Relative newcomer Ann Skelly got to work alongside two heavy-hitters for her starring role in historical drama “Death and Nightingales.”
“It was my first time being the lead of a series — and it was an extremely intimidating set to come work on,” Skelly, 24, told The Post.
“I was one of the few women in the show, and when there’s movie stars like Jamie Dornan and Matthew Rhys … with all their experience that they have, it was overwhelming. But it was such a relaxed experience. And as I look back now, I was a 21- year-old [at the time of filming] acting alongside such giants. I can’t believe I felt so comfortable, but I did.”
Based on a 1992 novel by Eugene McCabe, “Death and Nightingales” (premiering Sundays at 10 p.m. on Starz; airing at 9 p.m. on subsequent Sundays) is a UK import that originally aired on RTE One in Ireland and BBC Two in the U.K. Set in the remote countryside of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, in 1885, the three-episode miniseries follows 23-year-old Beth Winters (Skelly) as she struggles to escape from her limited life under the thumb of her difficult and hard-drinking stepfather, Billy (Matthew Rhys).
She’s aided by the charming Liam Ward (Jamie Dornan), with whom she’s planning to flee and start a new life. To thicken the plot, Billy is a Protestant while Liam is a Catholic during an era when tensions bubbled between the two sides.
Beth’s relationship with Billy starts off with a jolt, as she dreams of poisoning him in the show’s opening. As the series progresses, flashbacks reveal why their relationship is so contentious.
“Funny enough, me and my family had started watching ‘The Americans’ all together just before the show, and I just grew into such a huge fan of Matthew’s by working with him as well,” Skelly said.
“It’s that kind of thing of feeling close to greatness, I was looking at him with a lot of awe. The character is so not him,” she said. “Matthew is cheeky and fun between takes and then he’s this terrifying force to be reckoned with when the camera’s rolling.”
Although Skelly is Irish, Beth Winters is from further North — so she still had to master an accent that was different from her own.
“She’s such a powerful Irish heroine, which I hadn’t seen before. I remember reading the script and just thinking I couldn’t believe there was this massive part for an Irish actress. I found it so different [from my natural accent]. I found it really hard to do. When I first auditioned for it, I was sitting there going, ’I don’t think I can do this, the accent is one of those accents I just can’t do!’ But one of my relatives is from the North of Ireland, so my cousin was like, ‘Just think of her accent; what does she sound like?’ and that was my way in.”
Since “Death and Nightingales” was Skelly’s first starring role (she’s also appeared in “Vikings” and “The Nevers,”) she also took some lessons from her seasoned co-stars, she said.
“That’s the part of being a young actor — everyone else knows more than you, and you get to pick and choose what you take from them. I don’t know how many sets Matthew has been on, but he knocks before coming into the hair and makeup trailer. The crew just couldn’t get over how polite and respectful he was. I think I’ll always carry that with me.”