Marin Ireland tells Moneyish about going from bit-part role on ‘Girls’ to ‘Sneaky Pete’ leading lady
Marin Ireland can no longer sneak around.
The 37-year-old “Sneaky Pete” actress has been a ubiquitous presence on some of America’s best television programs for the past decade, albeit in small, supporting roles. There she is playing what Deadline called a “sexual, beautiful but cold” classmate of Lena Dunham’s on “Girls,” or as a bloodthirsty terrorist on “Homeland.” Now, Ireland is moving to the fore: “On the Exhale,” her one-woman off-Broadway play recently debuted on BroadwayHD, an on-demand streaming service. She also just began filming the second season of “Sneaky Pete,” the Amazon series co-created by Bryan Cranston on which Ireland’s the female lead.
To hear her tell it though, she hasn’t been in much of a rush to become a leading lady. “I believed in those projects 100%, so I was happy to be on shows like “Girls” for just a few episodes,” she tells Moneyish. “I learned from the leads about how they handled that pressure and the amount of work involved.”
That’s probably just as well given the complexity of her recent roles. On “Exhale,” which was inspired by the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Ireland delivers an unsettling, hour-long monologue about the tragedy of gun violence in America. Her one woman show echoes the isolation felt by victims and their families, but Ireland also calls it her hardest role to date. Without other actors, “there are no cues to spur your dialogue,” she says. “Every night I would lose track of where I was. You can fall down a weird black hole of time disappearing.”
“Exhale” is hardly the California native’s first tryst with scripted politics. She’s appeared on “Madam Secretary,” a TV drama much-loved in Washington and will play a role in “Flint,” an upcoming Lifetime discourse on the Michigan water crisis that’s helmed by Queen Latifah. Ireland portrays Melissa Mays, a real life Flint mom whose family’s health problems leads to her creating a grassroots organization for clean water. But how to appropriately engage with current affairs in theater has been in the zeitgeist recently after some sponsors pulled out from a Shakespeare in the Park rendition of “Julius Caesar” because it modeled the titular character—who dies—on Donald Trump.
Ireland spoke to Moneyish before that Shakespearean controversy but wasn’t shy about her desire to continue tackling politically charged subjects. “We’re at an exceptional, extraordinary moment in time and facing the need to be as useful as we can in the theater world,” she says, of the Trump presidency. “You imagine the activists in Flint feel comfortable standing up in town hall meetings, but they stepped out of their comfort zone. You can just start. Voices do matter and that’s instructional.”
But that doesn’t mean giving up levity altogether, which is why she’s excited to return to filming “Sneaky Pete.” The first season revolved around a conman (Giovanni Ribisi) who assumes his former fellow inmate’s identity to find a new extended family, while the second will feature a caper. Ireland plays the female lead, a cousin of the man the crook is impersonating, who quickly develops chemistry with Ribisi’s character.
In particular, she’s enjoyed working with “Breaking Bad’s” Cranston, who executive produces the show. “He’s a heat-seeking missile who is always looking for what in a scene is funny and f—ked up so he can light it on fire,” Ireland says. “In difficult times for our country, it’s incredibly cathartic.”
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