Brendan O’Carroll, Irish writer, producer, comedian, actor, director but best known for being Agnes Brown in Mrs. Brown’s Boys, chats with Kevin Cooper about his mother, how him and his family enjoy coming to Nottingham, his favourite Mrs. Brown’s Christmas Tree and their forthcoming tour of the UK with Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical?

Brendan O’Carroll is an Irish writer, producer, comedian, actor, and director, best known for portraying foul-mouthed matriarch Agnes Brown on stage, and in the BBC and RTÉ television sitcom Mrs. Brown’s Boys.  In 2015, O’Carroll was awarded the Irish Film and Television Academy Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Irish television.

The youngest of eleven children, O’Carroll was born in Finglas, Dublin.  His mother, Maureen, was a Labour Party TD and his father, Gerard O’Carroll, was a carpenter.  His father died in 1962 when O’Carroll was seven, and Brendan’s mother raised their eleven children with little money.

In 1992, O’Carroll performed a short radio play titled Mrs. Browne’s Boys and shortly afterwards he wrote four books titled The Mammy, The Granny, The Chisellers and The Scrapper.  In 1999, a movie named Agnes Browne, starring Anjelica Huston, was released, based upon his book, The Mammy.  O’Carroll also co-wrote the screenplay.  He then decided to put together his own family theatre company, Mrs. Browne’s Boys, and very soon played the part of Agnes Brown*, as the actress he had originally hired failed to turn up.

In 2011, his plays were adapted into a television sitcom (with the name Browne shortened to Brown).  So far, from 2011, 28 episodes have aired, across three series, several Christmas special episodes and a one-off live episode that aired in 2016 on RTÉ One and BBC One.  Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie was released on 27 June 2014, and was a significant success in the UK, staying at number one in the box office for two consecutive weeks.

Whilst busy rehearsing for their brand new live show, Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical? he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.


Good afternoon Brendan how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m fantastic thank god but more to the point how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure.  Thank you very much for doing this Kevin, its people like you who help to sell the show so thank you very much.

And I have to ask, just how is life treating Brendan O’Carroll?

If life was treating me any better, then it really would be embarrassing.  I really am honestly and truthfully enjoying life to the full.  I wake up every morning; I was going to say that I wake up every morning and pinch myself, but in fact I wake up every morning and I pinch the wife and ask “is this for real”.  It’s just phenomenal thank god, it really is.

The burning question on everybody’s lips is; who is Mrs. Agnes Brown based upon?

I’m so pleased that you have asked me that.  In the past my stock answer used to be that when I was a kid I used to run errands for the traders in the market and subsequently I got to know them all.  So I would always say that Mrs. Brown really was a conglomeration of all of those charters.  However, when I went on the book tours in America they would always be asking me “is Mrs. Brown based upon your mother?” and I would always say “no”.  The reason why I said no is that my mother was a very sharp woman.  She was the first woman to be elected to the Irish Parliament; she really was a very, very sharp woman and because of that I would always say no.

But then I started to realise, that my mother had eleven kids and she was very much a working-class mother although she was a Member of Parliament.  I suddenly started to realise ‘you know what, Agnes Brown most probably is my mother but without the education that my mother had’.  My mother was very lucky in the fact that she started her life as a nun, and because of that she went into the convent very young, and she manged to get herself an education right up though university paid for by the church.  After that she renounced her vows and went on to have eleven kids.  So I think that she was feckin’ right to give up the life of a nun when she was shouting out to us kids like a feckin’ machine gun (laughter).

We really should speak about the new stage show Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical? which you will be bringing to the Motorpoint Arena here in Nottingham on 19th-21st April.  Without giving too much away, what can we expect?

First of all the clue is in the title; it is Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical? with a question mark so rather than Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical it is Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Musical? (laughter).  Those of you who saw the movie Mrs. Brown D’Movie will understand that Mrs. Brown managed to win the court case which stopped the developers who wanted to turn her market into apartments.  She won her court case and she subsequently ran them out of town.  However, she is now faced with £175,000 legal bill that has to be paid and the traders simply have no idea as to how they are going to raise the money.  So Mrs. Brown comes up with the idea of ‘why don’t we put on a musical’.

So the show is all about their research into the musical, the troubles they face when trying to put it on, and trying to get the family to stop singing because they all want to be in the show; they all want to sing.  Cathy in the meantime is busy trying to find herself a boyfriend whilst Mrs. Brown is repeatedly telling her “will you shut up. You have no chance of finding a boyfriend, nobody likes you”.  So as you can see it is the usual mayhem but this time with songs.

You always seem to visit us when you are on tour; what do you think of our fair city?

Nottingham really does come at the right time for us whenever we are touring.  We don’t plan it that way, it just works that way.  The Nottingham dates come just before the summer and whenever you are doing your summer shopping there is no better place to go than Nottingham.  It really is the place to shop because you can walk around the city and that is what we do.  We get up in the morning, get the tram into the city centre, and walk around the city.  We then shop, and then we all meet up for lunch.  There is a beautiful little tea room that we go to down a lane near to Marks & Spencer’s.  Nottingham really is a friendly city because you don’t get bothered.

Can you relax around the city or are you instantly recognised?

Yes they do recognise you but the people of Nottingham don’t recognise you with that scream of ‘oh my god it’s you’ (laughter).  There is none of that.  They let you know that they know you with a nod and a wink.  Perhaps one or two of them will ask you if you are alright with a smile, letting you know that they know you, but no one ever pesters you or makes a nuisance of themselves.  I think that if you were a big star then it would be very easy for you to live in Nottingham.  The people of Nottingham would keep your feet firmly on the ground.

You have briefly mentioned Mrs. Brown D’Movie, are there any thoughts on a second?

It’s funny that you should ask me that question.  We are currently in talks with Universal about doing another film but we haven’t managed to come up with the numbers as yet.  So that is basically it at the moment.  I personally think that the reason for that is that there was a time when you would be making a movie Universal would encompass all of the sales possibilities so you would have the theatrical sales which unfortunately now is one weekend in a theatre and then your movie is done.  After that you have the TV sales together with the DVD sales.  The problem with that is nobody buys DVD’s now so you can no longer include DVD sales.

It has to stand up on the sales online; Netflix, or in the cinema.  So as you can imagine Universal are being a bit cagier with their budgets.  So at this moment in time we literally do not have an agreement with Universal but I think we will; I think we are getting there.  I recently sent them an outline for a Mrs. Brown Christmas movie and to be honest I think that they got a bit horny about that.

On the subject of Christmas I have to ask, which is your favourite Christmas tree?

Before I answer your question let me tell you this.  In the second Christmas special that we did, and we are up to ten now, I decided to do something quirky with the tree.  After that the Christmas specials became all about the tree.  Since then each and every subsequent year people would be asking me “what’s this year’s tree like” (laughter).  So ever year from January on I am sitting here thinking ‘what am I going to with the feckin’ tree’.  So I would have to say that my favourite one is where the tree was spinning around and Mrs. Brown was riding it like a rodeo rider.  That would most probably be my favourite one.  So tell me, which one is your favourite?

I love the car wash Christmas tree (laughter).

The car wash tree was Busters tree.  He stole that out of the car wash.  I have to say that I did enjoy that one but I did end up with a mouth full of soap (laughter).

Does writing for the big stage pose you any different challenges to writing for the TV?

No it doesn’t because the stage actually gives us more space to work within.  Whenever you are working with the TV you find that everything is confined and you have to keep in mind all of the time that every movement on the TV has to be minute, because the TV screen really is so very small.  People are always looking close up and directly into your face.  The smallest movement on your face will show up as an expression on the TV.  So you have to be very careful about your movement and keep it very small.  Whereas whenever we are working on the stage you get to go feckin’ nuts (laughter).  We have all the space in the world; you can run up the walls if you want to.  I personally feel that there is more of a freedom on the stage if that makes any sense (laughter).

We all know a Mrs. Brown, we all have a Mrs. Brown who lives three or four doors away…

Yes there is (laughter).

You take the show all around the world, so I have to ask you, do any Mrs. Browns in any particular part of the world take offence at what it is that you are doing and portraying?

No they don’t and this is the great thing about it, whenever we are performing in Ireland, the UK, Australia and even South Africa, there are always Mrs. Browns and I can see them coming up to me (laughter).  What makes me laugh is that they always say to me “I know someone just like that, she’s a bitch” and I just say “okay” (hysterical laughter).  Thinking about it and being totally honest with you, I suppose that she is a bitch but she has a redeeming factor in that she simply adores her kids.  She loves each and every one of her kids.  As I have said my mammy was a Member of Parliament but she was also very much a union woman.

She would be over in Toronto setting up the workers unions in Toronto and then she was down in South Africa at Bantu Stephen Biko’s trial and also marching in the protests.  She was very much an activist which is really hard when you have got eleven kids.  Dad must have been a feckin’ genius at looking after kids (laughter).  I often wonder if Mrs. Brown was how I wanted my mother to be.  I have never doubted that my mother would defend me to the death as Mrs. Brown would but Mrs. Brown never leaves her house, but she is always there when the kids go, always.  So I often think ‘I wonder if that is what I wanted my mother to be’.  But having said that I was so proud of my mother I wouldn’t have had her any other way.

The original actress who you had hired to play Mrs Brown originally on the radio failed to turn up so you donned the dress.  Do you believe in fate; were you destined to be Mrs. Brown?

Oh god Jesus yes.  Listen, I think that the older you get the more you start to realise that all of the things that you did in the past you realise ‘so that’s why I did that because now I can do this’.  You suddenly start to realise ‘I am meant to be exactly where I am’.  Where you are is made up of the decisions that you took along the way, whether it’s to turn left or to turn right.  If you turn left this happens, if you turn right that happens.  However, I think that if you turn left and bad things happen you get over them; you learn from them and you move on.  No matter which way you turned you still would have ended up here especially if you learn from your failures and disregard your successes as anything but the result of your hard work; never think ‘oh I’m a genius’.  If you are a genius then you wouldn’t have had to have worked so feckin’ hard.

Does the amount of warmth and affection that the audiences show towards Mrs. Brown surprise you?

It does and it doesn’t.  It does because she is a bitch and then on the other hand it doesn’t because there is something about her that is safe; that is nostalgic and reminds you of that granny that you used to know or that auntie that you used to know; the auntie who would always have a biscuit for you whenever you went down to the house.  Or when you went to a family wedding she was always the one who was up on the table waving her knickers in the air whilst she was dancing.  She is the auntie that all of the kids adored.  Mrs. Brown has that about her.  As you said yourself earlier there is also that familiarity about her and I think that helps.

Working as you do with your family and close friends, is that a help or a hindrance?

I would absolutely highly recommend it.  I see more of my family than most people get a chance to do.  We are going out on tour for fourteen weeks this year and for those fourteen weeks after the shows we will be in each other’s apartments at night having a cup of coffee or a drink of something a little stronger.  We will all be together having a laugh.  Back in the early days when my kids were younger I was at that time doing stand-up and I was out gigging all the feckin’ time.  I remember my very first stand-up tour was two hundred and eight one night stands.  Which meant that I was away from home for two hundred and eight nights whilst my kids were still very young.

Now I get the chance to fill that gap because before you know it my own kids have kids now and as I always say, whenever we are off work, we don’t work when the grandkids are on holidays.  It is so important that they spend that time with the kids.  I really do try to drum that into them because the time just goes like that.  I swear to god that you are changing their nappy one minute and the next minute she is on your arm as you are walking down the aisle to give her away.  The time goes so fast that you really do need to get the most out of it while you can.  I’m currently getting that back by having family working with me; I am surrounded by love, and I am not just surrounded by family but also extended family.

I am surrounded by people who I know would honestly lie down and die for me as I would for any of them.  We are a very independent unit.  We all agree and accept that there is no show without any of us and what we have we have because we all stick together.  We have a saying “we are the Browns and we all stick together”.

How long can you keep pulling the tights on for?

(Hysterical laughter) well luckily enough Mrs. Agnes Brown is an old bitch so I think that I will grow into the role (laughter).

On that note Brendan let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a delight.  You take care and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.

Thank you very much Kevin, you are a star.  God bless.