Irish Actress Sarah Greene Plays a Mean Bully

NEW YORK—Sarah Greene’s Broadway debut has not exactly been a demure, polite one.

Throughout the Irish comedy “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” she plays a fiery young redhead with the face of an angel who swears, cracks raw eggs over people’s heads or tosses them at enemies. She kicks priests where it hurts and very likely may be a cat killer.

Naturally, we fall in love with her.

Greene’s fetching bully Helen McCormick is one of the delights of the Broadway season, and the young Irish actress who plays Daniel Radcliffe’s crush has snagged a Tony Award nomination for her performance.

“I definitely have a bit of Helen’s madness in me but not her anger issues,” Greene said recently backstage at the Court Theatre. “I’m actually really sweet.”

That’s apparent as soon as you sit down with Greene, a petite brunette who is quick to laugh at herself. On this day, in late May, Greene is somewhat embarrassed to be signing her Broadway contract only now, weeks after the show’s April 12 launch.

Greene, who also earned an Olivier Award nomination last year in the role, has found U.S. audiences more vocal in their dislike for her character. “I’ve been shouted at onstage,” she said.

It’s easy to see why. In Martin McDonagh’s barbed comedy, Radcliffe plays disabled orphan Billy in 1930s Ireland who harbors an unlikely dream of Hollywood stardom. Greene is the blunt-talking tomboy from the village who he secretly adores as she’s busy tormenting him. Only at the end is she redeemed.

“My biggest fear in rehearsals with Helen was that the audience wouldn’t like her. I’m a pleaser. I want to be liked,” she said. “So I needed to get rid of that and say: ‘It’s okay if the audience doesn’t like her. They’re not supposed to like her.'”

Director Michael Grandage found Greene during the normal audition process in London and was struck by her lack of vanity when it came to the work.

“The moment I saw her, I knew there was nobody else,” he said. “I was very, very aware that she was somebody who dares—she’s constantly daring herself and daring her character she inhabits.”

Greene has visited New York three times before—most recently to act in the off-Broadway run of “Little Gem” in 2010—but this time, her longest stint, she’s fallen under the city’s spell.

“I want to try and get my green card and stay,” she said. “I could never settle back home after this, all this excitement.”

That includes the buildup to the Tonys, in which she’s managed to meet her fellow best featured actress nominees: Celia Keenan-Bolger from “The Glass Menagerie,” Sophie Okonedo in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Anika Noni Rose from “A Raisin in the Sun” and Mare Winningham of “Casa Valentina.” (Meeting Okonedo was a big thrill, she said: “I’m a little bit obsessed by Sophie.”)

She does not consider herself a good candidate to walk away with a trophy, though. “I like the fact that I know I’m not going to win it. I can just sit and enjoy the night,” she said. She has no speech prepared.

Greene, who is dating “The Hobbit” actor Aidan Turner, graduated from the Gaiety School of Acting in 2006 and won acclaim in the Abbey National Theatre’s “Alice in Funderland.” She gave up the role of the female lead in the third season of the TV series “Vikings” to be on Broadway.

“There was no question,” she said. “I always wanted to come to Broadway. It’s every actor’s dream.” What’s next up for the actress is anyone’s guess: “Fingers crossed, something will pop up. But nothing’s set in stone just yet.”

From The Associated Press