Irish actress Ruth McCabe plays the role of the Mother Superior in the Oscar-nominated “Philomena,” the true story of Philomena Lee, a pregnant teenager in Ireland in the 1950s forced to labor in a laundry at an abbey, where she is sent to live and deliver her baby. One day, Lee (played by Judi Dench) discovers her toddler son has been adopted out by the nuns to a wealthy American couple, and thus begins her 50-year search for him.
McCabe is in town for the 14th annual Irish Film Festival Boston, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. In Ireland, she says, the reaction to the film was “enormous,” particularly among elderly women who would have been Philomena’s age. “There was a sense of shock. But it didn’t just happen in Ireland. In Britain, they exported illegitimate children to Australia. Women and children didn’t have much power anywhere, and they still don’t.”
McCabe, who was in Boston for the first time, also has a role in “Run & Jump,” which won the festival’s best breakthrough feature award. “Run & Jump” tells the story of an Irish housewife who struggles to keep her family together after a stroke leaves her husband mentally disabled. They get by on a research grant from an American doctor, played by Will Forte, who wants to document the family’s recovery.
McCabe plays the role of the husband’s mother, and says she loved working with Forte and director Steph Green. “I like the way she was with the children on the set,” says McCabe, who has three grown children. “It’s a very good sign if you’re good with children.” She says she’s looking forward to seeing some of the films in the festival, particularly “Volkswagen Joe,” about a mechanic on the border during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland who is trying “to stay clean with both sides.”
Asked about which movies she has loved in the past year or two, she says “12 Years a Slave” and “Lincoln.” Don’t ask her about “Downton Abbey.” She sniffs. “I’ve had enough. No more. The aristocrats being so very kind and involved with their servants-slaves? Yeah, right.” So it isn’t realistic, then? “Oh God, no,” she says. “It’s an extreme right-wing fantasy.”