Since first appearing on the big screen in the original Matrix trilogy, Irish actress Genevieve O’Reilly has gone on to prove her versatility in various shows like Spooks, Episodes, and Glitch and theatre plays like The Weir, Splendour, and The Ferryman. But there is now one franchise synonymous with her very image, Star Wars. When O’Reilly was originally cast as Senator Mon Mothma in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, shortly after graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art, she never expected the character would endure in the franchise nearly twenty years later. Her scenes were eventually cut from the final prequel film, but fate, as we all know, had other plans.
Starting with a surprise call from Lucasfilm over ten years later to reprise Mon Mothma in Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, O’Reilly has continued to dive deeper into the part and explore Mothma’s vast life in a number of subsequent projects. The rebel leader was first played by Caroline Blakiston in Return of the Jedi (1983), wherein the famous line, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” was born. From portraying the character on the big screen to reprising her in the animated series Star Wars Rebels to now on television/streaming in Andor, it is no secret that the role of Mon Mothma has had a profound impact on Genevieve O’Reilly’s career.
Mon Mothma is best known for her leadership, diplomacy, and dedication as a politician and key figure in the Rebel Alliance. Often depicted as a calm and intelligent figure, she remains respected by her allies for her strategic sharpness. In the Disney+ original series Andor, Genevieve O’Reilly portrays Mothma at one of the most complex periods of her life – the early days of the rebellion. The prequel series, which follows the rebel freedom fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in the build-up to Rogue One, has received immense praise from audiences and critics alike. Aside from the incredible acting on display, much of this is thanks to creator and showrunner Tony Gilroy, who expertly taps into an unchartered territory of Star Wars storytelling that brutally highlights the fascinating dynamics between those who must do whatever it takes to survive under the oppressive blanket of the Empire.
In the midst of filming Andor Season 2, Genevieve O’Reilly spared some time to sit down with us and reflect on her expansive journey as Mon Mothma, which will also continue sooner than expected when the highly anticipated Star Wars series Ahsoka premieres later this summer on Disney+. We discuss the many creative talents and collaborators that have enriched her Star Wars experience and what’s next for her character in both Ahsoka and the final season of Andor.
Exclusive Interview with Genevieve O’Reilly for Andor on Disney+
You’ve now been playing Mon Mothma for nearly the better part of two decades. When you first landed the role, did you ever think that it would have this longevity?
Genevieve O’Reilly: You know, that was one of my first roles out of drama school and it was a very fortunate baptism within the industry to get to work with Natalie Portman, Jimmy Smits, and George Lucas. Then those scenes [in Revenge of the Sith] didn’t make the film, I’m sure for many reasons, and so I kind of just put it to bed.
When they rang me and it was for Rogue One, gosh what a surprise that was! It was such a beautiful film and it was lovely to get to actually step into her shoes, it felt like such a lovely full circle. What I never expected was for it to then come around again. I had voiced her in the Rebels animated series between then and now, but what a lovely surprise to have the opportunity to play this woman again, and not only play her but to actually discover her as a woman, not just as the senator – to really stretch within her to find out about her life and who she was. It’s been really special for me to get the opportunity to do that.
Andor gives Mon Mothma the most complex layers that we have ever seen from the character, including a husband, Perrin Fertha (Alastair Mackenzie), and daughter, Leida (Bronte Carmichael). How do you work to define where she is at this point in her life as an actor?
Genevieve O’Reilly: Well, I think that’s in Tony’s writing. From my experience within Star Wars, this is the first time it’s really been humanized for me. He’s made it grittier, more complex, more human, more pedestrian. She’s a mother and she lives her life within a complicated marriage. I always knew that she would be fighting the Empire on the floor of the Senate, but I didn’t expect her to be stepping into the Empire at home as well.
What a juicy thing for an actor to discover and then get to wrestle with, those scenes in her home where she can carve out allies and speak of rebellion maybe for the first time. The idea that there’s not a formulated rebellion and you have to carve it from nothing, that you have to wade in that danger and discover that she could lose everything, the cost that this woman lives with was deeply juicy for me.
Speaking of allies, Mon’s closest is undoubtedly Luthen Rael. How did you and Stellan Skarsgård go about building that relationship?
Genevieve O’Reilly: Stellan is a dream. He and I get on famously with each other. Those two characters are fascinating because, within Tony’s world, there is nothing of the black and white that there is in the previous Star Wars installments. We’re not Empire or Rebellion, we are merely under the oppressive blanket of Empire. I can really only speak for Mon, she has to find new allies while risking some allies too.
You can see that the relationship between Mon and Luthan serves both of them in very different ways. She is using everything that she has to fund his activities, yet at its core, it also feels like these two people are really different in the way they approach things and hat there is a sense of danger there. In one of their scenes in season one, in her naivety, she calls him out on his opacity and that he hadn’t been honest with her. I think they’re a fascinating pair because they are moving in the same direction, but they’re approaching it from polarized positions.
It was revealed at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year that you are going to be returning as Mon Mothma in Ahsoka. How does it feel to be playing her at another separate point in both her life and leadership?
Genevieve O’Reilly: It was fascinating that they asked me and it was such a surprise. I was really thrilled that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were interested in me coming for a minute to play with them. They’re such brilliant filmmakers. It was just thrilling for me to be able to go over and play with them for a bit. I’m a huge fan of Rosario [Dawson], she’s a brilliant and formidable woman and actor. I think what they’re doing with that piece is going to be really exciting. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a wonderful actor and to get to work with her also was amazing.
It felt extraordinary for Mon to get the opportunity to enter a different world again, and perhaps that’s because I’m so invested in Andor. But when Jon and Dave rang and spoke so passionately about Mon, and made it clear that they really wanted her to be in Ahsoka, I felt humbled that they were inviting me to come and join them. They’re brilliant storytellers and filmmakers at the cutting edge. What they’re doing over there with how they use The Volume, they film in a very different way than how we filmed [Andor]. That was really exciting and informative for me to go over and learn how they do that because using that kind of cutting-edge technology to inform the piece, it’s a very different way of filming. I was grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of that.
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Andor and, simultaneously, we’re about another year away from the new season. What has it been like seeing the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the show over the last year, and what can you tell us about your experience filming Andor Season 2?
Genevieve O’Reilly: It really meant so much that the fans put their arms around Andor. It feels like a very different piece of work from other Star Wars projects, so it could have been something that they didn’t enjoy. But the fans have loved it, are invested in it, and are curious about it. They’ve gone with Tony’s vision, so it felt really special to share that and for it to be received not with apathy, but with excitement and gratitude. People really, really understood what we are working towards. They really liked the textured grittiness of the show and really saw the humanity within it too. That fan base is such a special and passionate group of people. It meant so much to us that they liked it.
Now we’re filming season two, and I can’t be anything but excited for them. Oh my gosh, it’s this massive juggernaut of storytelling, and all those fans kind of know where it’s going. Andor felt like something really new when we shared it, but now everybody’s invested in that world as well as these deeper, slightly different versions of these characters. Everything is really driving to a very exciting finish. We’re in the middle of filming season two right now and I’m as desperate to share it as people are to see it, so we all have to wait 12 months!