Family affair

Aoife Hinds has appeared in Derry Girls and Normal People and can be seen soon in i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) at The Bunker. Picture: Bee Gilbert

Aoife Hinds tells David Hennessy about playing a character with abandonment issues, encountering casual racism in Ireland and following her father Ciarán Hinds into the acting business

“It’s very intense,” Aoife Hinds says of her role as EJ in Ava Wong Davies’ i will still be whole (when you rip me in half). “Ava Wong Davies has written this really beautiful, lyrical piece we’re exploring, it’s really great.”

The play finds her character EJ preparing to meet the mother who abandoned her 22 years earlier without a second thought for her own baby. Having struggled with the question of why and how her mother could walk out of her home in Shepherd’s Bush all those years before, EJ will get the chance to ask those questions. Whether she gets the answers is another matter.

“Some said to me when a child is abandoned by their mother who is meant to be the person who loves them the most regardless, unconditional love, the child will never really get over that. That’s a debate that can be had but I think she struggles.

“It’s about all those struggles within oneself. It does talk about where you come from and why you are who are. The character I play has been abandoned by her mother. At 22 years old, she makes the step to meet her mother.

“She’s got very low self esteem, she’s quite self-destructive and I think she’s very lonely. She struggles with understanding why her life is like this and where that has come from and why she can’t seem to get it together.

Aoife in rehearsals for the play. Rehearsal images: Ben Kulvichit

“She’s been brought up by her single dad and I think even though he did his best, I don’t think they have a very personal relationship. She goes out to have one night stands with different girls and she doesn’t ever make the step to find a real connection with someone. I think that’s also in her self-destructive kind of mentality. She thinks she’s not worthy of anything more than that, she’s not worthy of love.”

Fans of Derry Girls will recognise Aoife from her appearance as Mae Chung, the unstable new addition to the group in one episode of the latest series of the Channel 4 comedy. Does she find it fun to play characters who are wired a bit differently? “It’s always great to play really complex characters because it just takes you somewhere else. It’s fun.

“EJ’s got a good sense of humour, she’s quite sarcastic. She has good self reflection on herself and she’s stuck between ‘I’m so miserable’ but also ‘it’s so pathetic that I’m so miserable’. There are bits in it where she kind of laughs at herself with the audience.

Being the daughter of a well known Irish actor, Aoife has spent much time there: “When I was younger, I would visit my family a lot in Belfast and in Cushendall and I would also go to Dublin quite a bit because I had family friends there.

“I wanted to go to drama school in Ireland, that was my dream. My first choice was the Lir (Trinity’s prestigious acting school) in Dublin but they didn’t want me.

“I would have loved to go and live in Ireland for three years because I feel it’s so embedded in me but I’ve never lived there and I have this frustration of saying I’ve never lived there.”

However, work has already taken Aoife to Ireland twice with her shooting Derry Girls where she played an unbalanced new student from Donegal who is so incandescent with rage at being denied a dress she likes, she plots a Carrie-style revenge: “It was great craic. It was really great craic. I was playing this new girl in school and I was joining this team that had been working together since the first season and it was kind of like, ‘Oh my God, I am actually the new girl in school’. But they were so welcoming. Straight away, I felt part of it. That was really, really lovely.”

Aoife has also filmed in Dublin on Lenny Abrahamson’s forthcoming BBC series Normal People.

BBC presenter Liz Bonnin spoke only a few weeks ago of how he realised she was different when she was racially abused in a Dublin street as a teenager. Just this year an inter-racial couple who appeared in an advert for Lidl fled Ireland for the UK after being flooded with racist abuse.

Aoife reveals to the Irish World she has also experienced ignorance and racism in the country where she has heritage and is known for being welcoming.

“When I started acting I thought, wrongly actually, that I would never be able to work in Ireland because I didn’t think there would be roles for me and it’s actually turned out that I have worked more in Ireland than anywhere else.

“That’s great but I have experienced when I was filming on Normal People, not within the crew obviously, but in the street some casual racism.

“I never really saw myself as two different things. I am who I am and I’m made up of my mother who is Vietnamese/ French. I grew up in France, I grew up in England but I’m also half Irish and I never really think further about this kind of mix that I am.

“It’s true sometimes if you are in places where they’re not used to handling diverse people, you can sometimes feel that you’re being looked at in a different way around town but it happens really anywhere. It happened in France. There’s something about racism towards East Asians, it’s quite normalised. Some people I don’t think they realise how bad what they’re saying is or their attitude is because it’s just been normalised and it’s kind of ingrained in a strange way.

“Every time I go to Ireland, I feel so welcome. That’s why I love it so much and I love working there. I think it is also mainly a certain age group. It’s quite scary. I can remember it was a group of pre-teens and I don’t think they even know what they’re saying but they’ve obviously heard it from someone. Education is so important. To be careful about what you say especially around children who are in development, that they can’t take that as a model and repeat it. You can’t just think that kids aren’t going to take that as a given and repeat it and use it against people without really knowing what it means.”

When she decided to become an actor, Aoife was following her father, known for roles such as Veronica Guerin and Game of Thrones, and also her mother, the actress and designer, Hélène Patarot. What was her father’s reaction as a parent to Aoife choosing his own notoriously unsteady line of work? “My dad was really supportive if I really wanted it.

“My dad did try and keep me away from it for quite a while because he knows how hard it is especially today.

“When he realised I really wanted to do it, he was fully supportive.”

Although there was a time not so long ago when the idea would have appalled her, Aoife has grown fond of the idea of acting with her parents: “When you’re younger, your parents are still your parents and you can’t see them as anything else. Acting with your mum or your dad is just really weird but I think as you mature, you start to have an actor to actor relationship too which is nice. That’s why I think now it could be quite nice even to work together at some point maybe.

“I think it would be really nice, whether it’s onstage or on film, you’ll always have that experience that you can carry with you.”

Aoife can be seen in i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) 12- 23 November. For more information, go to bunkertheatre.com

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