A Lurgan woman is rubbing shoulders with the stars having followed her heart and landed her dream job in the film industry.
Nora Henderson-O’Donnell, who has worked on such films as Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean, returned to her former school recently with the aim of inspiring young people in the same way as she’d been inspired herself.
Nora, who is currently working on new movie Frankenstein starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, called into St Michael’s recently with her husband to give a talk to interested drama and PE students.
Nora has been part of the crew on a number of top movies while her husband James O’Donnell, who is known in the industry as Jimmy O’Dee, is a stuntman whose film credits include Batman Begins, V for Vendetta and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Nora (32) is originally from Tannaghmore Road North, but now lives in Kent. She told the ‘MAIL’: “After finishing school I’d worked a lot of different jobs. I worked in the Batcave, in an office in Lurgan Hospital and in a horticultural nursery.
“I enjoyed working in all those places but they just weren’t for me. At 21, I went back to university to study Media, Theatre and Spanish.
“After university I was working at a recruitment agency when I decided I needed to go with my heart.
“I’d kept hold of a business card I’d got from a woman who gave a careers talk on film production during first year at university. I found it really inspirational. I phoned her and she couldn’t believe I’d kept her card for three years.
“She got me an interview at a local production company Just For Laughs for a job as a runner for five weeks. I didn’t think twice about taking it. People told me I was mad because I was leaving a full time job to go to something that was only temporary, but my mum was one of those people who told me to go for it.
“I wrote a poem when I was 12 to my mum telling her I was going to be in films.
“Those five weeks as a runner were amazing and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After the five weeks work as a runner Nora went travelling around Australia for a year with her friend Natalie.
“When I got home I got a job straight away, on a commercial for a bank,” said the former pupil of Tannaghmore, St Mary’s and St Michael’s.
She continued: “My first job on a film was on Tom Hanks’ film City of Ember as a production runner.”
Nora moved up through the film production industry as she went on to work on 50 Dead Men Walking with Sir Ben Kingsley and then Shellshock and Ondine with Colin Farrell.
Nora said: “When filming Ondine I was offered the chance to go over to England to work on the new Harry Potter movie, The Deathly Hallows.
“It meant a pay cut and me going back to being a runner, but I went for it.
“It was such a good laugh with the cast and I met my husband while working on Harry Potter.”
Nora fell head over heels for Jimmy O’Dee, which would no doubt have impressed him given that he’s a renowned stuntman. The pair will be married three years in June.
Of the actors she’s met since getting into the film industry Nora said: “I got on really well with Colin Farrell. We had a ball on Shellshock and Ondine.
“Daniel Radcliffe has been round to my house. He’s a great guy. We got on really well during Harry Potter and it’s going to be great to see him again for Frankenstein.
“Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Brendan Gleeson are so down to earth.”
Nora also got on extremely well with Robbie Coltrane on the set of Harry Potter and Sir Ben Kingsley on 50 Dead Men Walking.
“I don’t believe in pussy footing round the big stars. I just be myself and I think they like that. Sir Ben always liked the fact I didn’t bother with airs and graces.”
Other big movies that Nora has worked on include Kick Ass 2, Vampire Academy, X-Men: First Class, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Wrath of the Titans. Nora concluded: “There’s nothing to stop you succeeding in what you want to do providing you put in the hard work. I’m so glad I made the decision to phone the number on that business card all those years ago and I’m so lucky to have my family and friends totally behind me.”
Judith Sialianskaia, GCSE drama teacher at St Michael’s said: “It was great to have Nora and her husband at the school to talk to the students. Because of Jimmy’s work as a stuntman we invited PE students as well as drama students.
“It showed the children that there are other career paths into the film industry apart from being an actor or an actress.”