By David Hennessy
Mysterious and original, Channel 4’s new thriller Utopia is causing quite a stir. The plot circles around a graphic novel called The Utopia Experiments. When five members of an internet forum find they are being pursued by a shadowy organisation called The Network, Ian, Becky and Wilson realise they have got their hands on something dangerous in the form of a rare manuscript. Although they have no idea why, ruthless killers hunt them with one repeatedly asking in a chilling tone: ‘Where is Jessica Hyde?’ Jessica Hyde is played by Galway actress, Fiona O’Shaughnessy. An enigmatic stranger, she offers the forum members a way out but not an easy one.
“I really like the way it has turned out,” the actress tells the Irish World. “I love what Mark (Munden, director) has done with it, it’s a really nice piece of work. I haven’t kept up with what they’re saying but Channel 4, Kudos and Dennis (Kelly, writer) seem to be pleased with the result and that’s good as far as I’m concerned.”
What was it that attracted Fiona to the project? “The way it was written was really attractive to me to be honest. As soon as I opened up the script I was hooked, I couldn’t put it down. The story appealed to me. I love conspiracy theories and I love all the mystery, excitement and paranoia that goes with that. I found the writing really gripping and Jessica appealed to me: She’s strong, she’s strange. She’s something very, very unusual for me to step into. She certainly doesn’t remind me of anyone I’ve played so far. I couldn’t not want to do it to be honest. I was blown away straight away.”
Born in Galway, Fiona moved to Reading at the age of eleven, returning to Ireland years later to pursue a career in acting. Her character in Utopia has been running from The Network since the age of four, has she given any thought to how she would cope in Jessica’s nightmare? “Yeah, I had to think like that a lot. Probably in much the same way as she would: keep a very low profile and keep quiet. Jessica reminds me of an insect, she’s kind of shape shifty. I would do the same and I would learn how to fight. I took up boxing when we were doing utopia and that was really good fun.”
Tough, streetwise and with all the answers, Jessica Hyde has been compared to Tank Girl, Lara Croft and Nikita. Her ‘come with me or you’ll all die’ line was reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘come with me if you want to live’: “Somebody said that to me on the set one day and I was like: ‘I don’t know, is that a joke? Maybe it is’. I don’t remember Terminator to be honest with you.”
The cast is quality all the way through with Nathan Stewart-Jarrett of Misfits, Michael Smiley and Neil Maskell just a few of the names attached. Tensions between two strong women Jessica and Becky, played by Alexandra Roach, have been there from the very start and set to develop further: “I would say Jessica’s ahead of the game and knows probably who to trust and who not to. She’s onto something there with Becky. That tension will develop. I like Becky, she’s funny.”
For the full interview see the print edition of the Irish World