Fair City: Jenny Kavanagh returns as Cleo Collins in Carrigstown
Jenny Kavanagh Photo by Thyes Kavanagh

Fair City: Jenny Kavanagh returns as Cleo Collins in Carrigstown

Eleven years after her departure from Fair City as iconic character Cleo Collins, Jenny Kavanagh is set to return to our screens bringing with her exciting new storylines. Growing up between Clondalkin and Tallaght, Jenny later moved to the South of France where she has lived for the last six years.

Working in fitness, being a marketing manager for luxury sports cars and having a big social media presence, Jenny speaks with The Echo from her parent’s house in Clondalkin about getting the role of Cleo, her life since leaving the show over the last decade and the return of Cleo.

What inspired you to become an actress?

From a very young age I was very interested in anything creative. My dad used to say that if you open the fridge door Jenny will perform for five minutes for you. In other words, if there was a spotlight of any description on me, I was on and I was always play-acting and showing off.

I guess looking back if you were to analyse it, I was clearly fighting for anyone’s attention at any time.

Humour is a currency in this house, so when we had fun and when you were making people laugh you were giving them so much and likewise, they were giving you.

I think I learned quite early on that if I did a dance or made a joke, and somebody laughed that I had given them something, I think that’s where it came from.

Also, my Mum is a costume designer and was a dancer and my dad is a sound engineer, so I grew up in a house that had actors and musicians [coming] in and out all of the time, so I was used to seeing that.

How did the role of playing Cleo Collins on Fair City come about?

I did quite a lot of stage stuff and a couple of tv adverts and parts in short films when I was very young.

I had done auditions previously for Fair City and it had been for roles like the girlfriend and the girl next door – that kind of character, but for Cleo my agent got contacted without having to do an audition and they said she has auditioned before – we know her, and we want this girl for this job.

I had just gone into sixth year, and I remember I was at a career fair in the RDS with my parents and I was going around not knowing what I wanted to do and in the meantime my parents were having the conversation about the role with my agent.

So, I was in the RDS and after my parents gave the greenlight, I got told I had got the part and I was going in.

What was the experience like for you playing Cleo while still being in school?

I was sixteen when I started on the show, so I was still very much in school.

It was the first big and nationwide gig I had ever done. I went in and it was obvious that I was going to be working and treated, in many ways, like an adult and learning from very skilled professional adults but also, I was supposed to keep up with schoolwork.

I did a lot of home-schooling, and my teachers would send me my stuff.

When I went back into school it was really hard because we have a natural begrudgery as Irish people, so it was really hard for my friends to understand that I had worked my socks off to get to that place and it hadn’t been given to me and that I didn’t think that I was better than anyone else because I was on the telly – I was given a really hard time.

How did you cope with the sudden fame and recognition that comes with being on television?

Nothing can prepare you for being on tv and people suddenly knowing your face. It is a really alien thing because you kind of like it in the sense of when people come up to you and they are saying – I saw you on the telly!

And you think wow I am doing something I really love, and I worked so hard to get here and you are getting to see it, but then when you get people that automatically think that because you are on tv that you are better than them because there is a general assumption.

On set as Cleo Collins in Fair City ten years ago

What have you been up to since leaving Fair City?

I love studying and learning and I love learning so much about different things, it keeps you fresh and always learning something new.

I was sixteen to twenty-two on the show which are incredibly formative years and yet I was spending more time playing a character than figuring out what character I was.

A lot of the last decade has been figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. It always comes back to acting but acting is such a sporadic thing it’s always good to have something in your back pocket.

I qualified in personal training and nutrition, beauty therapy and marketing and digital marketing.

About two years ago I was working as a marketing manager for Lamborghini and Aston Martin in the South of France which was an incredible learning curve for me.

I have had the opportunity to do lots of dream jobs and I live what looks like a dream life but what people don’t realise is you always need to work out what is your dream.

11 years on, Cleo Collins is returning to our screens on Sunday, what can viewers expect to see?

She has come back for a visit and that visit will get extended because she will see things that maybe are worth her hanging around to provide support for, particularly with Dolores and Pete and their marriage which has been on the rocks for a while.

Dolores was always the confidant for Cleo and was always the person that helped her see a different way and they had a beautiful journey together.

The wonderful thing about Cleo is that she is so real. We are now meeting her ten years later, her mother has passed away and she has been on a journey when it comes to personal growth, and it seems that she has done very well for herself.

I know that the Cleo that you are meeting now very much still has the cheekiness, sassiness, and truth bomb element to her with no filter.

It is quite a special story because you are seeing someone figure out these relationships all over again.

You can catch Jenny as character Cleo Collins on Fair City Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 8pm on RTÉ or follow her on Instagram @jennykavanaghofficial

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