The Ferryman - London

The West End transfer of Jez Butterworth's new drama.

The Ferryman's Sarah Greene on the Enduring Allure of Her Secret Celebrity Crush & More

The Ferryman's Sarah Greene on the Enduring Allure of Her Secret Celebrity Crush & More
Sarah Greene in "The Ferryman"
(Photo: Johan Persson)

About the Show

Irish actress Sarah Greene was a 2014 Tony nominee for her Broadway debut appearing opposite Daniel Radcliffe in the revival of The Cripple of Inishmaan and was on the London stage earlier this year opposite Star Wars actor John Boyega in a revival of Woyzeck. Now she has stepped into the lead role of Jez Butterworth’s Broadway-bound The Ferryman, playing a young widow caught up in the turmoil of the Northern Irish “troubles” in 1981. caught up with the charming performer a month or so into her run at the Gielgud Theatre to hear how it feels to be starring in the hottest play in town.

What has it been like taking over this role from the actress, Laura Donnelly, for whom Jez Butterworth wrote the play?
It’s been surreal is all I can say—also a bit overwhelming and nervewracking. I watched Laura on opening night at the Royal Court and thought she was just magic and never once thought I would be taking over from her. As you say, the play was written for Laura so in a way it feels as if I am just taking care of Caitlin [Carney, the young Northern Irish widow at the center of the play] for Laura.

Did Laura leave you any gifts as part of the backstage handover?
She left me so many, a whole care package! There was an array of stuff on my desk when I arrived—Manuka honey for the shouting, hand cream because my hand is destroyed from peeling so many potatoes, Berocca to keep up my energy. Oh, and popcorn just because!

Have you taken over in a play before?
Several times, yes, starting when I was just out of college and then later when Druid [the Galway-based Irish theater company] was doing Playboy of the Western World. It can be daunting, but I thought this was such a wonderful part that I had to grab it with both hands. This play will surely go on and on for years to come, and any actress lucky enough to get to play Caitlin will jump at it, I know.

What’s been your response to the play itself?
What Jez does is write beautifully complex characters who are really well rendered. There are 22 characters on stage, and every one is so thought out and has a responsibility to tell the story. Jez is a genius, he really is; it’s sickening [laughs].

Is it a zoo backstage with not just all the actors but several live animals and real-life babies, as well?
It’s really busy, but in a great way—and that’s what theater’s all about! We often have 10 people on stage milling about the kitchen, but it never feels overcrowded, and then we get to have hugs with these gorgeous babies every night before we go on. Every play should have a live baby! And a goose!

How do you answer those outliers who maintain that the English-born and raised Butterworth doesn’t get the reality of Northern Ireland three decades ago?
I think that comes from jealousy, plain and simple—jealousy of Jez’s ability to capture a place and a time so beautifully and in such a respectful way. The play is set on a harvest day, so you’ve got a big party and songs and dancing and a lot of drinking, and I think Jez is true to that family and to that time.

Were you admiring in a similar way of Englishman Daniel Radcliffe’s ability to play the wholly Irish “Cripple Billy” in The Cripple of Inishmaan?
Dan was just perfect casting. He came in on the first day with an incredible Irish accent and was just such a hard worker, as well as playful and different in performance every night. We went into the Old Vic in Woyzeck right after him [in the revival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead] and he was fantastic in that; he’s a really talented guy.

What are your memories of your time on Broadway in Martin McDonagh’s play?
I loved the sense of community; they were really so welcoming over there, and there were all these gorgeous events that you got to go to like Broadway Barks, where you get to go and adopt a dog! Broadway just felt like a mad place where anything is possible, and I had wanted to play Helen [in Cripple] for the longest time, so the whole thing was a dream come true.

How do you feel about your Cripple director, Michael Grandage, coming back to Broadway this season at the helm of Frozen? Is there a musical theater belter lurking within you?
You mean my inner Frozen heroine [laughs]? I grew up in musicals actually, and the last show I did in Dublin, Alice in Funderland, was a musical, and one that was written around my voice, which was nice. I’ve got quite a low voice, so it’s not your typical musical theater voice, but I do love musicals; they’re a very different experience.

Was it a conscious choice of yours to do two plays in London this year—first Woyzeck and now this?
I took a break from theater after The Cripple of Inishmaan to make some money, to be honest, and also to feel more confident in front of a camera, and before long it was two years since I’d been acting onstage and I found that I really missed it. The thing with Woyzeck was that it was only five weeks and I felt as if I hadn’t flexed my muscles enough, so to get to do [The Ferryman] not long after was just perfect.

Is Bryan Cranston—now at the National Theatre in Network—still your “secret crush,” as you confessed to during Tony season in 2014?
A friend of mine just worked with him on [TV show] Human Is and just raves about him, of course. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to see [Network], but I just think he’s an amazing man and an incredible actor; he’s a total hero.

Oh, I must ask: has Laura been to see you yet as Caitlin?
Not yet, though Jez came and he was quite happy and it was nice to get the seal of approval from him. I would be absolutely petrified if I knew when Laura was coming in, so hopefully, when she does I won’t know.