Childhood & Early Life
Michelle Fairley was born on January 17, 1964, in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Her mother, Theresa, was a nurse before quitting her job for motherhood. Her father, Brian, owned a chain of pubs in County Antrim.
Young Michelle Fairley and her sister, Simone, were raised with high moral attributes. Fairley once stated in an interview that her parents had instilled strong values in them, such as respect, strong work ethics, honesty, and fairness.
Born a Catholic, Fairley attended a Roman Catholic grammar school in Ballycastle. Her family is full of avid readers. However, she was the only one who developed an interest in drama during her formative years. Sadly such activities were not part of the curriculum at the convent.
A career in acting was just a fleeting thought initially. However, Fairley decided to take up acting seriously after joining the ‘Ulster Youth Theatre.’ Following her graduation, Fairley moved to Belfast and joined an amateur theater group called ‘Fringe Benefits.’
Fairley moved to Manchester after being in Belfast for several years. She then joined ‘Manchester Polytechnic,’ now known as the ‘Manchester Metropolitan University.’ A tutor there helped Fairley earn her first professional stage work.
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In 1986, Fairley moved to the capital to work in her first play, Christina Reid’s ‘Joyriders,’ at the ‘Tricycle Theatre’ in London. She has lived in London ever since.
It was not long after her first stage performance that Fairley began her TV career with ‘ITV’s British drama series ‘Saracen’ (1989). A year later, she was seen on the silver screen for the first time, in Ken Loach’s political thriller ‘Hidden Agenda.’
For the next decade or so, Fairley was mostly seen in single episodes of various series, such as the medical dramas ‘Casualty’ (1991) and ‘Cardiac Arrest’ (1994), the ‘BBC1’ mystery drama ‘Lovejoy’ (1992), the British police-procedural series ‘The Bill’ (1995), and the famous detective drama series ‘Inspector Morse’ (1995).
Fairley appeared in her first lead role in ‘Safe and Sound,’ as ‘Eleanor Delaney,’ in 1996. She then appeared in the ‘BBC One’ crime drama ‘The Broker’s Man’ in 1997. The series featured her as ‘Gabby Rodwell.’ She did a number of made-for-TV films during this time, namely, ‘Comics’ (1993), ‘Life After Life’ (1995), ‘A Mug’s Game’ (1996), ‘The Precious Blood’ (1996), and ‘Vicious Circle’ (1999).
Fairley continued appearing in theater productions concurrently during the 1990s. She played ‘Carol’ in David Mamet’s ‘Oleanna,’ at the ‘Royal Court Theatre,’ in 1993. Five years later, in 1998, she performed as ‘Elisabeth’ at the same venue, in the classic ‘Never Land.’ She played ‘Valerie’ in the world premier of Conor McPherson’s ‘The Weir’ at the ‘Walter Kerr Theatre,’ in 1999.
Fairley’s career remained steady and uneventful for most of the next decade. After a hiatus of 8 years, Fairley returned to the silver screen, with ‘A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries’ and ‘Suffering’ in 1998. Her first major motion picture was a supernatural psychological horror, ‘The Others’ (2001), starring Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan.
Fairley started the millennium with a short-lived drama series named ‘McCready and Daughter’ (2000). She appeared in ‘Holby City’ (2003), ‘The Clinic’ (2003), ‘The Golden Hour’ (2005), ‘Strictly Confidential’ (2006), and ‘Trial & Retribution’ (2007).
In 2004, Fairley was seen at the ‘Lyric Theatre,’ playing ‘Rebecca’ in ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ a play written by English playwright Harold Pinter. However, it was her performance as ‘Emilia’ in the 2007 production of the Shakespeare classic ‘Othello’ at the ‘Donmar Warehouse’ that transformed her career. It is rumored that Fairley’s performance in the final scenes of the play, which showed ‘Emilia’ being murdered, helped her bag the career-defining role of ‘Catelyn Stark.’
After appearing in some famous British TV films such as ‘A Short Stay in Switzerland’ and ‘Best: His Mother’s Son’ in 2009, Fairley played the role of a quintessential matriarch in ‘Game of Thrones,’ the TV adaptation of GRR Martin’s epic fantasy series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ in 2011. Most of her international fans know her as ‘Lady Catelyn Stark,’ her character in the series. Though she was “killed” in the third season of the series, the impact of Fairley’s performance remained throughout the series.
Fairley earned quite a few award nominations for her performance in ‘Game of Thrones,’ including two ‘Screen Actors Guild Award’ nominations, one each in 2011 and 2013. She won the ‘Irish Film & Television Award’ in 2013, after being nominated once in 2011.
Fairley has worked in some of the most popular TV series since her days in ‘Game of Thrones,’ which include the legal drama series ‘Suits’ (2013), the ‘Fox’ action thriller ‘24:Live Another Day’ (2014), the fantasy series ‘Resurrection’ (2014–2015), and the historical drama ‘The White Princess’ (2017). She will soon be seen in the psychological thriller ‘The Feed.’
Her more recent stage projects include Abi Morgan’s ‘Splendour’ at the ‘Donmar Warehouse,’ in 2015. Fairley also played ‘Cassius’ in ‘Julius Caesar’ at the ‘Bridge Theatre,’ in 2018.