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Age: 64
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13 Jun 2021, 9:02 am

Thoughtful and reserved, Louisa Harland is the antithesis of the kooky Orla Mc Cool whom she plays in hit show Derry Girls. The Dublin actor talks about how her character has unintentionally raised awareness for autism and the challenges of being funny for a living

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Dubliner Louisa Harland, 28, who plays kooky Orla McCool in Channel 4 comedy series Derry Girls, reckons she is the least like her character of all the actors in the hit TV show. With her whimsical voice, unselfconsciousness and obsessions with step aerobics, sweets and Renault Clios, Orla is very much an individual within the group of hilariously hapless friends at fictional Our Lady Immaculate Girls’ School.

“I’ve had a lot of letters from people awith autism saying that it’s great to be represented on screen like that,” says Harland on a Zoom call from her home in Tower Hamlets, East London. “It’s interesting that they relate to it in that way.”

Derry Girls is set during the Troubles in the 1990s, before the Good Friday Agreement and ASD diagnoses. Orla is represented simply as an odd and baffling classmate who takes people literally, fixates on unexpected things and is, mercifully, oblivious to mockery. “Autism wasn’t a spoken-about thing in the 1990s. It wasn’t as amazingly open and well-researched as it is now,” says Harland, who was chosen for the role because she realised that Orla “doesn’t think she’s odd” and so auditioned her lines with “absolute conviction”. “She kind of reminded me of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. That kind of energy that Tigger brings to Winnie the Pooh? That’s what I thought Orla’s role was.”

Orla’s blindness to social cues is hilarious, like when she expressed a wish to join the Orange Order because of their “cr****r” drumming (“I don’t think they accept Catholics, Orla, or, you know, acknowledge our right to exist,” snorted her cousin Erin Quinn, played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson).

The strong response from autistic viewers to her characterisation was not something Harland had anticipated. “I have thought about it a lot since that reaction and maybe in the second series I went in differently, thinking, why is Orla seen as odd to other people but not to herself?”

She says ASD are a step in the right direction. “It’s great that we can now understand all these things, or why we feel the way we do, so I think they are helpful.”


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Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman