to support the two of us. I do have step brothers and sisters that I am in contact with from my dad’s side, but it has always just been my mum and I, she means the world to me. Mum had to work sixteen hour days when we were in Thailand, so I had a nanny, Sumsi, who looked after me and taught me to read, write and speak fluently in Thai. It was thanks to this ability to speak Thai that I landed my role in the Thai soap “Khrop Khrua Angrit”
Tell us a bit about your role in “Khrop Khrua Angrit”.
The producers were looking for girl and boy to be part of a British family living in a foreign country and I was at an advantage because I could speak Thai and English. I can still speak fluent Thai and read and write in Thai. I was on the soap for three years and during this time I also did bits and pieces for MTV, interviewing bands and so forth because I could translate fom English to Thai. It was great, I loved all the celebrity that came with it, being picked up by cars and asked for my autograph - what kid wouldn’t love it.
What made you leave the soap after three years?
Aged 15, I had just finished my GCSE’s and my mum was moving to Venezula and wanted me to finish my studies at an international school in England. Mum was determined that my education would not suffer. I moved to Portsmouth in England and my granny left Coleraine to come and live with me until I graduated aged 17. My granny was a major part of my upbringing and has always been there for me. I love getting home to Coleraine to see her.
What was it like leaving Thailand and moving to Portsmouth?
When I came back to the UK I left behind my comfort zone in Thailand and my celebrity status there. I stuck out like a sore thumb when I arrived with an American accent. After a while my Northern Irish accent started to return, so I then got a hard time for that as well! Also my style was very hip-hop influenced, which didn’t really fit in so I ended up hanging out with the gays, skaters and goths!
After you finished your studies, did a career in acting still beckon?
I was 17 when I graduated and I went to try out for drama school, however, insurance for drama school kicks in from 18 onwards and while I got accepted to RADA on a deferred year I was hungry to get going and left this place behind to go on and do a GSA at Guildford School of Acting. They took a risk on the insurance and their three year course was well-rounded combining singing, dancing and acting, as you need to have more than one string to your bow today.
Were your peers aware of your previous success in Thailand?
I can remember getting recognised in my first year at drama college by a group of Thai students who were over visiting. They came running up to me wanting autographs and pictures and all my mates’ jaws hit the floor when I began talking to them in Thai. I had never mentioned all that I had done in Thailand to my friends even though I’d known them all for months. I learnt not to brag about anything on my return to England as people never really believed me anyway.
Do you enjoy the recognition that comes with celebrity?
While it’s nice to be recognised, it’s not why I do what I do. I would rather be recognised for my craft, than what I’m wearing and who I’m dating. Katharine Hepburn famously said, “never complain and never explain” and I’ve adopted this motto too. I don’t think there is anything to be gained from people knowing all about me. That’s why I’d never do a reality show, unless it was “Strictly Come Dancing” - I’d love to hit the dance floor and get to wear all the fab costumes.
You get a hard time over how you dress. How do you cope with this?
I think being in a soap like Hollyoaks where there are so many stunningly beautiful girls, that even though I’m only a size 12 I look much heavier than the rest of them, so I take stick over my weight and my sense of style. It has got to the stage that it doesn’t matter what I wear the press will slate it. I wore a dress to the Elton John party and I thought I looked good and then Fearne Cotton wore it the following week and while she got admiration, I got slated. The press love to make all soap stars the fodder of the fashion faux-pas. It probably doesn’t help me because my character, Cheryl, dresses so badly and tends to follow fashion trends to the extreme. Myself, I am quite quirky, for example, today I’m wearing a pair of snowflake print leggings with a yellow mini-skirt and black top. My style is a bit bohemian, rock chick and Lady Gaga is my icon!
Are you in a relationship at the moment?
Yes, he’s an actor too and we’ve been dating for a couple of years, but I don’t like to talk about him and try very hard to keep my private life just that, private.
When did you get your first break into acting in the UK?
I graduated age 20 and after trying to get some work in London, I decided to come home to Northern Ireland for a while and add to my acting portfolio. I knocked on every theatre door and my persistance paid off when I got the part of Candy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” directed by Martin McSherry. I was playing the part alongside Roddy Lawlor, who I just love. Roddy is a great actor and he has always looked out for me ever since.
Apart from acting, have you held down any other jobs?
If I didn’t have acting, I’d have nothing. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and while I was happy to take part-time jobs to keep me ticking over, I never wanted to have a career in anything else. I did all manner of jobs as I climbed the ladder to a full-time acting career. I cleaned for Roddy and many other actors and actresses that I was recommended to. I was a barmaid in the Errigle on the Ormeau Road because I knew that was where a lot of local actors drank. I even taught kids how to dance and held classes in hip-hop and break dancing. I’m a real believer in putting the effort in and reaping the benefits.
Apart from Hollyoaks what else are you involved in at the moment?
Myself and Kieron Richardson from Hollyoaks host a show for Gaydio on a Sunday from 4pm to 6pm on 88.4FM and you can tune in from Northern Ireland online at gaydio.co.uk. Heat also wants a regular comedy column on dieting from me.
Do you enjoy the playing the part of Cheryl Brady in Hollyoaks?
I love playing Cheryl and still feel I have much to give to this character. There’s a lot coming up for her, so I’m really looking forward to the year ahead.
Can you give us any clues as to what lies ahead for Cheryl?
2012 is a big year for Cheryl and her brother Brendan played by Emmett Scanlon. The story explains why I’m the tart with a heart and why I’m unsuccessful with men. I’m very excited to be getting my own storyline. Cheryl will also be going back to university to study for a business degree to help her run and, ultimately, save her nightclub, The Loft.
Can you see yourself moving on to explore other avenues?
I would like to try other things too down the line, I have been writing a sketch show over the last couple of years which the BBC might be interested in. It’s all about a soap from the eyes of a runner. However, I don’t want to get pigeon-holed in comedy. I’d love to do a period drama like Downtown Abbey or a Dickens classic. I want to do it all really. I love acting, but equally I’d love to produce, write and direct.
Finally, how often do you get home to Northern Ireland?
Nowadays, probably once every couple of months, my filming schedules are so tight - I wasn’t even allowed to go to the MTV EMAs in Belfast as I couldn’t get a flight back early enough the next day! My mum has settled in England, but I do try and get home to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends back in Coleraine. I’ll actually be back soon to take a workshop for the Coca-Cola Cinemagic Festival and then again to celebrate the New Year.