On screen, actor Bronagh Waugh doesn’t shy away from complex characters. As Sally-Ann Spector, wife of a serial killer in The Fall, and Jessica Reid, whose twin sister had gone missing in Unforgotten, Bronagh celebrates the unique opportunity that these dramas give us to examine the shared experience of grief, pain and anger. Off-screen and onto the streets, she is a fierce campaigner for LGBT+ and human rights. Here we talk about the catharsis found in gritty dramas, and how each and every one of us can help bang the drum for equality
You’ve worked on several gritty crime dramas, including ITV’s 'Unforgotten'. What attracts you to these kinds of roles?
I watched Unforgotten as an audience member before I heard about the job, and when I read the script I just loved the character of Jessica – it really resonated with me. With these kinds of stories, you often forget that this family have to live with whatever has happened, with all these unanswered questions, and life kind of stands still for them. I find that incredibly moving.
Do you think storylines like these can help a viewer who has been through a similar experience?
That’s the beauty of drama; you can tell stories of people who often don’t feel represented. We want people to be connected and we want it to be cathartic. I think around particular topics like mental health and grief, it’s so important to make stories about it so we have some mirrors to hold up, to feel like we’ve got representation.
How do you offload from an emotional role at the end of the day?
It’s a difficult one. Physically it’s very demanding to cry every day. It really exhausts your body, and I would come home and want to go straight to sleep because I’d spent the whole day crying!
I’ve started to do a lot more meditation and mindfulness, and I practise pilates and yoga. I think having those self-care things in your routine can really help anyone.
In your personal life, you’re very politically active. When did you first get into activism?
I think it’s one of those things that has always been there, and ever since I was a teenager I felt very engaged in politics. Politics is about community and it’s about your community and taking an active role in making sure there is fairness and justice, and that people are being taken care of. That’s where the change comes from. Stand up for the small injustices. It’s all part of the bigger picture.
Your mum came out as gay when you were young – did that shape your activism?
I had two strong women, and my grandmother, raise me – I’m incredibly lucky! The things that I lend my voice to and get involved in are the things that directly affect my family because there’s not enough time to try and get involved with everything! That’s why I campaign for equal marriage.
Listening is so important, and that goes for any group in our community which is being marginalised
How can people be effective LGBT+ allies?
Listening is so important, and that goes for any group in our community which is being marginalised. Money talks, and if businesses say that they are in support of something, that makes a huge difference in terms of visibility because when we see brands that we know and trust supporting Pride, it breaks down the stigma and the barriers.
What can the rest of the UK do to support the equal marriage campaign in Northern Ireland?
Many people in the rest of the UK don’t even realise that it’s still illegal to marry if you are gay in Northern Ireland! But one of the physical things you can do is write a quick letter to your local MP – loveequalityni.org has templates – and ask them to put the pressure on the government.
You’re currently engaged, but have decided not to get married until everyone can. What fuelled that decision?
My husband-to-be and I had a conversation and, with all the campaigning we do for equal marriage, it felt very hypocritical for us to go ahead and get married. Because what you’re doing is using your privilege to go: “Oh well, I can do it but you can’t – sorry guys.”
But I think we can often have lessons in humanity and humility when we learn empathy, when we learn what our friends and community are going through. We’re having a celebration of love soon, but there’s no piece of paper at the end of it.
Has that been hard?
Tears have been shed. I’ve been upset that, yes we get to have this big party in front of our friends and family, and yes we’re going to say some vows, but there’s no legal piece of paper at the end of it and we’re not protected in that same way.
But what that does is make me want to campaign even stronger. And when the legislation does come through there will be this amazing feeling and it will be great to go back to Northern Ireland and celebrate. I think that when you have principles it’s important to stick to them, so that’s what I’m doing.
For more from Bronagh, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @bronaghwaugh