Derry Girls star Siobhan McSweeney is climbing aboard an electric bike to explore the rural landscape of Northern Ireland in a new four-part series.
Called ‘Exploring Northern Ireland With Siobhan McSweeney’, the series sees her tour the lakes, mountains, coastline and forests.
The actress from Cork, 41, who plays Sister Michael in Channel 4 series Derry Girls, delivers her own “affectionate and mischievous take on the province” during her travels.
Speaking about her initial reaction when she was approached to do the series, Siobhan said: “When the idea was first mooted, I think I was a little bit surprised – very surprised – that anybody would want me to do it. And especially because they wanted an outdoors feel to it.
“And I’m like, ‘Well, you’ll need somebody who likes the outdoors’. I mean, I love rambling, I love walking, hiking. But when I thought about it, I was delighted to leave the flat.
“I was very excited to show Northern Ireland in a way that I feel isn’t being shown at all, and I was very excited about exploring the place. And going back there, I feel like I’m at home.”
Siobhan said that each episode will see her exploring a different part of NI.
Siobhan McSweeney Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
“We have four episodes and they each deal with a geographic area,” she said.
“Those areas would have very distinct feels, distinctive landscapes, and even the activities we’d get up to would be quite different in each area. And you got a different vibe from the place. And that surprised me, that surprised me a lot. I loved how different every place was.
“What didn’t surprise me was the vast and warm and generous welcome we got everywhere we went. And genuinely, not in a trying to hawk their business or smile for the camera way, but I think people really understood the intention behind the show… There is a great pride in Northern Ireland for their home place. It’s a very interesting place and especially here in Britain, we only see one aspect of it.”
The star also opened up at her disbelief at being given the opportunity to do the show, joking that she doesn’t feel like a “real presenter.”
“Overall, presenting is great fun and I love it. But it’s a side hustle. It’s something that I feel I’m getting away with.
“Dermot O’Leary wasn’t available? OK, you don’t want real presenters, that’s fine. So, as a result, it was that paradox of feeling very awkward being myself, because I had no character to hide behind. But great personal validation of feeling, ‘Well, they know that I’m probably not any good at this, so I don’t have to be good at it. I can just be myself’.”
Despite the challenges that came with filming, Siobhan said that she was given the opportunity to push herself physically.
“We’d reach this point midway through each week where, instead of going out for dinner, I’d go, ‘Can we just order pizza? Let’s do that’. I was really confused as to how tired I was. That was quite surprising. I think on the north coast as well, I did quite a lot of physical stuff – for me, physical stuff, anyway.
“And even with the first episode, with paddle boarding, I felt a little bit apprehensive about getting into a wetsuit and being so visible in a wetsuit… I was nervous about it, because you’re aware that everyone has an opinion.”
Asked what she hoped people take from the series, Siobhan said that she hopes it challenges people’s “misconceptions” about Northern Ireland.
“I think people have loads of misconceptions around Northern Ireland. I hope you see that it’s an incredibly beautiful, and poetic, inspiring country, filled with beautiful, poetic, inspiring people who – like the whole idea of Derry Girls – are just living their lives. They’re mortified and embarrassed and bored, utterly bored, by the way they’re portrayed and neglected. There are huge problems there, absolutely – but there are huge problems everywhere. And if you go there, you are guaranteed to have a wonderful time.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to the people of Northern Ireland for allowing me to stomp around their beautiful country. But if it means that more people go there in a respectful and open-hearted way, then you’re in for some craic, I’ll tell you.”
Speaking about her career following her breakout role as Sister Michael on Derry Girls, Siobhan said that she’s enjoyed the “extraordinary” reaction to her acting.
“The reaction has been extraordinary. I have more opportunities now, without a shadow of a doubt. Some people think I’m an actual nun, which is quite hilarious.”
For those looking to her more about Derry Girls, Siobhan confirmed that the show “is written” and that they’re hoping to get down to filming it this year.
“All we know for certain is that series three is written. We’re hoping to do it this year; you can imagine what our schedules are like, it’s ridiculous. The intention is to get it done obviously.
“I know that nobody’s willing to sacrifice quality, so it means that we need a certain level of coronavirus restrictions to be lifted… not restrictions, there needs to be a certain level of safety. We won’t compromise on quality. It’s not fair to any of us, and it’s not fair to the people who love the show.”
Exploring Northern Ireland with Siobhan McSweeney stars on August 12 on More4 at 9pm.