Portadown girl Shelley Lowry watched as Will Smith smacked Chris Rock at the Oscars in Los Angeles but praised Belfast’s ‘charming’ Jude Hill

Pinching herself on the red carpet at the Oscars, Portadown’s Shelley Lowry spent Sunday night brushing shoulders with the Hollywood elite.

The Gilford boy, who was back at St John’s Primary School this week, started speech and drama classes with Shelley and was one of 300 boys who auditioned for the role of Buddy in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s semi-biographical movie.

Shelley was invited to the Academy Awards by the producers of ‘Belfast’ and went with Jude’s parents Shauneen and Darryl.

“When I was getting ready to go, I rang my dad, Richie, and he said, Shelley I just can’t believe this. Our wee family from Portadown and there is my wee girl at the Oscars. It was Mother’s Day on Sunday at the Oscars and my mummy Roisin was dead 20 years this year. She just would have loved it and all the chat up the town after.”

Portadown talent agent Shelley Lowry of Shelley Lowry Talent Management with Troy Kotsur who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, California.

Hollywood was buzzing with Jude who was a real star on the red carpet and appeared on a host of top TV and radio chat shows across America.

Shelley, who runs a very successful talent agency based in Portadown, says: ”There is a great deal of interest in Jude from scouts in Hollywood but it is about making sure the next project is the right one for him.”

She has already set up an agent and management team for Jude in the US but is keeping secret his future projects.

Shelley said: “He is a wee natural, charming, really smart and he just loved every single minute of this experience. He has learned so much. Everyone he spoke to was charmed by him instantly. He just knew how to answer any question that was fired at him and he took it all in his stride. He was just so grateful to be there and he understood that this was a really special thing that was happening. He didn’t take anything for granted and enjoyed every moment.”

Portadown talent agent Shelley Lowry of Shelley Lowry Talent Management with Dame Judy Dench who starred with Gilford boy Jude Hill in Sir Kenneth Brannagh's Oscar winning movie 'Belfast' at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, California.

In contrast, Shelley was right there when Will Smith smacked Chris Rock on stage at the Oscar ceremony. “When it happened we all looked at each other. I asked someone, was that meant to happen? but they shrugged their shoulders. Initally we thought it was a joke.

“When we heard the swearing, that’s when we knew and then, in the whole place, you could have heard a pin drop. It changed the atmosphere immediately.

“Talk about how to make 2,000 people feel awkward at the same time. We were all squirming in our seats. We all just watched the events unfold with our eyes as wide as saucers.”

Asked if she was close enough to hear him swearing, she said: “Oh yeah, he shouted and I mean at the top of his voice.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 27: (L-R) Jude Hill and Shauneen Hill attend the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Shelley said when it ended there was a concerted effort to concentrate on the winners. “We should not let this overshadow the event. It is a big deal to be invited and an even bigger deal to be recognised by the Academy and your peers.”

The pinnacle for Shelley was meeting some of her favourite actors. “Just how humble and friendly they were. I met Dame Judy Dench and told her how much I loved the programme ‘Who do you think you are?’ and had a great chat about that. I told her how much of an inspiration she was to my students and how much I admired her as an actor. She was so lovely. I met Troy Kotsur who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and was the first deaf actor ever to win an Oscar. It is a fantastic movie. He was so grateful and so humble. I thought his performance was so moving. It is wonderful to see the Academy rewarding him.

“But it was brilliant to be there to see Ken Brannagh winning his first Oscar and how delighted he was. When we were back at the Governor’s Ball after he was there with his Oscar and his brother Bill and his wife. I asked him if he would pose for a photo for the people of NI and he turned round with a big beaming face.”

Shelley said: “It was such an honour to be invited. It was the producers of the film Belfast who invited me.

Portadown talent agent Shelley Lowry of Shelley Lowry Talent Management on the red carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, California.

“Myself and my assistant Aimee McVeigh, who is also from Portadown, have been working very hard with all the press requests and dealing with Focus who are the film distributors. We have our work and school during the day and actors who are based here in the UK and Ireland but then the guys wake up in LA and start emailing and calling us. So we have had quite a few late nights.”

Shelley is becoming a regular jet setter having been to LA just before Christmas on the press tour with Jude and the rest of the cast and producers of ‘Belfast’.

“So every day I was with Sir Kenneth Brannagh, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds and Caitriona Balfe. We went to Santa Barbara and then New York where we bumped into Bono and Jim Sheridan. It’s just been mad.”

Shelley said she was very shy when she was very young and her mum Roisin enrolled her into speech and drama lessons initially with Muriel Todd and then Eileen Hendron. “Both these ladies had a great and positive influence on my life and my love for acting and drama came from going to these classes.

When she left university she went to London to work for the BBC, mostly in music television, including Top of the Pops.

Shelley’s mum died in 2002 aged 52 and she came home to Portadown. “I just didn’t want to leave again. The Portadown Times was very good to me. Victor Gordon contacted me about doing an interview on Top of the Pops. I remember asking him if he would put a wee line at the bottom of the article that Shelley is going to start teaching speech and drama.”

Portadown talent agent Shelley Lowry of Shelley Lowry Talent Management with West Side Story Oscar winner Ariana DeBose at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, California.

She said: “Things went very successfully from there. Since that time we have now a studio in Portadown that runs six days a week offering a variety of classes.”

Because of all the wonderful investment that NI Screen has done here and work they have done to entice film and TV producers to come here, there was a need to set up an agency part of the business.

The agency, which runs alongside the school, was set up in 2010 and initially they represented children and young people for film and TV work.

“We had loads of people in Game of Thrones and various BBC productions. They represent people from across NI with some in London and some in Dublin.

“The biggest success of the agency so far has been Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie being cast in Belfast,” said Shelley.

She said Jude’s sister Georgia (aged nine) and brother Jonah (aged six) are also talented. Georgia has a leading role in new show coming out soon on Channel Five. “They are a little acting dynasty,” says Shelley.

Speaking about hanging out with the cast of Belfast, Shelley said: “They are just lovely, down to earth, professional, lovely people. Jude couldn’t have had a better first experience of a movie like this as they were just so patient and accommodating and really supportive of Jude.

“He has learned so much and so have I including how the industry works and what is expected of actors taking part in a production of this size and profile.”

When we were in New York at Christmas, we went to the Museum of Modern Art and met Jim Sheridan and Bono for a photograph.

“We are so excited about what this means moving foward. For the actors that are on the books and I have learned so much. There are opportunities out there that have been been before for young people from NI. It is a really exciting time to be involved in the TV and film industry. I would encourage people to look and make the most of the opportunities if they are interested. Once upon a time it was like a dream for people my age. You had to go away if you wanted to do film and TV stuff and now you don’t. There is so much happening here. The eyes of the world are on NI thanks to NI Screen and thanks to this film Belfast that Sir Kenneth Brannagh has made. There is a light being shone on the talent that’s here. It is so exciting.”

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