This is my song for Michelle.
Michelle Fairley, a relatively unknown actress to most Americans prior to Game of Thrones, has finally made it big. Hers is no tale of overnight success; this is a woman who has paid her dues, worked her ass off, honed her talent…
And in the end she won our hearts.
Michelle, a lass from Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, began her acting career in Belfast, working with the repertory Fringe Benefits. From there she skipped back and forth between the stage (in roles such as Lady MacBeth in MacBeth, and an Olivier-nominated turn as Emilia in Othello) and screen (Hidden Agenda; Hideous Kinky; The Others; Best: His Mother’s Son; Misfits), until eventually landing the career-defining role of Catelyn Stark.
And even that wasn’t easy. Jennifer Ehle was originally cast in the role, back when Jennifer had a much more prominent profile than Michelle (Ehle had garnered a number of loyal fans playing Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice), and to say there was a bit of a row when the recast was announced is putting it mildly. (One might have even called it a ‘gate. Fairleygate, anyone?) Cooler heads prevailed, of course, and a wait-and-see attitude was adopted by most fans…
And now, of course, we cannot imagine anyone else in the role.
Michelle affixed her stamp early on with the wonderful chemistry she shared with Sean Bean. (Some of my favorite Catelyn moments were with Ned; perhaps it’s the romantic in me, or maybe it’s just the fact that I like to see Michelle where her natural gift for intimacy can really shine.)
Equally as important was the bond she shared with her on-screen children, and that carried her the remainder of her story. Even in interviews, when her “Stark” children are referenced, Michelle’s eyes light up. I actually think caring for the people her character is supposed to care for is probably the easiest part of her job, simply because Michelle cares for them so much in real life.
As she told me after our interview (referenced below), just watching the kids grow has been an amazing experience, one that she’s not sure she will ever be able to duplicate. So you get a sense that she cherished every moment of filming, and has really taken the experience to heart. All of her experiences, really—on stage and screen.
(Fact: Michelle is the on-screen mother of Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon… as well as Hermione Granger, and Nathan from Misfits! Basically, her on-screen offspring can kick the asses of your on-screen offspring any day of the week!)
(She’s also played the mother of George Best, too, so add “better footballer than yours” to that list!)
I met her only once, in March of this year for an interview at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, and she was even lovelier and engaging in person than she is onscreen. Press events like that one can be a little mind-numbing, what with the repetitive barrage of “what can you tease for us” questions, but she seemed to truly enjoy all of it, bantering along with me and other interviewers; she seemed to relish the whirlwind aspect of it all rather than be bogged down by it.
It’s a testament to her heart, really. Michelle seems to be a genuinely nice person, and so very grateful of the opportunities Game of Thrones has given her. And again, it just comes down to Michelle being Michelle; there is so much of her in the role, you can just feel her heart through the screen. Credit her training or her parents, I’m not sure which, but this is a woman who really seems to understand her gift, and how to wield it in such a way that we feel as much as she does.
Book readers knew Catelyn would likely be gone. But that didn’t mean we didn’t dread it happening in our own way. The upside, of course, is that she’s a legend now: like Richard Madden, the central part of what many are calling the most shocking moment in television history. That’s immortality right there; even after she’s gone, she’ll never be gone.
Michelle is going to remain busy, with a recurring role in the USA series Suits, playing successful British businesswoman Ava Hessington alongside fellow ‘Thrones star (and fellow Ulster Youth Theatre alum) Conleth Hill.
And here’s a SPOILER note: I know there are certain book readers who may choose to point out that Michelle may have the opportunity to return at a later date, be it for flashbacks that appeared in the books, or in dream sequences (like Bran’s), or anything else. PLEASE, for the sake of the Unsullied fans of Michelle, keep that talk out of this thread. At this point the show could bring anyone back from the dead for dream sequences or a myriad of purposes, so such talk is pretty much pointless.
So NO SPOILERS, book readers. (You might be wrong anyway.)
This is all about my—err, I mean our—love for Fairley anyway.
Fare you well, Michelle! You were Lady Catelyn; you were a Tully and a Stark and a force of nature.
We love you. You will be missed.