Ralph & Katie: Jamie Marie Leary on the comedy-drama role
If you had to sum up the essence of Jamie Marie Leary in one word, it would be “sun”. The actor, who is currently starring in BBC One comedy-drama Ralph & Katie, is brilliant and fun company.
She regales me with stories of childhood shyness, singing on the radio with her late grandmother and what it was like growing up with roots spanning Scotland and Barbados.
Many readers know Leary from his ongoing role in River City. You may have also seen her appear in the crime drama Traces of Dundee or on stage in a series of theatrical productions – Expensive Sh*t, Locker Room Talk and 549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War, among others – the latter years. .
Leary – who goes by Jamie in day-to-day life and Jamie Marie for work (“Years ago I had a mix-up and someone thought a boy was coming…”) – moved from the fishing village of Oistins in Barbados to East Kilbride when she was eight.
Scotland has since been her home, although she maintains a strong connection to her upbringing in Barbados. “I feel like a lot of mixed-race people have this ‘Where do I fit in?’ thing,” she says. “I got to a point where I was like, ‘No, I’m both. I am so proud of these two places where I come from.
“Being born in Barbados, this will always be my home, but as a 28 year old with a very Scottish accent who has now lived here longer than I lived in Barbados, it is also the place I call my house.”
Leary was thrilled to be able to use her own accent in Ralph & Katie. The six-part series – which ends this week – follows a couple, played by Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy, as they navigate the ups and downs of their first year of marriage.
Viewers saw the titular Ralph & Katie, who both have Down syndrome, celebrate their dream wedding in series three of The A Word. Harrop and Gordy have reprized their roles for the Lake District spin-off, leading a cast that includes Leary as Katie’s best friend Emma.
“When I first auditioned, I was like, ‘I’m going to have to do a northern accent, or a Manchester accent or a Lakes accent’ – that sort of thing,” says Leary. “Then I realized, ‘Oh yeah, Emma could have come here.’ People migrate, people move.
Ralph & Katie is the brainchild of The A Word creator Peter Bowker, who described his latest project as “a natural step forward from The A Word’s ongoing ambition to increase representation and diversity at both on-screen and off-screen”.
Leary says she is extremely proud to be involved in Ralph & Katie which, made with a diverse, inclusive and intersectional cast and crew, breaks new ground for a UK TV production, including as the first show in the hours of BBC prime time to play two lead comedians with Down syndrome.
Showrunner Bowker worked on the series with five of the UK’s top emerging deaf, disabled and neurodivergent writers – Genevieve Barr, Annalisa Dinnella, Amy Trigg, Lizzie Watson and Tom Wentworth – as well as Bafta-winning director Jordan Hogg, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
There was a long list of additional protocols on set, with all cast and crew trained to work with disabled and neurodivergent talent. When it comes to inclusive work practices, no detail has been overlooked, from easy-to-read call sheets to everyone on set wearing name badges.
Before landing the role, Leary traveled to Manchester to meet Harrop and Gordy and gauge her on-screen chemistry with the lead cast. The trio immediately clicked.
“As soon as I got the chemistry reading, I thought, ‘This is the one that’s going to sting if I don’t get it,'” she said. “I really liked Sarah and Léon, as well as the director Jordan and the producer Jules [Hussey].
“I was like, ‘I hope to God I get it’. I was so happy when I did it. I knew it was going to be a special before we even started filming. It seemed important from the start. Everyone was passionate about doing their best.
Leary was quickly accumulating impressive roles for her resume, but it wasn’t until her late teens that she decided to pursue her acting career. “I almost left school in fifth grade to study preschool and child care,” she recalls.
“I did theater all through high school and in sixth grade I did advanced graduate theater. It was only then that I realized studying theater was a possibility. I knew about drama schools, but I thought they had crazy prices that I couldn’t afford.
She applied to Langside College (now part of Glasgow Clyde College), auditioned and was offered a place. After graduating in 2014, Leary quickly signed with an agent. She has since landed roles in Casualty, Clique and The Nest, as well as the Scottish comedy Where Do We Go from Here?.
The theater is a great love for Leary. “I worked at the Citizens Theater in Glasgow at the box office part-time for years, until very recently,” she says. “When I finally got the chance to get on stage, it was amazing. I’ve been lucky enough to do a few shows at the Citz now.
“It’s always funny when you have a job in the theater, but you want to be on stage. Because I knew the crew from the theater and the box office, I had so much support from everyone when I finally got on stage.
“In 2017 I did Cinderella as part of the ensemble cast and as an understudy. Then in 2018 I joined the cast of A Christmas Carol and did it again last year. is good because the Citz is like a family.
Leary is the second youngest of four children (she has two half-siblings from her father’s previous relationship). “I come from a working-class background,” she says. “My mother was a home helper and my father worked for social and charitable associations. They are both retired. »
How was Leary growing up? “I was the kid who always ran around the living room and said, ‘Listen to this song…’ I probably wanted to be a singer before I knew I could be an actor. Ever since I was little, I loved to sing.
“When I lived in Barbados, me and my grandmother, oh my God, I’m so embarrassed…” she said, stopping and laughing shyly. “We would call this radio and I would sing them little songs. Hymns like Jesus Loves Me and Christian songs.
“I could do this stuff on the radio because no one was actually watching me. I was quite shy. To my family I was the goofball doing all this nonsense to make them laugh but it was in private. I wasn’t the best at doing this in front of someone else.
Even now, she avoids the spotlight when she’s not at work. “If it’s in a play or on TV or if I’m actually acting, that’s fine, but I’m by no means the loudest person in the room.”
Leary has fond memories of his early childhood in Barbados. “Oistins is just to the south. It is a small fishing village and famous for the Oistins Fish Fry. Every time someone goes to Barbados, I tell them, “You have to go to Oistins on a Friday night…”
“There are lots of little restaurants and stalls with music and such a great atmosphere. My grandmother’s house is only a three-minute walk away. I grew up all over there.
Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away in 2020. Leary and his mother are hoping to take a long-awaited trip to Barbados early next year. “I haven’t been there since 2015,” she says. “I want to go back and hang out with my baby mama because 2020 has been a crazy year.
“This year has also been very busy for me with work. I started Ralph & Katie on Valentine’s Day and finished it in April. Then I started again in River City shortly after, so it will be nice to take a little break with my mum and touch base in Barbados.
These days Leary is based in South Glasgow where she lives with her boyfriend Tommy Reilly, a film and TV singer/songwriter.
Asked about her future ambitions, she is optimistic. “I have been lucky in recent years that things have happened at the right time with the right projects and the right jobs. I feel like I’m on the right track. Success, for me, is to continue doing what I love to do every day.
Ralph & Katie, BBC One, Wednesday, 9 p.m. All episodes available on BBC iPlayer
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