Libby McArthur, best known for her role as Gina in River City, is a household name in Scotland. But there is a lot more to her than most people know about. Talking Heads reporter Colin MacGregor spoke to her about her take on mental health issues in television, the unique pressure that performers face and how closely she relates to her River City character.
There is so much more to Libby McArthur than her role in River City. She is an advocate for all things social and a spokesperson for many charities and causes, fighting fight the good fight from breast cancer to mental health. She utilises her fame to the best of her ability, which is something that I greatly admire.
In fact it was Libby’s good nature that first connected us, when I was performing at a charity event where she was the main speaker. She recognised the effort I had put into my singing and invited me to the main table to partake in some complimentary dialogue. We kept in touch and I recently contacted her to take part in this Q&A for SMHAFF.
Do you think actors should open up more to their mental health issues to help fight the stigma attached to the subject, or, do you feel most actors prefer to keep it private for fear of not landing an important role?
In an ideal world, anyone coping with a life situation that engenders fear would share more, and yes it would help people feel less stigmatised. It’s also true folk in the limelight do [face the question]: ‘Do you think actors should open up more to their mental health issues to help fight chance to make a real difference here?’ However, it must be an authentic choice for them as it ought to be for anyone.
You’re a very opinionated lady who always puts her argument across in an intelligent manner. What is your take on todays fight against the stigma of mental health?
There’s more that binds us here than separates us. I’ve often said mental health isn’t an either or thing, like two heads of a coin. It’s a linear thing with most of us having jumped back and forth along this line all our lives. There’s been times when through, loss, anxiety or any manner of old fears having been triggered, I’ve felt overwhelmed and other times when I’ve been very centered and self-resilient.
Soaps, like River City, have a great opportunity to educate via their storylines. Do you think soaps carry a responsibility to educate through their storylines about modern day issues like mental health?
Yes, I do, most do and there is a big responsibility here to make sure that the producers have done their homework and carry through these stories to their proper conclusions.
Some think that it’s nonsense, some believe it so. Do you think there is a connection to creativeness and mental health issues?
Absolutely! Any decent artist knows about vulnerability, as in they know it’s there, in that state, that the most creative stuff happens, but also that there’s a price to pay for being out there on that edge. You have to be very self-compassionate for living with that dynamic and most of us just aren’t –instead most of us are full of self-recrimination. Therefore, it can be very challenging when it comes to peace of mind.
Do you think that performers’ mental health comes under greater pressure than people in day to day jobs, where they reach such highs through performance but also have to deal with the return to normality and the fall from the pedestal?
I wouldn’t describe the storytelling work that interests me in this way [but] I do think there is a difference between acting and performing. In the entertainment business, our egos, i.e. the needy part of our personalities, ache to feel showered by others’ approval and we believe we can blossom from that kind of attention. But, ultimately, if we fail to put down roots that hold us to our common ground with others – and if we fail to realise that the storytellers’ work is about…connections…that make us feel less lonely, more known and bonded with like-minded souls – then we suffer.
If you like, it’s the difference between a script and a play. You can put one in a drawer but not the other. The difference is a company. If a good director can cast well and…a true ‘company’ is created, then you can turn your script into a play.
These next questions we’ll keep light hearted. TV or theatre? What’s your preference?
Theatre is my first love but in front of an audience or a camera there’s still the same ‘gig’ inside your head.
Growing up, did you want to become an actress or were your sights set on other vocations?
I’m so grateful for the fact that I’ve only ever known myself as a storyteller. A job that can take many forms.
How close to the character Gina in River City are you?
Not very. I think Gina is both braver and more naive than myself. She’s a simpler soul, always happy to be falling in love again whereas I daren’t. I’m also glad I haven’t been through what she has!
Finally, do you think there will ever be a proper film industry here in Scotland?
I do. I think it and other new platforms for all in our creative industries is a must for Scotland and that they will be made and properly sustained. I do believe however this work will not properly be undertaken until Scotland gains its independence.
by Colin MacGregor
Colin has also produced this vlog about his own experiences with mental health and why he has got involved with the Talking Heads project: