Originally Published on 12 July 2019

The most exciting thing about acting is imagining other scenarios and possibilities, making it all up, inspiring other people, and, most importantly, the feeling of connection. This feeling is something that I struggle to find in daily life sometimes. The sense of being, playing, exploring, and doing it with all your honesty, heart and trust – this place of joy and vulnerability is a place from which I find it easier to connect.

My name is María José Lluque Lopez, but my friends call me Joji or Jo. I live in Galway with my 2-year-old daughter, Amaranta. I am an actor/designer/illustrator, currently working as a UX & Product Designer for Marino Software. I was at a vocational crossroad when a good friend of mine suggested that I should look into UX as a career path. When I started reading about it, I realised that it did align with a lot of my interests. I started an internship at Marino, and I was very lucky to be mentored and trained by people that weren’t only extremely talented, but also very human and just beautiful to work with. I was also very excited to be doing a job where I could use my skills (I had been working as a graphic designer for many years), but where I also had a lot of learning ahead of me too.

I am an immigrant. I moved to Spain with my family to escape Argentina’s devastating financial crisis of 2001. Immigrating marked my life and identity profoundly. In these times of uncertainty and fear, I have made it my calling to keep insisting that no matter how vast the underlying ocean of thoughts, beliefs, and identity are that makes us different, there’s always a bridge.

I went to an Irish School in Buenos Aires called St. Bridget’s. I have massively fond memories of this huge, fairy tale castle (the building is said to be a copy of an Irish Castle), and learning about Ireland and its culture. I first came to Ireland for a summer job in a beautiful cafe & restaurant called O’Dowds, in Roundstone, Connemara (you MUST go there – best chowder in the world!), where I made long lasting friends; I felt (and still feel) immediately at home. I moved to Galway to train with Galway Youth Theatre. It was there that I got introduced to the acting scene in Ireland, along with many incredible people that are still my colleagues today.

Outside of my job, I love theatre, acting, and the visual arts. I first became interested in acting when I was 12 – we had auditions in my school for Robin Hood. When I got on the stage, I had a sudden rush of energy and focus. I remember vividly how moved and hooked I was by this newly found feeling of belonging. I didn’t get the part, but I started training in a little school in downtown Buenos Aires. I relished rehearsals, spending hours on end in the theatre, practicing, repeating over and over again. It was my first experience of true commitment. I loved the rituals of the theatre, the closely-knit community, the trust in each other and in the craft, and the love that goes into every project.

I have so many actors that I admire: Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, Cate Blanchett & Kate Winslet are my Fabulous Four. Of the younger generations, I LOVE Alicia Vikander, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Murphy, Saoirse Ronan, Oscar Isaac, Cillian Murphy, Jon Krasinski, and Bradley Cooper (whom I’m marrying very soon!). But mostly, the greatest inspirations to me are the actor friends I have and admire; my soul sister Karen Connell is one of them.

I joined the Screen Acting Programme at Bow Street because I had always been juggling between work and acting, and I wanted to dedicate a full year almost exclusively to acting. The most important things I learned there is that you can’t lie, you can’t fake it. As an artist, you are a channel – to be that channel, your job is staying fiercely and intimately connected to the world and to yourself, and learning to manage and navigate the internal turmoil and practical disasters that can sometimes come with that.

Bow Street

Clean Break on RTÉ was my first TV role. The scenes I am in were shot in a very old house, and I find an over-the-top joy in working outside or in interesting houses! I was accompanied by a great talent of people, like director Damien O’Donnell, and actors like Amybeth McNulty, Ned Denehy, and Aidan McArdle. They might not remember it, but I received some great career advice from Ned & Aidan, and I always remember their generosity. I would love to be able to do that one day, when I am an established actor – be able to carry with me all the people and good luck and good advice that took me where I am, and make it my responsibility to pass this onto others who are starting out.

My favourite acting experience was playing Adela in The House of Bernarda Alba. I had been obsessed with that play for many years, and when I got called to audition, it felt like it was meant to be. It was my favourite audition ever; I was deeply connected to the work and all I cared about at that moment was bringing forth what I felt was the truth of the character and of the play. It was a moment to remember!

The House of Bernarda Alba

I think the entertainment industry in Ireland is small and very welcoming, which actually makes it a beautiful place to work in. I would love to see more nationalities getting real representation on Screen and on the Irish Stage – not as the token foreign person, but as normal characters, leading roles, and part of everyday life (like we are in real life). We don’t question it when we see women playing men and vice versa in Shakespeare plays; I don’t see why we couldn’t also have actors with a foreign accent playing those roles. We know that once you present that with confidence and integrity, your audience will accept it as part of the truth. That is the power of storytelling.

I want to be the best actor I can be. I want to work on screen more. I would love to work consistently in European cinema. I would love the challenge of taking a leading role in a film. I would love to write a play. I would love to play Linda in Death of a Salesman when I’m older. Finally, I would love to be in Lorca’s Blood Wedding.

Clean Break

I see many similarities between acting and my current occupation, such as exercising empathy and understanding other people’s goals, intentions, and obstacles. The techniques of role play, imagining and recreating user personas and scenarios during UX research, are very similar to what actors do. I see acting as a very valuable skill for many other careers, because of its emphasis on communication and empathy. I feel very comfortable speaking in front of people, and I also feel very comfortable putting myself in other people’s shoes.

Acting definitely has something to do with where I am today professionally. After all, I started designing professionally because I wanted to do the posters for the plays I was in. When the time came, I had accumulated a good portfolio of work that I could present when I did my interview at Marino. I hadn’t worked in UX before, but they gave me all the training and support that I needed, and I got hired after my internship.

My advice to anyone interested in acting is to put your work out there, train a lot, and listen to others. Listen to their words and to what’s in between their words too. Keep a journal, meditate, and exercise to keep your mind and your body flexible and available. Stay fiercely connected to yourself and the world. Develop the ability to contact your deepest depths as easily as possible. And if you have written a great script that involves a South American actor, I advise you to contact me immediately!

I think it is wonderful to share the creative passion of technologists! Otia Magazine has brought to light a phenomenon that maybe we all knew about but hadn’t given a proper platform to: people in tech often have a creative job going on the side – music, theatre, painting, jewellery making, etc. So it is brilliant to highlight this and to give it a platform to exist so that we can all learn about what others are doing. You are doing a great job at opening a door to new connections, new ideas, projects, and love affairs!

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