By David Hennessy
Recognisable from previous roles in films such as Veronica Guerin and Cowboys & Angels while she has also shared the screen with Allen Leech and Dominic Cooper, Malahide actress Amy Shiels stars in Ciaran Foy’s Citadel which comes to Irish cinemas this month after taking global film festivals and audiences by storm. An edgy horror about a single father trying to survive on an estate overrun with feral children, Citadel also stars James Cosmo (Trainspotting) and Aneurin Barnard (The White Queen).
Since its world premiere at the SXSW in Austin, Texas last year, where it won the Midnighters Audience Award, Citadel has won Best Debut Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh, Best Feature at the Imagine Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival, the Audience award at the Paris International Fantastic Film Festival 2012, the Audience award at the Sheffield International Horror Film Festival 2012, Best Horror at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012, and Best Director and Best Actor at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival 2012 in South Korea. Its director Ciaran Foy was nominated for Rising Star at February’s IFTAs.
“It was kind of overwhelming, wasn’t it? People loved it. It’s still being talked about and still getting new releases, won a lot of awards. It was a great film, happy to be a part of it,” Amy tells The Irish World.
Amy can be seen in the forthcoming V Sign, an apocalyptic comedy for the BBC: “That was really fun. It’s blowing up aliens and we were on the run in an ice cream van: The five most unlikely people that would be left on planet earth get together to try and save themselves. The filming was fun because they were all professional comedians apart from myself, the other three leads: Michael Smiley, Will Andrews and Yasmine Akram, she’s Irish, and they just had me laughing constantly. They’re just hilariously funny. With Michael Smiley, he plays such scary parts like in Kill List, he’s terrifying, but he’s so funny and such a gentleman.”
Amy told The Irish World she was writing a film herself when we spoke to her ahead of Citadel screening at last year’s BFI London Film Festival: “It’s still ongoing but I’ve been so busy with acting that it’s not as far down the line as I would like it to be but it’s going further. It’s magic realism, that’s the genre and it’s all based around the choices that we make to shape our destiny. I am really fascinated by what ifs. What door you open, what door you close, if you choose to drink tea instead of coffee, just every single little thing that we choose has an impact on other people and ourselves. It follows a guy and girl and what happens to them if they did date or if they didn’t, it’s almost an anti-love story.”
Recently spending time in America, the actress has secured Hollywood management as she aims to make another breakthrough: “It’s my first time properly out here. I’ve come before but only really for a week or so. I was meant to move here a couple of years ago but then my father actually passed away so then I had to take a little bit of a break. This is the first time I’ve actually been able to come over. I came over with the intention to get a manager and I had a week of just back to back meetings with managers and then I went with my favourite one. They’re incredible and they’ve been really supportive and great at helping my settle in and things.”
Edward Mac Liam, Stuart Townsend, Sharon Horgan and Ruth Bradley are some Irish faces conquering America lately which Amy is delighted to see: “From watching a lot of American TV, so many of the lead roles are taken up by either Irish or Australian or English. I suppose that’s just the American way, isn’t it? Everybody has a shot at it.
“But I’m really lucky. I’m having great help with Johanna Ray, casting director, in America who has kind of taken me under her wing and she has worked on everything from Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger to Twin Peaks. She does all of David Lynch’s projects, does a lot of Quentin Tarantino’s films and she came looking for me in London. She said ‘I really want to help you out when you come to America’. She’ stuck to that and she’s kind of my mentor.”
She has gone on to have starring roles in American productions such as Young Alexander the Great where she played Cleopatra and the horror film, Slaughter. Early television roles at home include On Home Ground and The Clinic, two shows that gave many Irish actors their first break: “I met some of my best friends on those shows. I think on every show I’ve worked on, I’ve come away with good friends. They were really fun especially On Home Ground, that was great craic. I think most of my close friends are probably from a film I did Alexander, that’s where I made my three closest friends.”
In 2003, the actress starred in Cowboys & Angels, the Limerick shot coming of age tale the cast of which also featured a young Allen Leech, now of Downton Abbey: “We’re really good friends. I’m chuffed for him, he brought me to the Winter Whites Gala before Christmas because he’s an ambassador for the Centrepoint charity UK. It’s great, myself and Allen worked on Cowboys and Angels and we just had such fun times promoting that movie because it was quite small but it was great in America, it became much bigger than we thought it was going to be. It was both our first lead roles and then seeing the reaction he gets now from being in Downton, just from people at the ball we went to, is life changing. He deals with it really well. He’s just great fun.”
So how does Amy like to relax when she is not working? “Probably by working out and going to movies. I see on average six films a week. I do love films. My favourite film last year was probably Zero Dark Thirty. I mean that’s the dream job: To work with Kathryn Bigelow to have a career like Jessica Chastain and work on scripts like that.”
Amy can be seen in Citadel, in Irish cinemas this month, and in the forthcoming V Sign.