How Do I Look?: Orla Brady, actress, 46


Orla Brady was born in Dublin on 28 March 1961. She trained in Performing Arts in Paris, before starting her professional career in Blinded by the Sun at the National Theatre. Currently based in Los Angeles, she is a regular in US drama series World of Trouble and NBCs Revelations. Other television credits include Nip/Tuck, Proof, Absolutely Fabulous and Lawless. She is currently filming American legal drama Shark and stars in Mistresses on BBC1 this month. She lives with her husband and they divide their time between LA, Dublin and London.

I'm not at all one for playing it safe with clothes. I remember my sister and I finding a quote from Simone de Beauvoir when we were 15 or 16, which essentially said: "If something is beautiful, why can't you just wear it? Why should you put it away and only wear it for a ball?" The principle was you could wear velvet in the daytime, if you wanted to, and that really stuck with me.

This was way back in the late Seventies, early Eighties, and clothes were generally, if you like, very modern. But my sister and I were going in a different direction, towards very flamboyant, vintage clothes. There was a theatrical costumiers a few doors from where we lived in Dublin, and we used to go there and beg for sale clothes and buy gold shoes and fur collars and things like that.

There's a stage from 13 onwards when you start having a say in what you wear, and at that initial point clothes are often all about hiding. I was in that phase where you wear huge woolly jumpers and jeans and clumpy boots and you kind of want to disappear inside the clothes so you always buy things two sizes too big and think maybe you look more diminutive inside them. Now you look back at photographs and think: "Hmm, I just look like I'm in the wrong size." Like a lot of teenage girls, I was very self-conscious about my body and just wanted to cover it up.

I went to Paris for a year in 1986 to study theatre; there was a lot of clowning around, buffoonery and fencing. It was then that my own style kind of blossomed. I had a favourite bowler hat that I wore for the best part of that year. It was my thing and I felt it would draw attention away from my body somehow.

The idea of being in costume was very liberating. I loved the idea that you put a costume on and you try out a different personality, you become somebody else. If I wore a riding jacket, say, which was a great favourite of mine at the time, it just made me feel that I was exploring different parts of my personality, if you like; a new persona.

The notion of costume has stayed with me. I'm more comfortable dressing up than I ever am casual. It's more of a problem now because there's an emphasis on dressing down, particularly in LA, which is obviously very hot, so you have to expose a lot of your body if you're going to stay cool. I've never been comfortable with that. Then and now my ideal look has always been a gorgeous jacket, chunky boots and a huge scarf. I like being covered up, in rich and interesting textures and fabrics.

I was a bit overweight as a teenager, which may be why I'm more comfortable playing with clothes than showing my body. It's less of an issue now; as you move on in years you get more comfortable with yourself, but you always have a tendency towards something, and mine is to cover up. Clothes are interesting and they're there to be played with. I like the idea of costume rather than fashion.

I admire the very people who get slammed by the press, like Bjork in her swan outfit; I think "why are we so reverent about clothes?" We think we kind of have to restrain ourselves and flatter our bodies. Why not just have fun with clothes? We should be more light-hearted about how we dress, how we look. If you experiment you can go wrong, clearly; but you can have a wonderful time doing it!

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