Even over a Zoom call, Amy Huberman is as warm, funny and down-to-earth as you might expect. When we speak, two-year-old Ted – the youngest of the three children (along with nine-year-old Sadie and seven-year-old Billy) the Dublin actor shares with husband Brian O’Driscoll, aka BOD, aka Irish Rugby God – is napping in the next room, as she frantically issues off-screen instructions to close doors and keep things quiet.
Huberman regularly shares scenes from her home life with O’Driscoll on Instagram, many of them gently poking fun at her husband of 11 years (who, for example, recently returned home from the dog groomer’s with the wrong dog). Still, she cackles at the notion of them being an Irish media “power couple”.
“Power couple?” she sputters. “I spend half the day going ‘Oh god! I don’t wanna do anything!’ and just lying on the couch – there’s no power involved in that. But listen, the social media stuff is great for work things, but a lot of it is the day-to-day stuff, the things that we laugh at and enjoy, and yeah … I probably slag him more online than he does me. I feel like there’s a lot in the post for his comeback with me – I’m dead,” she laughs.
“I think when we were all in lockdown with Covid, it was just laughing at the everyday stuff that was challenging, trying to find some light relief in how long and arduous the whole of lockdown was.
“But I definitely think a big part of our relationship is slagging each other, in a nice way. I do take the important things in life seriously but I’d be able to laugh at him. I mean, me,” she says, grinning as she corrects herself. “Okay, and him.”
The 43-year-old Huberman’s comic timing is clearly well honed, but a life on the screen or stage was never really an early ambition for the young Amy. She studied social science at UCD, but spent more time hanging out with the Drama Society, of which Chris O’Dowd was a fellow member at the time.
When her brother Mark, also an actor, took his agent to see her in a play, it led to an audition for RTÉ drama On Home Ground while she was completing her MA. Until that point, she says, she saw acting as “a bit of a ‘unicorn job’; a fanciful dream, more than anything.”
“It seemed to happen very quick,” she nods. “I remember thinking ‘How am I gonna do my thesis when I’m filming?’ But it is literally like being bitten by the bug: I knew this was for me. I loved it. I always call myself an ‘accidental actor’ or an ‘accidental writer’, and I’ve been winging it since then.” Then she whispers, her eyes shifting from side to side. “Just don’t tell anyone.”
Huberman’s acting career has gone from strength to strength ever since, including a long stint on The Clinic, roles in everything from Cold Feet to Silent Witness, and most recently in detective series Harry Wild and as the titular character in the self-penned sitcom Finding Joy.
She added another string to her bow with the publication of novels Hello, Heartbreak (2010) and I Wished for You (2013), but recently published her first book for a younger audience, The Day I Got Trapped in My Brain. It tells the story of Frankie, a young girl who must navigate her own mind and imagination to rediscover her ‘lost spark’.
Writing a children’s’ book was “always one of those ‘maybe-down-the-line’ things”, she says, adding that the act of writing has always been a way to “gain a bit of control when things are out of control”. In other words, the perfect activity for a pandemic. And like anything she has written in the past, it was important to include humour in the story.
“It is, as my editor called it, a love letter to siblings – and I’ve spoken about [her brothers] Mark and Paul before,” she says. “I think I was very nostalgic during that whole period of lockdown, and my dad wasn’t well, and everyone felt that collective doubt about what was going on.
“And because we were stuck in the house and I was having another baby, so many different things were being tied together for me – so I guess I just poured out my heart. I never set out to write the story that I wrote; it kind of came about in that way.
“I think it was because we were all so disconnected in a way, and everyone was so frightened and scared. It was like, ‘How do we reconnect and find each other again, when everything is scary and upended?’ Loss is a huge emotion for kids to deal with, in that regard. But I wanted it to still be hopeful.”
We had our different traditions because my dad was Jewish. His friends celebrated Hanukkah so I always felt like we got the double gifting. It was like a mini-Christmas at the beginning of December
Her own kids, she says, offered feedback in their own way. “My daughter is right at the perfect age, she’s nine-and-a-half. “So that was really helpful when I was writing, because I was able to say ‘Oh no, that’s too young’.
“My little fella is probably a bit too young for it but they’re my PR team in the schoolyard. It’s really sweet – they’re like ‘Why are you reading that book? Why aren’t you reading this one. I should set them up a stall at the front gates and give them 10 per cent commission.”
It’s no surprise to learn that family is important to Huberman, and this Christmas will see some sadness mixed in with the festivities. Her beloved dad Harold passed away in May of this year at the age of 84.
“It will be different,” she says, smiling sadly. “I think it was weird because the last few years with Covid made things different, anyway. But they always say the first everything without them is the hardest, and you’re so conscious [of that]. But my dad always loved bagels, so we’ll have a plate of bagels in his honour somewhere in the mix, with some smoked salmon – that was always his thing. So we’ll make sure to have that in the centre of the table.”
She remembers fond memories of the “simple joy” of her own childhood Christmases.
“I remember my granny was coming up from Wexford and we didn’t have enough beds organised – so myself and my older brother slept on the garden furniture up on the landing,” she recalls, laughing. “I remember going ‘How is Santa going to find us?!’
“We had our different traditions because my dad was Jewish – not that we didn’t have any Christmas trees or anything, because he wasn’t religious – so we kind of had a mishmash. His friends celebrated Hanukkah so I always felt like we got the double gifting, which was nice. It was like a mini-Christmas at the beginning of December.”
She is not one for resolutions – January is “a bit grim and miserable to punish ourselves even further” – but is looking ahead to 2023 with a sense of optimism.
“I guess this year we were able to travel more than we have over the last few years, so yeah … I’m just looking forward to more adventures,” she smiles. “I’ve gotten away with my girlfriends twice this year, and I’ve loved that; no responsibility except having the chats and hanging out with each other. And hopefully more exciting work stuff.”
She stops, taking a deep breath and smiling. “But as long as the family is happy and healthy, that’s it.”
The Day I Got Stuck in My Brain is published by Scholastic and is out now.