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As soon as she saw that in the film Brassed Off she has to play a flugelhorn, Tara Fitzgerald took the role, she tells PAUL FISCHER.

At 29, Tara Fitzgerald has made quite a name for herself since her film debut in the acclaimed Irish comedy, Hear My Song, made six years ago. She even travelled to Australia, to co-star with Hugh Grant, Sam Neil, Kate Fisher and Elle Macpherson in John Duigan's Sirens, which she describes "as an unforgettable experience. It was so much like the character I played in the film, as we both embarked on this illuminating journey from England to Australia."

Her latest film, the acclaimed Brassed Off, couldn't be more different from that Australian, erotic comedy. Set in Yorkshire in 1992, this socially conscious British comedy-drama is set in a small coal mining town, home of the brass band that is its pride and joy. The trouble begins when the Conservative government threatens to close the town's coal pit. Much of the central debate centres on whether or not the town band should continue playing if the pit does shut down. The timing couldn't be worse as they are busily preparing to compete in the regional semi-finals of the brass band band championships. Adding to the stress is the mysterious return of Gloria (Fitzgerald) a local flugelhorn player who left many years before. Her sudden reappearance is particularly troubling to her ex-beau and fellow band player, Andy (Ewan McGregor).

Fitzgerald was drawn to her latest screen character for the simplest of reasons. "It was the flugel playing more than anything that I found interesting. So much is given to you by the mere fact that the first thing we really see her do is pick up the flugel horn and play. That immediately defines the character, and I thought it would be fun to convince an audience that I can do that." The actress also sees Gloria "as an outsider, has great integrity but is misunderstood."

"I think it's the music that strikes a chord in so many people."

The film is set in impoverished Thatcher England at a time when many of the Yorkshire mines were really closing down. Fitzgerald had no need to research this at all, "because I remember it all so clearly. I was just starting out as an actress at the time all this was happening." Though very much a British story, Brassed Off has enjoyed considerable international success in both Europe and the US. "I think it's the music that strikes a chord in so many people."

Fitzgerald first displayed her gamin-like beauty in Peter Chelsom's romantic comedy, Hear My Song (1991), but she has earned her stripes on stage and TV as well. The Sussex-born daughter of a photographer and a poet (and the grand-niece of actress Geraldine Fitzgerald), had a bohemian upbringing before entering London's Drama Centre in 1986. "It was a very free existence. I lived in a flat with my mum and two sisters." She never knew her father who committed suicide two years after her birth. "I wish I'd known my dad, but I was lucky in that my mother remarried, so I had a sense of a father at least."

In the offbeat British production "A Man of No Importance" (1994), she played an unwed pregnant country girl who inspires a closeted gay bus driver to try to fulfil a long held dream of directing a production of Oscar Wilde's Salome. She re-teamed with Hugh Grant in 1994, in the quaint British period piece The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain (1995), before being cast in Brassed Off.

In 1995 she hit Broadway in Hamlet, playing Ophelia to Ralph Fiennes' moody prince, "the best personal and professional experience of my life."

Notwithstanding her considerable success, Fitzgerald has avoided the Hollywood scene, despite meeting with LA agents. "I love working in England and relatively close to it. I mean, the best work is still here. There hasn't been anything in America that's as yet caught my imagination." Though she is headed for Canada next month (September 1997) "to do this sweet comedy in the middle of nowhere." All that, and she hasn't hit 30.

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Tara Fitzgerald in Brassed Off!

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