Shameless star Rebecca Ryan - ‘I’d love to do something like Downton Abbey’

Rebecca Ryan at Salford Quays - Photo by Nathan Cox

Rebecca Ryan at Salford Quays - Photo by Nathan Cox - Credit: Archant

Rebecca Ryan doesn’t shy away from tough roles. This month she stars in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey. Emma Mayoh reports

Most 11-year-olds only daydream about what they want to do when they grow up. Not Rebecca Ryan - she was already appearing in one of Channel 4’s most popular programmes.

The Prestwich-born actor spent her formative years appearing alongside Hollywood star James McAvoy, the BAFTA winning Anne-Marie Duff and Silk star and Salfordian Maxine Peake when she played Debbie Gallagher in Paul Abbott’s Shameless.

Her teenage years saw her playing the fifth Gallagher sibling who was often tasked with saving the rest of the family from ruin. She took on a number of unusual storylines, all which set her on the path to success.

‘I didn’t need to go to acting school when I was with such talented people every day,’ said Rebecca, a former St Monica’s RC High School pupil. ‘I used to just watch them, doing what they did best. They were like a family to me.

‘I grew up on the show. I’d just turned 18 when I left. I had crazy storylines like when my character kidnapped a child and when she was selling pornographic DVDs. It’s not your average storyline for a young girl.

‘I never realised I was on this big show, it was just the norm. I was lucky at school, no one thought it was strange that I was on television. It only felt real when people shouted “Gallagher” at me on the street. Even now that’s weird. I’ve got Shameless to thank for everything.’

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Many will be pleased Rebecca, now 23, chose a career in acting. But things could have been very different. As a youngster she was a successful Irish dancer, following in the dance steps of her mum who was the first world champion. Rebecca travelled the world taking part in competitions with much success. But as Shameless started to take up more time the dancing had to take a backseat.

She certainly likes to do things differently. She first appeared on the stage aged just six in a production of The Who’s Tommy at Manchester Opera House before appearing in BBC drama State of Play – another Paul Abbott production. Her brother Charlie, who had been cast in the show, nominated her to play the role of his sister. They auditioned together, she got the part.

Throughout her career she has chosen challenging roles from Waterloo Road’s Vicki MacDonald, a schoolgirl secretly working as a stripper, as well as an infatuated pupil in the Royal Court’s production of Fiona Evans’s Scarborough. But she decided to leave Shameless at its peak in favour of trying something new.

Country music fan Rebecca, who lives at home with mum Maranna and brothers and fellow actors Charlie and Jack, said: ‘I love a challenge. I love challenging myself most and I’ve been lucky enough to get roles that have allowed me to do that.

‘It was quite brave to leave Shameless I suppose, it was all I knew. It was scary. But I needed to take the leap to see what would happen. I got Waterloo Road not long after that. Turns out it was a good decision.’

Her latest role is likely to be her biggest challenge yet. She is currently appearing in Hull Truck Theatre’s take on A Taste of Honey, one of the great taboo-breaking plays of the 1950s that was written by Salford’s Shelagh Delaney when she was just 18. The show, which is currently on tour, returns home to Salford this month when it comes to The Lowry.

Rebecca plays feisty teenager, Jo, who takes up with a black sailor after her mother runs off with a car salesman. He also abandons her and gay art student, Geoff, moves in taking on the role of surrogate parent. It is the second time Rebecca has played the role, the first time was in Edinburgh last year.

She said: ‘As soon as I read the script I loved it. It’s a great part to really get your teeth stuck into. It’s brilliant to explore and discover all of the sides to her character. I’m still learning more about her.

‘I love how powerful the script is. I find it fascinating that an 18-year-old had written this amazing play that has as much resonance now as it did in 1958. I love the grittiness of it. Shelagh Delaney was very influential to lots of young women and writers. There is a lot of pressure to get it right in Salford because it’s the home of A Taste of Honey. I’ll give it my all.’

Rebecca has her eyes fixed on the future too. As you would expect, she is not planning anything predictable.

‘I’d love to do something like Downton Abbey, that would be perfect. I wouldn’t have to be a member of the Grantham family, I’d be quite happy being one of the workers. In fact, that might be more fun.

‘I would love to go into films too. I don’t really think about how long I’ve been acting. I still think of myself as new to it. But it’s been more than half of my life. I love the excitement of it. I feel incredibly lucky that I have been given the opportunity to play these amazing characters and roles. I’m very blessed.’

Rebecca stars in A Taste of Honey from June 10th – 14th at The Lowry. For tickets or more information contact 0843 208 6000 or visit