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FutureStarrJamie Lee O Donnell
President & CEO, Embrace America Foundation | A new program designed by a convicted felon is tackling opioid addiction as a public health crisis, a challenge that comes with a price tag of $190 billion.
In a park opposite Belfast’s Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell is being photographed. It is a small, unassuming shoot; she has only popped outside briefly, catching a short spurt of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy Saturday. Yet within minutes, passersby are stopping on surrounding streets: murmurs of excitement, fingers pointing. A steady stream of selfie-hungry teenage girls muster up the courage to edge closer. “Oh feck,” I hear from behind me, “that’s Michelle from Derry Girls!”Now filming its third and final series, Derry Girls has proved popular beyond all expectations. Critical acclaim was matched by nationwide public adoration: the show was Channel 4’s biggest new comedy in five years. And in Northern Ireland, the joyful sitcom set in 1990s Derry is a fully fledged sensation; the most watched series in the country since modern records began. Overnight, its lead actors were elevated to national treasure status. En route to meet O’Donnell, I had mentioned the purpose of my visit to my stoic, middle-aged taxi driver and he immediately turned giddy. Later, a mix-up over permissions to take pictures inside the gallery where we’re meeting was quickly resolved: one of the Derry Girls, is it? No bother, carry on
In Derry Girls, the 34-year-old plays the much-loved Michelle, a sexually liberated schoolgirl with a penchant for profanity. Her sharp one-liners are a series standout: “Do you think if I told him I had an incendiary device down my knickers he’d have a look?” she asks, when armed soldiers board her bus unannounced. In person, O’Donnell shares Michelle’s quick wit. She is also thoughtful and warm, and if anything a little nervous, a far cry from the abrasive over-confidence she exudes in the show as Michelle. O’Donnell is fiercely proud of being a true Derry girl. She grew up on the border between County Derry and Donegal; the north and the Republic. Despite being a generation on from the character she plays in Derry Girls, set in the years before the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, she too was raised in the shadows of the Troubles. “It’s such recent history, and a vital part of who people in Derry are,” she says. “It shapes our outlooks, our humour, our personalities. How we feel things so strongly, and love so fiercely.”Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, who broke international ground as the enchantingly gobby Michelle in Irish comedy Derry Girls, is ready to be taken seriously. The 29-year-old, a Derry native herself, next appears on screen in Channel 4’s prison drama Screw, as a new guard on an all-male prison block. “I liked this idea of a young woman going into an untrusted environment and not being intimidated by it,” O’Donnell says of her character Rose from her home in Derry.Screw was a conscious shift away from Derry Girls – a chance for O’Donnell to play it straight alongside an all-new cast and crew. “I was actively looking for something like this so I can show people what I can do,” she says. Through Rose, we see inside prison life with all its complex politics and corruption, as well as the camaraderie between inmates and (sometimes) employees. The show was written by Killing Eve scribe Rob Williams, who drew on his own experiences of working and volunteering in prisons in order to bring the script its authenticity. “It was important for Rob to stay honest, which is why you don’t see the prisons as all being evil and horrible, and all the prison officers are noble,” says O’Donnell. Additionally, she spoke with real life guards to get detailed accounts of their day-to-day work. “We learned about the physicality of the job, like how you would stand if there was an argument, which way you face, all of the intricacies that you wouldn’t have a clue about.” (Source: www.nme.com)