- 04 Mar 19
Aisling Franciosi is on a steady trajectory to silver screen stardom. The Irish actress, a recent recipient of the prestigious European Shooting Star award at the Berlin International Film Festival, talks about growing up between two countries, female representation in the industry, and her powerful new film, The Nightingale.
Aisling Franciosi may have been rubbing shoulders with the stars of the Sundance Film Festival over the last few days, but there’s nothing like a crowded airport lounge on a dark and rainy Dublin afternoon to bring you back down to earth.
The Dubliner, by way of Milan, has seen her career skyrocket over the past few years. Appearances in the likes of Quirke, Jimmy’s Hall, The Fall and Game Of Thrones placed her among Irish cinema’s most intriguing newcomers. Now, her latest role in Jennifer Kent’s harrowing thriller The Nightingale looks set to catapult Aisling to worldwide attention. And by the looks of things, the ambitious but seriously level-headed actress is more than ready to take it on.
“It was nice to be at a festival where everyone supports and is interested in indie films,” Aisling says of Sundance. “It gives it a nice kind of enthusiastic energy. And it’s laid-back, which I love.”
Although you wouldn’t guess it from her casual demeanour, Aisling is on her way to the 69th Berlin International Film Festival to pick up a coveted European Shooting Star award – past recipients of which include Irish actors Domhnall Gleeson and Ruth Negga.
“It feels incredible,” she says. “It was little bit surreal, obviously, because I’m joining an amazing list of actors. The award ceremony is in four days. I always get a bit nervous before events like that, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
CHAMPION THE WOMEN
European Shooting Star is a fitting title for Aisling Franciosi. Although she was born in Dublin, Aisling spent her early life in Italy, before moving back to Ireland with her mother and brothers, when she was four.
“I loved growing up in Ireland. I did all my schooling here, so it wasn’t a traumatic shift. Myself and my brothers had been brought up bilingual, so there were no language barriers.”
She’s since added even more languages to her arsenal, studying French and Spanish at Trinity College Dublin. She was also excited to get the opportunity to speak as gaeilge in a couple of scenes in The Nightingale, in which she plays a young Irish woman in 19th century Tasmania. The film, from Australian director Jennifer Kent, has been met with rave reviews on its rounds of the international film festivals.
Shockingly, The Nightingale was the only film out of the 21 selections at 2018’s Venice Film Festival competition to be directed by a woman. Aisling, however, figures that’s just the surface of the problem.
“I think it’s a real shame that she was the only woman,” she says, “but I’m not sure how I feel about placing the blame on the festival. For real change to happen, it has to be a societal shift in how we treat women. I think it’s really terrible how difficult it is for women to get funding. I don’t know why they’re seen as a riskier choice, because women have proven time and again, with films in every single genre, that they can have both critical and box office success.
“But it’s a very tricky topic,” she continues. “I do think that progress is being made, and I think we should champion the women who break through and make their films.”
Although The Nightingale is a period film, it tackles a lot of pressing contemporary issues, including misogyny, racism and violence.
“Those issues are still relevant,” Aisling agrees. “As is holding onto your humanity in really trying times. I did a huge amount of research on PTSD, the history of the Aboriginal culture, and the convict history. I also met with social workers and victims of violence. I really felt I had a responsibility to give a very truthful performance.”
This dedication to her craft has been a feature of Aisling’s career from the outset. Having made her debut on Dublin’s Gate Theatre stage during her first year at college, the next couple of years became a “juggling act between college and working.” Does she feel like she missed out on the college experience?
“In some ways,” she says. “I didn’t get to party every night. But that’s fine – you always have to sacrifice one thing for something that you want. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
IT CAN BE BRUTAL
That dedication has paid off. Aisling has appeared in some incredible films and TV series over the last few years – including the pop culture phenomenon Game Of Thrones.
“I’m a fan of the show now, but I have to say I hadn’t actually seen it when I got cast,” she notes. “Then I binge-watched like there was no tomorrow to catch up. It’s an incredible show. I only had a tiny part in it, but it was cool to be a part of it all the same.”
Was it intimidating going into a series that has a notoriously passionate fanbase?
“A little bit,” Aisling admits. “I was never going to live up to certain people’s expectations of what Lyanna Stark should look like, or whatever else. But you put that out of your head – you’re never going to please everyone.”
In today’s social media-centred world, actors and others in the limelight can be subject to serious backlash and criticism online. Aisling’s way of avoiding the drama is to “not go looking for it.”
“Thankfully people have been nice so far,” she laughs. “But I know there probably will be some negativity at some point. You have to do your best to keep your head down, and keep doing a good job. Social media can be unforgiving – everyone’s a one-line critic straight away. It can be brutal.”
Although she’s been moving around a lot for work over the last five years, Aisling still feels a strong connection to Dublin, and is conscious of what’s happening in the city – including the nurses’ strike.
“I just think nurses are unbelievable,” she says. “They’re like superheroes. I do think they’re underpaid for the incredible work that they do.”
And her own ambitions?
“I just want to keep doing work that I feel passionate about. I’d love to work in the States, I’d love to work in different languages – I’d love to do it all. I don’t know why I get embarrassed about saying it, but yeah – I’m ambitious. Just not in a Machiavellian type of way.”