EXCLUSIVE | “There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be an actor” – we speak to European Shooting Stars winner Aisling Franciosi

Named as one of the ten winners of the prestigious award at the Berlinale, Hot Corn spoke to this talented Irish actress about her career so far

Every year at the Berlinale, 10 young actors from around Europe are selected to be a Shooting Star – an accolade that belongs to the likes of Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig and Alicia Vikander to name just three. Generally speaking, it works as something of a precursor for successful careers in the industry, and one of this year’s winners, Aisling Franciosi, seems a safe bet on that front. We spoke to the star of The Nightingale on what it means to be awarded with this prize, and why she defines herself as being European. She also talks about the challenges in shooting the aforementioned, new drama with Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) as well as the notion of fame, and while she may not be seeking it as such, it’s something that may well come and find her nonetheless.

So when did you feel about being named as a Shooting Star – and how did it feel?

I was really surprised actually. I mean I have done some work obviously, but I was really chuffed to hear that the Irish Film Board had put me forward for it. So even to chosen as the Irish one was a surprise to me, and I really really happy and proud obviously, just to be put forward. So then when I heard that I had been given the Shooting Star award, it felt amazing. It was surreal, there are other actors I really admire, like Andrew Scott, who have been awarded it in the past, so it felt surreal. But it’s lovely and I know that they don’t just look at one particular film, but I know that The Nightingale played a huge part in me getting it, which was in a way gratifying because it was one of those passion projects that I put my heart and soul into, so to have people like something in it that I did was a very nice feeling.

It’s not just a title either, being a Shooting Star. It’s a real networking event and there are meetings with casting agents and stuff. It’s not just winning something, it feels like a gateway into more opportunities.

Absolutely, and that’s actually one of the most beneficial ways you can be awarded something, because getting an award is great, but sometimes it does feel like, ‘oh this is really nice’, but to me it can then put pressure on myself going forward, whereas with this they really acknowledge what yo’ve done and they believe in you, but also they support that by providing all these networking events for you, and that’s the really hard part I think, is getting into rooms with people. Once you’ve been helped into doing that then it makes it so much easier to show what you can do, so the combination of the two of giving you some visibility with the award but also giving you the opportunity to meet industry professionals is huge and that’s the bit that i’m looking forward to most, to be honest.

Last year’s 10 winners

There’s also nine other winners and you’ll be spending a lot of time with them. How much do you know about the other Stars?

I actually don’t know that much. I connected to one of them on Instagram funnily enough, and we chatted a little bit, but luckily the organisers sent an email with links to all our work so we can find each other’s past work where available, and I’m slowly working through that because I think it’s really important. I would love one day to work in foreign films, I think it would be really special.

It’s not, there aren’t many British or Irish actors that do make films abroad – but it’s something you’d be keen to do?

Definitely. As soon as I signed up with all my agents I let them know straight away, that it was part of my plan at one point. I find it funny quite funny that we say ‘foreign’ film, as if our films are the only films and the others are an exception that we make. Anyway, I love languages, I grew up bilingual and I studied them at University. When people hear me speak Italian, say if I’m on the phone with with my dad or something, they say I turn into a different person, because every language has its own characteristics. That’s really interesting for me, to be able to portray a character that has that added layer of a different language to them. Also, they make a lot of great projects across Europe. It’s definitely part of the plan for me, soI hope it comes to fruition.

Better get used to the rain before heading out to Berlin

I guess with your Italian roots you must feel very ‘European’. Of course Ireland is in Europe… But, oh you know what I mean.

I do actually, yeah. For some reason online it says I was born in Italy but I was actually born in Dublin, like smack bang in the city centre too. But I’ve always said I’m half Italian, I’m proud of both sides of me and I do feel like I’ve had an enriched, cultural side to my life because of Mediterranean traditions and that kind of thing. Also I studied French and Spanish and I love those languages and spent time in each of those countries when studying, so I do feel that little bit extra connected to what we describe as ‘European”.

Have you been to Berlin before? It’s obviously the home of the Shooting Stars event. Even if it will be absolutely freezing.

It’s pretty cold where I am right now, so I’m not too worried about that front. I’m in New York now but Utah next week, so I’m going from cold to colder… I love Berlin as a city, I went there when I was at college, and I went inter-railing, and I spent a couple of days in Berlin. There’s obviously a crazy wealth of history there, and also I just liked the energy there. But I’ve never been to the Belinale and I’ve always wanted to, and this is a pretty cool way to go for the first time, I’m very lucky. Very, very lucky.

So we’ve mentioned The Nightingale, which is your biggest cinematic role to date. What was the experience like making that one? You must’ve been thrilled to have worked with Jennifer Kent?

Yeah, I mean I could talk for hours on this. I should probably do something else I feel as passionately about so I can talk to people about something else too. But yeah, it was incredible and challenging and everything in between. I auditioned for the first time three years ago for that film, and I remember reading the script for the first time when I had it sent to me, and within 10 pages I thought, there is something different here and I knew I had to do this one. I went on tape obviously, then Jen asked if I could get myself to LA for a callback at some point, which I did. It was a long process in actually getting the part, and then getting the film green-lit, which is partially due to the fact she cast me! Then the shoot itself was gruelling and satisfying, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most creatively satisfying. Just because the material is very heavy going, we were out in the Bush for 52 days out of a 54 day shoot, and also because I had done a huge amount of research on violence, and violence against women, sexual violence, and horrors committed against the Aboriginal culture, so when I was doing that research I got to meet with people who really made me think I had a sense of responsibility, to play this role correctly and to show the truth of what happens when people are going through PTSD. So it was difficult and emotionally very draining and I was completely exhausted by the end of it, but no matter what happens with the film I’m always going to be really proud of it, it will be one of those projects I’ll be talking about for years I think.

Yeah it must be exhausting going to such dark places in your mind, for a number of weeks. There must be a sense of relief when it’s over, even with the sadness that comes with a project coming to an end?

It was strange actually, and it was an eye opener for me. In my day to day life I’m quite even keeled in my emotions, I’m quite lucky in that way. I realised then that going to those places, you can’t just switch off. It was like turning on a tap that you can’t turn back off again. Obviously because Jen, who is amazing and I would work with her again in a heartbeat, I would pick up the phone and yes to her before I even knew what she was offering, she was committed 100% to authenticity, so she really pushes for that, like really pushes. She was very tough on us, but you know, I had signed up to do that, I even wrote her an email before being cast that I swear I will give you everything, and honestly by the end of it, it wasn’t a sense of relief, I was just too spent to feel anything. I just felt like the tank was empty, and I had never really grasped the truth of that in a job before. It was an eye opener.

Franciosi with Jamie Dornan in The Fall

It’s one of the amazing things about doing this job, you get to emotions and parts of yourself you probably never would in the real world, through characters and through stories. That must be something that is still so exciting for you?

Yeah definitely. In some ways I’ve always found acting to be cathartic from that point of view. I always grew up with what you would deem as the more negative emotions really locked down, so then I love the fact that when I’m acting I get to really let those go, and not necessarily have them attributed to me, if you know what I mean? One of the things that actually really surprised me on The Nightingale was, and I don’t want to sound corny, but I really discovered a new way of emphasising. I would consider myself to be a fairly empathetic person already but on that, more so than going to places in my own head which was obviously one factor, but it was more from meeting people who had experienced real tragedy and abuse and trauma and violence and seeing their resilience, it really opened up a whole new level of empathy with me. Ive actually found since finishing that project, I do find myself feeling more emotional than I would’ve in the past, where I would usually have been more detached. But after the violence I heard people talking about that happened to them in real life, it really forced me to become even more empathetic, and that was an interesting facet. But that’s why we do it, that’s why I would always strive to play characters, and I always joke that I always get sent broken and dark characters, and I don’t only want to do those, I would love to push myself to experience more, but it opens your mind to definitely thinking about how everyone experiences this life differently and it makes you more sympathetic and understanding in general as a person and that feels like a very grandiose thing to say but really it does, because you have to force yourself to thin in a way you’re not sued to and that’s one of the best things I think anyone can do, not just an actor, but anyone.

Now let’s also talk Game of Thrones…. What was that experience like, to be a part of the machine that is Game of Thrones?

I mean it was really really exciting. It’s funny how these things happen, that was one I literally just went on tape for, I didn’t meet anyone, I didn’t go anywhere, I just put myself on tape from home and they offered me the part. I hadn’t actually ever seen an episode of Game of Thrones when I got the part [laughs]. Not that I didn’t want to or didn’t like it, it was one of those things on my list I just hadn’t got round to yet. So I threw myself into it, I thought that if I’m going to be a part of something with such avid fans and followers, I better educate myself a little bit. So I sat down to watch an episode or two with my mum, and the next minute I know it was dark outside and I thought, how many hours have we been sitting watching this? We got through about nine hours of Game of Thrones. It’s so funny because in terms of screen time it’s probably the smallest role I’ve ever played, but in terms of what people talk to me about, it’s that one. It’s so funny how it works. But it is storytelling at its best and visually it’s amazing, and everyone on that show is so committed to making it the best it can be, and any time you get to step onto that sort of a set, even for a day, is really rewarding. I’d worked with some of the crew before, so I didn’t feel too intimidated. Because I was excited, and everyone involved was lovely. It was fun.

Are you looking forward to the last season?

Yeah I am, definitely. I think people are going to be aggrieved when they realise it’s the last one.

Despite your work on the smaller screen, what’s it like to see yourself up on the big screen in a room full of people? That can’t have felt normal yet?

Usually it’s quite uncomfortable, but I force myself to do it. I really do believe that you ca pick up on ticks and stuff like that. It’s natural, everyone is going to have something and I’m quite self-critical, so one of the best ways to be self-critical is to watch it on the big screen and take mental notes. It’s weird, I think that I have to remind myself to take a moment and remember that it’s actually pretty cool. Not in a way that I don’t appreciate it, I really realise that I am so so lucky, but it’s because I am constantly thinking about the next project and whether i’ll be good enough, sometimes I feel like I’ve got my head so focused and down, that I forget to take a moment and think, 15 year old me would probably be pretty chuffed with this – enjoy it for a second. So I do have to actively remind myself how cool it is.

Do you remember the moment when you realised this was your job? There’s such a long period in this industry where you’re waiting for roles, doing bits and bobs here and there, and it may not feel like you’re truly an ‘actor’ yet. But do remember when you could actually say to someone, I am an actor, this is what I do?

I actually started working professionally when I was in college, where I was doing something completely different in studying languages. I was doing the theatre at night, my classes during the day, sometimes. So for me there was a weird crossover, where I’d say to people ‘I’m in college’ because it felt funny to say I was an actor, because I felt like I had the safety net of being at college. I was very lucky as well then, because I got an agent and I signed in February and in the March I got The Fall and it went a little bit from there, and that’s not to say there weren’t periods of downtime. I had worked in a cafe as a waitress and then after that I got a job that allowed for me to sit out and wait rather than have to go and work in a cafe, and when I was able to say to people when they asked what I do, and I’d say I was an actor, full time, that was a moment. Or just moving out and paying my bills of my acting job. I guess actually, more so than anything, that was it. The fact that I could say I was paying for myself to live somewhere off the back of an acting job, that’s when I realised that oh, this is actually my job.

Have you found now off the back of your recent success, you’re in a position now to pick roles? There’s that very challenging thing for young actors breaking into the industry, which is that you want to get exposure, but at the same time you can’t say yes to everything…

I mean, I don’t think I am quite there yet [laughs]. But to be honest, and I don’t know where the hell it came from, and I’m not saying I’ve made the right step every single time because it has happened where I’ve taken a job and it doesn’t set my world on fire, but it’s good quality so I’ll do it. But very early on, even when I was working in the cafe, and I was living at home because I couldn’t pay rent because the acting jobs had dried up, and I got an American TV job offer, and that obviously means serious money, and I said no. Because I hated the show. The first season had been and… even though it was scary and I almost felt like I was being irresponsible in that I was passing up on a huge opportunity, and security for the next while, because they ask you usually to sign like a seven year option deal, and I just thought, I don’t really want to do that at the very beginning of my career, even though I didn’t want to work in a cafe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but not if you’re trying to be an actor. So I thank the Lord for my agents who are amazing and patient, and quite good at saying no! Not that it means I get handed roles, I audition for everything still, but to be honest I love auditioning, and part of my aspirations are not to get to a point where I’m just offered things. I mean if that happens, great. But I really like auditioning so I don’t mind that part. But yeah I’ve been asked before what my biggest challenge is, and for me that is definitely, definitely the biggest challenge in this job. Trying to wait out for a project that you’re passionate about, but being okay with your decision when you’re then faced with a period of downtime, that I do find really tricky. And I’m not sure if I have always got that totally right, but you just have to go with your gut, you know.

A true star in the making

Well there don’t seem to be any missteps so far…

Yeah, great, because sometimes I do think ‘was that the right choice’ but as I say, I’m really lucky, my agents have been amazing. Even with The Nightingale, when I got the part I wasn’t exactly sure where it was going to go, and I said to my agent that somebody would have to pry this role out of my cold dead hands, there was no way I was giving it over. That meant saying no to a few things where my agents definitely would’ve made a good commission on them, but they were incredible, I am very lucky with that, they really trust me and I trust them, and that’s been a huge help in being able to taking risks and saying no to things, even where there are a list of pros to why I should do it. But like I say, there might be times where I say no and I punch myself in the face, or want to, two months later, but that’s part of the job.

Fame inadvertently finds people in this industry, it’s one of those careers where if you want to be successful in your job, it automatically means you’re going to be famous. What are your thoughts on your future and wanting as much success for yourself as possible, but the idea of potentially being famous and being stopped on the street? Even off the back of The Nightingale that may happen more frequently. Have you ever contemplated that side of your future, and how you feel about it?

I think because it feels so far away from me far now, it’s hard to imagine. But you never know, it could around the corner, but now it feels far away from me. Honestly, my attitude is, fame and visibility from people acknowledging good work that they think you’ve done, that’s very different to just being famous I think. Part of me thinks that I’m not the kind of person who would love the super megastar level of fame, but at the same time I am head over heels with my job, so if a certain amount of fame and visibility he;ps me get to a point where I can work with people I want to work with then, I’m okay with it. But you’re right, it’s a very weird thing. It doesn’t happen to me all that often but people will stop me about The Fall in particularly, even though it was like four years ago, and it always surprises me. So I can’t imagine what it must be like to be someone who gets mobbed by people. But I accept the fact that if you want to get to a certain point and work with a certain kind of people, then it’s part of the job. Plus, if you’re at that point then you’re probably having a great life in many other ways, it’s not something I feel we can really complain too much about. It’s obviously strange and it brings its own challenges, but it also brings a slew of benefits as well. I don’t think I would be super comfortable with it, but if it meant that I could do great work then I’d be open to it [laughs].

A brief, but vital role in Game of Thrones

Off the back of that, who are the people in the industry you do dream of collaborating with one day?

Oh my God, there are so many! I love Tilda Swinton, her career is great and she is so, so different in all of her roles. Julianne Moore is another person that I think has an incredible career, and Sally Hawkins, they’re the women that I always think have had cool careers. I’ve always idolised Daniel Day-Lewis, but that ship has sailed, probably. There are so many. I love PT Anderson, I have always loved the Coen brothers. I actually came into my film education really late. I didn’t become an actor because I was in a film household, obviously we watched films, but we weren’t all obsessed with film. I did drama acting class when I six years old and I thought, woah, this feels amazing and so I’ve done it just because of how it makes me feel, so it wasn’t really until I got to college where I started to learn more. I went out with a guy who was a total fill buff and he started educating me in film, so I’d find a director and like one film and then just watch all of their films. I remember the first people I really did that with were the Coen brothers. Obviously if I could with Jennifer Kent again I totally would. Andrea Arnold as well, and having worked with Ken Loach who works so differently to any other director I’ve ever worked with works, I’ve heard that Andrea Arnold has a similar way of working to him, so that would be interesting. I’d like to work with Mike Leigh because of the way I hear his process is as well. Kathryn Bigelow too because I love how people consider her films that she does to be films not like women should be directing, which I find so fascinating. The list is so long. Lenny Abrahamson in terms of from home, and in terms of Italy, there’s Luca Guadagnino, I forced my agent to get a meeting with him when I was in Italy [laughs]. I told you the list was long. I’ve given loads of really normal answers, but then again, I guess those really famous people are famous for a reason, because people love their films. I also love the idea of working with directors who have a peculiar way, like you watch their film and you know it’s their film, like Wes Anderson, I would love to work with him because I know his films aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love that he has such a particular voice in his films and a vision, people who have a very strong vision of what they want, I’d love to work with someone like that.

A promotional picture for The Nightingale – which we cannot wait to see

It sounds like you wanted to be an actor for a long time then, if you were enjoying it so much at six years old.

Yeah, but it’s very normal in Ireland to do a speech and drama classes on a Saturday even if they have no intention of ever becoming an actor. The only job I ever thought I wanted before that, before I was six years old, was an archaeologist, because I thought it was like Indiana Jones, but then my mum told that it really wasn’t, and I changed my mind pretty fast. So I went to this drama class and I came home and I said, ‘I want to be an actor when I grew up’. And that never changed, ever. I really liked school, I have no problem admitting that, I was good at school. So I knew that there were other things that I could do if I wanted, and so I made sure I kept my grades up so if ever the point came where I did want to go back into something else I could, but I always knew, there was never a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be an actor. I’ve known for a long time.

The European Shooting Stars event takes place this year at the Berlinale, running from Feb 7th-17th

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