Interview: Carmen Pieraccini
Fresh from her return to the tumultuous world of River City, we met Paisley-born Carmen Pieraccini to discuss family, finding her feet in the acting world and much more.
On a brisk Tuesday morning, Carmen Pieraccini meandered around Barshaw Park for the first time in years. As her five-month-old son napped blissfully in his pram, the veteran of stage and screen detailed her roots in Renfrewshire and the nomadic nature of her formative years.
“They stretch back to my grandparent’s generation,” she relayed. “My nono had the chippy but my mum’s side, the Farrows, both worked at Coats [thread mill]. My gran, Betty, worked there and my papa Dennis was their photographer. We stayed in the West End of Paisley,” Carmen continued, “above my uncle’s pub, the Bar Point. Then we moved to Foxbar and Quarrier’s Village before my grandparents gave my mum and dad money for a house in Lochwinnoch. I moved to Shawlands when I was younger and I loved it but we returned to Lochwinnoch about four years ago. It’s the kind of place you curse when you’re a teenager cos you’re like ‘aw this is a pain, I’m so far away.’ But when you get to my age, you appreciate that you’ve got plenty of room for the kids to run aboot and all that.”
After reminiscing about the miniature trainline that winds through the park and its similarities to one in Steve Martin’s The Jerk—one of her “favourite films”—Carmen recounted her humble beginnings in the high-risk, high-reward realm of acting.
“When we stayed in Lochwinnoch, there was a great community centre in Kilbirnie that did drama classes. The first play I was ever in was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and I played wee Edmund!” she exclaimed. “They were short on guys and I had a haircut that I thought made me look like Demi Moore from Ghost, but I really just looked like a wee boy!”
“Johnstone High didn’t have drama at the time so I had to go to (the now-defunct) Merskworth to get my Higher and I enjoyed it. You know how you’re meant to know what you want to do at that age? Well, I liked marine biology but I wasn’t great with science so I went to Langside for an NC and then shifted to The Royal Scottish Conservatoire. I auditioned for it half-heartedly, but ended up getting in. I studied contemporary theatre practice,” she declared, “but left after a year when I got a part in a kid’s TV show called G-Force. After that ran for a few years, I got an agent when they were casting (Gillies MacKinnon’s film) Small Faces. In that way, I was lucky as sorting an agent can be a frickin’ nightmare.”
“They were short on guys and I had a haircut that I thought made me look like Demi Moore from Ghost, but I really just looked like a wee boy!”
Renowned for playing the “bolshie” Kelly-Marie Adams in River City, Carmen had her reservations about reprising the role after a lengthy five-year hiatus. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a rewarding experience.
“I got the phone call about a month after my son was born and I was a bit tentative,” she admitted, “but it ended up being really good. They’ve got great writers and it’s a real mix of comedy and drama. Plus, it’s really the only recurring thing where you hear our vernacular and that’s really important.”
Yet as contented as she may be in the unblinking glare of the camera lens, Carmen’s first love has, and always will be, the theatre.
“Being on the stage, it’s all immediate. I did The Steamie two years ago to mark the 30th anniversary, with Tony Roper directing. We were playing to a sold-out Kings Theatre and I just kept saying to myself ‘soak this in’. I’ll never forget it.”
Far from beholden to high-profile roles, Carmen took great pride in detailing another facet of her professional life that tangibly enriches young lives.
“Basically, I’ve been working with Hearts & Minds for 11 years now, going into hospitals or hospices and working with kids,” she said earnestly. “We’re all clowns but we keep it simple, just the red nose. It’s all improvisation, using what the kid’s got to empower them. Creatively, that’s where I continue to grow as a performer as with clowning, it’s all about how you react. It also puts everything into perspective. You could be worried about a bill or something trivial and then you go into the hospital and think, none of that matters.”
When asked to dispense wisdom to Renfrewshire’s budding creatives, her advice is as concise as it is insightful. “Life’s too short. Do something you enjoy.”
Best place for coffee? La Dolce Vita chippy in Lochwinnoch
Best place for dinner? Allan’s Snack Bar in Paisley, there’s a wee pattern here eh?
Best pub? The Brown Bull in Lochwinnoch
Favourite place in Renfrewshire? The [Calder] Glen Road walk to the village. It’s one that I’ve done loads in my life.
This interview was published in Mill issue 8 November/December 2019.