Saoirse-Monica Jackson describes Erin Quinn, her character in Derry Girls, with the same genuine affection used to talk about a close friend. And in a manner of speaking, she is. Not only is Erin in some ways an avatar for show creator and Jackson’s friend Lisa McGee—who, like Erin, grew up in Derry in the 1990s amid the Troubles—but Jackson feels a real kinship with the character.
“Erin is a real romantic,” Jackson tells me over a video call. “And that doesn’t just come down to who she fancies. She has romantic ideas about life and she really wants a lot for herself.”
Growing up in a place like Derry, where sectarianism pervaded every bit of life during the Troubles (and can still today), it would have been easy for Erin to just follow the views of her household, Jackson explains to me from Liverpool, where she’s currently based. Jackson herself is a Derry native, so she relates to Erin’s curiosity and desire to make up her own mind.
“In Derry, you vote Sinn Féin or you vote SDLP, and that’s what it’s like today, but Erin, as a young character that Lisa has written, is really trying to find her own way in the world and form her own opinion,” Jackson says. “I think that’s quite remarkable, and I think that I had that—I’m not calling myself remarkable as a teenager—but I really did have that when I was younger. And I don’t know if that came down to like pure nosiness or being scared of seeming stupid.”
Derry Girls has always threaded the needle of being both a hilarious character-driven sitcom and capturing a difficult chapter of Irish history. The third season especially touches on this, as the Derry Girls and their families decide how they’ll vote on the Good Friday Agreement. Luckily for us, the final series has finally arrived on Netflix for US viewers, so at long last we can catch up with Erin and the rest of the gang. In case you need a refresher, the Derry Girls consist of aspiring writer Erin (Jackson), brash Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), overachieving wee lesbian Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Erin’s ditzy cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), and Michelle’s hapless English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn).
Beyond the political, Season 3 sees the friends being questioned by police, dressing up as the Spice Girls, and staying in a haunted house—and that’s not even including the hijinks of the equally charming adults, like Ma Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill), Erin’s da Gerry (Tommy Tiernan), Aunt Sarah (Kathy Kiera Clarke), Granda Joe (Ian McElhinney), and, of course, the formidable Sister Michael (Siobhán McSweeney).
If that sounds like a lot of characters, well, it is, and the overlapping chatter that makes up Derry Girls’ signature comedic style is part of what helped Jackson get into character as Erin.
“It’s not normal how many people talk in each scene of Derry Girls,” Jackson says. “Sometimes we can have 10 people having a full conversation in Derry Girls at one time, and that’s crazy. So going in to rehearse those scenes is mad, and finding your place and your beat within something like that is so much fun. That’s also something I’ll really miss because that doesn’t come along very often in television at all.”
Besides the comforting chaos of Derry Girls scenes, Jackson says that the carefully curated costumes by Cathy Prior helped her get into Erin mode.
“Every tiny bit of my costume, I understood why I was wearing it and where it was from and we often talked about if we do another season, this is how we’ll place them then, because they’re working class girls that don’t have a lot of money,” Jackson explains.
Jackson loved some of the costume elements so much that she even asked to take them home when the series ended (she wouldn’t dare steal them because she’s a self-professed “square bear”). She saved Erin’s special jewelry that matched with each of her friends, but one of the most important parts of Erin’s wardrobe were her Doc Martens.
“I kept my school tie and I kept Erin’s Doc Marten boots,” she shares. “Erin’s Doc Marten boots I’ve had since Season 1 and they really play a huge part in my performance. I don’t mean to sound really wanky, but they were too big for me when I first got them in the first season, and I remembered that feeling at school as a young teenager—in the first season when we started the show, she’s 14—having bits of my school uniform that were too big and my mum being like, But you’ll grow into it, so it was more cost efficient. And it gave you this awkwardness within your own body, this rough and tumble-ness, this childlike, sort of Scrappy-Doo energy. So I wanted to keep the boots because I thought that they had such a big part to play in me and her getting to the end of it.”
Even though the show is over, Jackson still feels connected to Erin. The character and the show have changed her life: people tag Jackson in photos where they’re dressed up as the Derry Girls, or in videos where they’re emulating the show’s famous “Rock the Boat” scene (admittedly, I made the DJ play the song at my wedding so we could do the dance). Erin and the others are beloved the world over, and by Jackson herself.
“I really miss her as a character,” she admits. “I think that she’s just a brilliant character to play, and it was so much fun and I learned so much about my own hometown through this experience, through Erin’s eyes and Lisa’s eyes.
“I often think now that it’s such a weird thing, because like, obviously, I’m playing Lisa as Erin, and it’s been such a huge part of my life and I’ve held it so close to me. Even when we stood down for COVID for two years, I was still thinking about what I was going to do with Erin over those two years, because with a character like Erin, I got to grow up with her. There was a real throughline of progression. And then at the end, it’s like Lisa gets to continue off being Erin, and I have to wave goodbye there. And that’s so sad, but also it’s full circle.”
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.