David Hennessy talks to rising star Aisling Franciosi about working with Gabriel Byrne, why she is part of a generation that have no faith in the church and why her character in BBC’s The Fall is being “such a bitch”…
Those who have been following Irish dramas The Fall and Quirke, as well as Ken Loach’s Irish set film Jimmy’s Hall, will be familiar with the talents of Aisling Franciosi and they wouldn’t be the only one. This year, the young actress was named by Screen International on their list of Stars of Tomorrow. Among those to have been tipped for stardom in this way in the past are Benedict Cumberbatch, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Robert Pattinson and James McAvoy.
In the current series of The Fall, Aisling’s character Katie, although she possibly seemed to be realising Jamie Dornan’s Paul Spector could be the serial killer that police have been hunting, has fallen under the psychopath’s spell. Convinced by his story, Katie has lied to police and provided an alibi for the man who is striking fear into young professional women in Belfast.
Aisling tells The Irish World: “It’s so funny, I have people coming up to me saying: ‘Do you know what? Your character’s such a…’ and then they normally say bitch, I don’t know if you’re allowed to publish that, or ‘a real git, aren’t ya?’”, Aisling laughs.
“If I start chatting to them, they see I’m not like Katie. Even some of my family members have rung up, aunties or whatever,” Aisling adopts a hilarious old lady voice: “‘I just want to tell you you’re an absolute git in the show’.”
So in the words of Aisling’s auntie, why is Katie being such a git? Is it that she just can’t believe for a second that there’s a possibility that Spector is capable of murder? “She’s at a very impressionable age and I think she’s quite a fragile character in some ways. She is extremely strong willed but I think that will is misplaced. She’s really taken in by Spector. He’s a master of manipulation, not just with her but you see with others, he’s so brazen at what he does. If he’s able to fool people into believing he’s a nice family man, what chance does a troubled, impressionable 16-year-old have?
“She’s fascinated by him and at the same time obsessed by him. She doesn’t realise quite what she’s getting herself into. She’s a teenager who. Sometimes they think that they know everything and so she thinks she’s in a position of power but that’s a misplaced belief.”
While she was babysitting for the family, Katie has been scared by Paul Spector who made a grab for her. In this series, she said she thought he was the killer: “I think she was on the verge, she had pieced a few things together. Again she’s so blinded by what she thinks is love for him, she’s almost willing to be okay with that, I think, but then he played on something in the scene in the restaurant when he feeds her the story he just wanted to do something to say ‘eff you’ to Stella Gibson and the system and whatever.
“He’s playing on something that is inbuilt in some teens, that rebellion and just doing something for the sake of causing havoc. He played with that knowing he could get her onside so I think that, in her mind, was a good enough reason for him to do something like that. I think she really got taken in by that.
“But I think that’s why he did have to consider very carefully what he would do with her next. I personally think that even if she did know at that point, she would have been okay with that in her mind because she was so blinded.
“I did some research before season two and there are plenty of inmates in the states who have committed horrendous murders who have these young brides outside of prison who want to get to married to them even though they know that they have committed murder or rape or whatever else. It’s a funny thing that can happen in people’s minds when they’re obsessed by someone.”
While she may have no idea how much danger she is in, is it still danger that attracts Katie to Spector? “Yeah, absolutely. She has this attraction to danger, maybe something to do with the fact she sees that he’s a family man, a house, he’s got all the things that ‘make him a man’. And she’s kind of on that point of going into womanhood. On top of that this strange, mysterious, dangerous side to him I think is what really takes her in.”
Recent episodes have seen Spector gain access to Detective Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson)’s hotel room and Gibson retaliating by sending police officers into his house to gather intelligence. Could Katie become collateral damage in the tense game of cat and mouse between Gibson and Spector? “I think she’s already been damaged maybe without realising it. I can’t give too much away. I will say one thing, not in terms of my character but, I saw some footage from the last episodes: I know what happens and I was still on the edge of my seat. It’s going to be a good one.”
Earlier this year, Aisling starred with Gabriel Byrne in BBC’s Quirke, adapted from the John Banville novels, which touched on similar subject matter to Philomena with the storyline of babies being sold to America: “When I was reading up on what was happening at the time and stuff, it was just amazing how there was a culture of seeing but not seeing. There’s no way that people didn’t know that these things were going on. There’s no way that people didn’t know these things were going on.
“It was state and families and whoever else were putting these girls in the laundries. I kind of couldn’t get over how this culture was so prevalent of knowing that this was going on but just turning a blind eye to it. That paired with things that have come out recently about the church, I think I’m part of a generation that is quite disillusioned by the whole church.
“Obviously there are individuals who do great work in it but I think people my age question: How am I supposed to put my faith in an institution that took such advantage of the most vulnerable? I wouldn’t really consider myself religious anyway but I do think that has a big part of why so many people my age are not so religious.”
Quirke saw Aisling play Phoebe Griffin who had a crush on Byrne’s pathologist until she learned he was her biological father: “I think there was a bond there that attracted her to him without her even knowing and because she wasn’t even aware of it, that kind of manifested itself in a way of her thinking that she was falling in love with him but really it was a mixture of a) this bond with him actually being her biological father, and b) Him being an example of what she wants to be: Independent and not one of the crowd, doing things that seem exciting and different. So it was a strange mixture of those things that made her think she was falling in love with him.”
Ken Loach returned to similar subject matter as that which won him the Palm d’Or for The Wind that Shakes the Barley with Jimmy’s Hall, the story of Jimmy Gralton. Expected to be Loach’s final feature film, what was it like for Aisling to be able to work with such a film-maker?
“I learned so much on that job actually because the way he works, he films chronologically which for an actor is an absolute dream because you go on set usually and you could be filming the last scene first. You’re constantly thinking: ‘Where am I in the story?’ And you have to piece it all together in your mind. But with Ken, you’re discovering the story in the same way your character is so it just happens organically which is really nice.
“But at the same time it was difficult. You get little bits of the script as you go along. I think as an actor you want an element of control.
“You want to know everything about your character, you want to be able to go off and do some research but we had to learn how to give over that control and just go with our instincts which was tough for the first week and then it changed into being something liberating. It meant that you really had to really learn how to trust your instincts and totally put your trust in Ken and I mean no better person to put it in.”
How did Aisling react to the news that she had made it onto the industry’s prestigious Stars of Tomorrow list? “It kind of came out of nowhere. I got a call when I was on the set of The Fall actually.
“It was kind of cool because it was the first time they had ever had Irish actors on the list so myself and Sam Keeley were the two first Irish actors but what I really like about it is it’s more about the work that you’ve done. It’s not the glamour side of it, it’s the craft side of it which makes it really cool. Also, there have been amazing people on it in the past who I admire.” Aisling laughs: “I hope they look back and say we were right on that note. We’ll see.”
Asked if she has always wanted to act, the 22-year-old who has studed at Trinity says: “Yeah, I did my first drama class when I was six and that was kind of it. There was a very brief spell before that where I wanted to be an archaeologist, though I think that was probably from having watching Indiana Jones.
“When my mam told me, ‘that’s not exactly what an archaeologist does’, I changed my mind. I was studying speech and drama and that was kind of it. I mean I’m not from a family of actors at all, I think everyone thought at some point I would change my mind. It just didn’t really happen.”
The Fall continues on at 9pm Thursdays on BBC2, also available on BBC iPlayer.