The Hallmark Channel’s Three Wise Women stars the great Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan in the story of a doctor named Liz who is about to make a terrible mistake. Her guardian angel has to bring in some very important advisers — Liz herself as a young girl and an older woman — to show her the way.
Ms. Flanagan, who also appeared in “Waking Ned Divine” and “Yes Man,” talked with me about making this film — and about her own favorite Christmas tradition.
How did you coordinate with the other actresses who played your character?
One of us doesn’t know that the other two of us are her, older and younger, so therein lies the comedy. We imitated each other, but people change as they grow older and one of them is very young, like 17 years of age and I’m in her 60’s, so people change and their gestures change as they grow older. We didn’t sit down and say, “Let’s coordinate all of this.” But some things came naturally and we all imitated each other.
What was your first major part as an actor?
I did a role in a play in Gaelic for the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1963-64 and was then hired to play it in television in Irish, and that was my first break. I went on to play it in English and then went to the Old Vic where I played leads in “Taming of the Shrew” and “The Playboy of the Western World.”
What do you look for in the parts you take?
I always look to see if the part moves the story along. If it doesn’t do that, it’s just window dressing. In this particular instance it is very much an ensemble piece, with three actresses playing the same person, with the comedy built in because she doesn’t know she is seeing herself much younger and much older. That obviously moves the story along. Do we turn out in later life the way we think we will? The answer is “almost never.” If you, Nell, were to meet yourself at 90, wouldn’t you think you’d be different? We always have fantasies about how we’re going to be; we’d be horrified to see ourselves in the future and say, “Look at all those wrinkles! I wish I’d given up smoking!” This story provided that with all the comedy that lies therein.
Why do the Hallmark channel movies touch people so much?
They make films about things that people care about, things that happen in ordinary people’s lives, not cops and robbers and fantastical stories. Not everyone is wearing a Prada suit. These are backwoods stories that happen out of sight to people who are not always wealthy and powerful. People identify with that. It’s pleasurable because if you treat people well and behave kindly and honor your citizenship, good things will happen.
What is your favorite holiday movie?
I don’t have one but every Christmas I listen to Dylan Thomas’ wonderful recitation of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Many people have read it, but I have the recording of him reading it himself and it is so charming and funny. It’s about ordinary people in a mining town in Wales and I love it for that reason. The child saying, “Get to the presents! Get to the presents!”