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Antonia Campbell-Hughes on Acting
26 Jun 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Actor Antonia Campbell-Hughes.
With the IFTA Awards Viewing Season in full swing, we showcase Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry. 

We find out what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and on-set collaboration; what inspires them; what current trends and techniques they like, and dislike in the industry.

We spoke with two-time IFTA nominee and EFP Shooting Star, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, who recently starred as twin sisters Cordelia and Caroline in Adrian Shergold’s thriller Cordelia. The Northern Irish actor also featured alongside Emile Hirsch and John Cusack in Ivan Kavanagh’s Irish western Never Grow Old, and in Alexandre McGuinness’ debut feature film, She’s Missing alongside Josh Hartnett, Lucy Fry, and Eiza González. Upcoming projects include Northern Irish thriller Black Medicine; David Lynch-executive produced mystery-drama The Other Me; and Andrew Baird’s Sci-Fi thriller, Zone 414 starring Guy Pearce.

What attracted you to your roles in Never Grow Old and Cordelia?

“I am attracted to the piece rather than the role; or the creative who is making the piece. Making a film is a collaborative effort driven by the maker- who is driving the ship. Everyone involved is equal in helping to facilitate making the piece come together as a whole. I have always believed in this.

“Never Grow Old, I had worked with Ivan Kavanagh before on The Canal. He sent me the script many years ago with the idea of playing a different role. I thought the script to be so exceptionally beautiful, I was immediately committed. This is also with Ivan at the helm, he is an incredible filmmaker. As years went by the pieces had to shift (finance, etc.) and we considered other roles for me within the script. It is such a special piece that every part is integral. Maria Pike had a stoic serenity, and core strength that I was drawn to. But ultimately, I am drawn to anything that Ivan Kavanagh is doing.

“Cordelia, again I had a pre-existing relationship with Adrian Shergold. I had been cast in a BBC TV series he directed, and in the first weeks of shooting, he approached me on a break, about a film he had written some years before. In this case of Cordelia, him knowing of my experience as a writer - he suggested that if I was interested in the role and the project, I could do a script pass to make her dialogue more my own and influence some of the story. I did this, but felt that Cordelia was such a huge personal part of Adrian’s history - it should not be steered away from his core vision.

“The actual role of Cordelia, and Caroline… I play twins in the film, which is of course, attractive and a challenge to any actor. Our time and budget were limited, so there was not much in the way of VFX or makeup/prosthetics to rely on. I worked very hard on making each twins ‘gait’ and mannerisms slightly different. Nuance of accent. I tried a variation, but if they were too different it would have been jarring. Then with Cordelia herself; she goes through a metamorphosis. She begins as a rigid, timid woman who goes through a transformation - effectively ‘becoming’ an alternate version of her twin. I worked a lot on how she moves and walks to show that change in energy.”

Tell me about your experience on set, and your favourite moment during this production?

“Cordelia was primarily filmed in Twickenham studios. The set build for the flats in the film was astonishingly done. Huge large scale and a full building build. The movie is shot on 35mm film, with long tracking shots moving through the set. All of this is quite a rare luxury. Exteriors were central London, Soho, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury, and Tower Bridge. Now in this new phase of film making, where budgets will be even tighter, and scripts will have limited locations - due to COVID Compliance… Central London, crowded street locations may be a thing of the past! During the shoot, Adrian and I would regularly take a few moments together between shots, and look around secretly whisper to each other ‘isn’t this marvellous, look at all of this - that we made together’. We were always so grateful.”

How do you like to work with Directors and do you like to have a collaborative process?

“I think this is determined by the director. For me personally, I feel it is very important to continue learning and work according to the environment of the production. It is always a collaboration; for every crew member, actor, HOD, etc. The only thing I really expect from a director and writer is that they really do have a clear idea of what they set out to achieve. Lack of confidence and insecurity can permeate.”

How do you prepare for auditions, and what advice would you give to younger actors?

“I honestly have no ‘tricks’ or go-to process. I did not go to drama school. When I began acting, I understood only ‘being truthful’. I now have a deep respect for craft. But I think it must all start with truth. If you inhabit the mind of the character you are playing and say the words from their perspective and understanding of why they are saying them- then it should be completely natural. This is a given - being 100% off book with complete ease, is the only way to begin.”

What was your first paid role as an actor, and what were the key things you learned from doing that role?

“I worked on a few tiny little “art” conceptual pieces for years in the fashion/art world as a teenager, but my first official paid/contract type employment was a BBC period piece called Blackbeard; James Purefoy playing Blackbeard. It shot for several months in Malta. I played a ‘boy’ pirate; a girl pretending to be a boy.

“I adored absolutely everything about this experience. The role was perfect for me; I am naturally suited to non-binary. Training in sword fighting, working on boats, etc. I could not believe that people actually were paid to do a job like this.”

What do you look out for in a script?

“Care and deep understanding of what is being written; it is a rare find, to encounter a very special script. Nuance is often the first thing that gets cut when it comes to finally shooting, but I think it shows the sort of film that the makers will fight to make. So many scripts are written hurriedly, or to ‘be made’ rather than being from the core soul of the piece.”

What Irish film over the last few years has really impressed you?

“Mammal- Rebecca Daly.”

What Director or Actor would you most like to work with and why (Irish or international)

“Clair Denis -Doesn’t everyone? Brady Corbet, I was always fascinated by his choices as an actor. Always surprising and evolving. And his work as a director is just as refreshing. There are so many creatives I admire. I have a current fascination and yearning for Science fiction. Sci-fi steeped in humanity and the tangible. Panos Cosmatos. Jonathan Glazer.”

We often are our own worst critics. What is your approach to constructive criticism and inward Reflection?

“I like to be told hard truths.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career thus far that you would share with young aspiring Actors?

“The best note I’ve ever observed being given to an actor from their director after a take was ‘I didn’t believe that’.”

How have you channelled your creativity during lockdown?

“Strangely I have been very busy during lockdown. I shot (acted in) a TV pilot for an 8-episode series with actors Brian Cox, Claes Bang, and Grace Van Patten. Directors in: NYC, London, Scotland, and actors all over the globe. It was quite a process. It's a whodunit dramedy called Little Room, and all proceeds go to UK and US film and TV freelancers impacted by Covid-19. About a renowned expert psychiatrist disappearing without explanation, her distraught patients find themselves forming an alliance to find her. We all play agoraphobics! Co-written and co-directed by Dolly Wells, Suzi Ewing, and Heidi Greensmith, and produced by Maggie Monteith.

“I’ve been in prep on my directorial debut IT IS IN US ALL, which will shoot now, end summer. I have two TV shows in development, so those were both worked on and placed. It’s been very busy.”

Click here to read more of our interview series.





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