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Girl, Intercepted
09 Jan 2015 : Paul Byrne
Antonia Campbell-Hughes
About to head off to India to shoot ĎLes Cowboysí, the busy Antonia Campbell Hughes takes a breather to talk career, clothes, childhood and Crowe with IFTNís Paul Byrne.

Itís been a pretty busy year for Antonia Campbell-Hughes.

Having made her name with such critics favourites as ĎThe Other Side Of Sleepí, ĎKelly + Victorí and ĎAlbert Nobbsí, the 32-year-old Derry-born actress put her dark materials to the side for 2014, shooting the sci-fi actioner ĎAndron: The Black Labyrinthí alongside Alec Baldwin and would-be sci-fi blockbuster franchise ĎDxMí, alongside Sam Neill. No wonder flying out to India next week, to join Les Cowboys, the directorial debut from award-winning French writer Thomas Bidegain, is a sort of homecoming for Campbell-Hughes. ĎThis film couldnít come at a better time,í she smiles. ĎAfter all that green-screen, I need my arthouse fix.í

Luckily, we were able to sit Antonia down for an hour before she headed for yet another airport...

PAUL BYRNE: ĎLes Cowboysí sounds like itís going to be a nightmare shoot; youíve got John C. Reilly as one of your co-stars, and behind the camera, making his directorial debut, is Thomas Bidegain, the writer behind ĎA Prophetí, ĎRust And Boneí and ĎSaint Laurentí...

ANTONIA CAMPBELL-HUGHES: Yeah, what am I thinking, signing up for this?! Actually, I was attached long before John signed on. It was Thomas Bigedain that was the big draw for me. I was filming in Rome when my agent called and told me Thomas wanted to meet, so, I immediately flew to France. I share Thomasí love for working quite organically, and as soon as I heard his name, like most actors, I was happy to travel any distance to meet with him.

This is the writer behind ĎA Prophetí and ĎRust And Boneí, so, thereís a very good chance that he might be a geniusÖ

Yeah, ĎUne Propheteí, ĎRust And Boneí, the Laurent movie - heís always a contender for the Palme DíOr. If thereís a film festival of choice, itís always Cannes. I did an Irish film there [ĎThe Other Side Of Sleepí] a few years back, and I just love it there. My education has always been European cinema, having grown up in Germany, and thereís a growing market for these kinds of films. The idea of the multi-lingual film is something I love to. Itís partly to do with the funding coming from different countries, but Iím really fascinated by these melting pot films. Thomas is such an incredible writer too, of course - a very poetic, beautiful sensibility - and this story is really interesting. It looks at a mixture of the family unit, generational change, how American culture is impacting on French society, and how different cultures bleed into one another, and rub up against one another.

Quite the nomadic childhood, your family leaving Derry when you were two, and bouncing around the globe - how are your language skills?

I have French and German. I moved to Switzerland when I was two, lived there until I was eleven, and then, yeah, travelled on...

That international jet-setting childhood give you this pull to letís say the more interesting side of film, as opposed to the mainstream?

Itís funny, Iíve always said that Iím a rare fish in this game, but thatís been useful as well as difficult. Iíve been very privileged to work with some of the greatest filmmakers, since day one, without even knowing it, and Iíve always been drawn to those artists who have that global range. Someone like Charlotte Rampling Iíve always loved and admired, and Kristen Scott Thomas too - the multilingual actor who continue to have validity and importance, and theyíre always challenging. These are the actors that I aspire to have a career similar to, and itís an obvious fit. I used to get compared to Charlotte Gainsbourg, and I never quite got that, but I am a product of my particular upbringing. I have a funny accent, all that. I went to international schools. I can spot people who have had the same kind of upbringing in a crowd. Thereís a nomadic sensibility.

Second perhaps only to a broken home, being the new kid in a new town constantly pretty much creates a need for constant reinvention.

Yeah, but I donít know if there is any real formula, because there are a lot of actors who come from very privileged backgrounds. Sometimes you need a certain amount of security to pursue your dream, per se. I didnít grow up dying to go Hollywood, or longing to be an actor. I didnít even know that was an option, to be honest. I just wanted to be an artist who was honest and true, and I just wanted to create. And this is just the career that has come to me.

So, you fell upwards, from your debut, uncredited as a zombie in ĎShaun Of The Deadí, then your first credit, as a stripper, in ĎBreakfast On Plutoí. You also had your clothing line starting up back then. No masterplan back then...?

None, at all. And thereís no masterplan now either. As a child, I never did acting classes, or anything like that. During my teen years, I was street cast, and I got an agent, living in the States. Back then, I was creating art installations, which is kind of like low-budget filmmaking. I guess because of the way I grew up, I was somewhat fearless, and when I was living in New York, and I was making what I thought was conceptual art but it was clothing, and it was being sold through a store, perhaps getting a lot more attention than it deserved. With the ĎShaun Of The Deadí thing, I was in London, and I needed the extra cash. It was that simple. Iíve been quite lucky, because thereís something destructive about being too hungry. You end up destroying it. But now, Iíve been acting for ten years, and Iím utterly in love with my job. So, itís pretty steadfast.í

Now that youíve gotten to the point where youíre the face on the poster, does that alter your feelings about this line of work. Youíre on demand, online, 24 hours a day, and your work, your image, what people think of you, itís out there, with a life of its own.I think itís quite negative, to be honest. I was never shy of the camera, because I wasnít vain, I guess. Thatís something, again, that would have come from moving around so much growing up, and having to present yourself again and again to another roomful of strangers. You grow up without this attachment to the self, if you know what I mean; that attached preconception of yourself. Thereís something very healthy, of course, about growing up with your peers, but itís also a little stifling, I suppose. I modelled as a kid, as a teenager, so, I got used to that, but I wasnít used to being criticised, and thatís something that comes with this job. You are literally being critiqued. Weíre in a social networking world, where everything is picked apart, but thereís a lot more access to great art. I canít stand being judged though, but what are you going to do?

Iíve been very lucky in that some early films that I made, they were small, but with ĎThe Other Side Of Sleepí, it was largely me alone. It got good reviews, but with the camera being on me all the time, naturally, people are going to pick you apart. When youíre in that independent cinema world, itís actually kinder. Itís only when you go into the mainstream that you meet that harsh audience. Thereís an element of dehumanising that comes with big movies. People see you as fair game...

How come you moved around so much growing up - Derry, America, Germany, Switzerland - were your parents on the run?

Nothing quite as exciting as that - my dad was an ex-pat who worked for DuPont [the American chemical company founded in 1802]. People always ask me if I liked travelling so much as a kid, but I wouldnít know. I didnít know anything else [laughs]. I come back to Ireland a lot because my mother is Northern Irish, and having left there at two, it was a big deal for me, moving back at sixteen. It just felt so real. The ex-pat world meant I grew up in this very fake community, and suddenly, here was a home, where people really knew one another, and people had long, shared histories. So, I clung close to Derry, and without sounding corny, I just embraced the soil. I feel strongly about having somewhere to call home. Psychologically, itís so important.

On the career front, despite feeling more comfortable in the arthouse world, is there a side of you that yearns for the call from Michael Bay? To run away from explosions in slow motion?

Well, thatís pretty much what Iíve been doing for the last year or so [laughs]. Iíve been strictly arthouse for ages, so, it was fun to jump into something big. I was in Bucharest for five months, doing ĎDxMí, and itís not ĎTransformersí, but itís fairly big - Ä40m. Which is big for me. Itís Red Bull too - or Terra Mater, which is Red Bull. Theyíre branching out, and itís a new series, a franchise of films. Similar to the Twilight books, where theyíve bought up a series of four books, and whatís made me feel fine about it is that, basically, there was a lot of research done into MIT and quantum physics - because weíre all playing quantum physicists. So, there was a lot of study that we all did, learning our various science fields, and I just knew the brain would be exercised. And on the body front, thereís lot of martial arts, parkour, wire-work - I fly - and green screen. This was all incredibly challenging for me, and so, I just couldnít resist. And making this, and ĎAndron: The Black Labyrinthí, an action movie with Alec Baldwin and Danny Glover, it just made me long for my arthouse films again. So, the call from Thomas for ĎLes Cowboysí, that just came at the perfect time, and Iím sure itís going to be one of the special films next year.

So, a busy woman. All good, or does the back-to-back film shoots, and all those lonely nights coming back to an empty hotel room, become a little crushing?

Itís lovely, and tiring, and you donít know whatís coming next. After a while, itís fine, and you realise too that the grass youíre standing on is actually very, very green, no matter how tired or lonely you might feel at times. Iím very aware of how lucky I am. I think of those actors who went to drama school, and who have dedicated their lives to this profession, and they may never get to truly shine, to have their moment in front of a camera. Which must be so, so hard to live through, so soul-destroying. What exhilarates me is getting to work with inspired people, and knowing that Iíll get to make a film with someone like Thomas Bidegain, with his stunning words, that almost makes me feel guilty. Iím so, so lucky.

Just to get a film up and running is such a struggle too - the budgets are getting tougher to secure - and that makes me realise too how lucky I am. I think itís great too that the Irish Film Board have been doing, championing the whole co-financing process, from very early on. Getting great films made that would never have a chance otherwise, and itís bringing Europe together too - as tacky as that sounds. Bringing all these voices together helps make magical films too.

Do you recognise when magic happens? Do you watch your own work after its done?

It depends. I canít sit down to a double-bill of my films, because I have a hard time watching it. The first time I watch it, Iíve got to be on my own, with a small screen. I generally donít watch my own work, but, if youíre going to talk about a film, you have to see it, at least once. But once is usually enough. When it comes to audience screenings though, I prefer to wait outside.

I know a lot of actors donít watch themselves, and Iím not sure what is really gained... If I sat and watched ĎKelly + Victorí, and found myself thinking about how a scene should have played, it would mean itís not working. And thatís just painful.

Youíve been doing shorts every year too - favours, or just keen to keep mixing it up?

I just donít think thereís any such thing as a role thatís too small, you know. Every role is integral in a vital piece of work, and shorts can be really exciting. You can learn so much, and I would always want that challenge. The no-budget world is full of great ideas, and the opportunities to push yourself is always there. I just want to keep working, and keep learning. I get offered a lot of shorts, and I donít do them all, of course. And itís not just the script; it can be the people involved, and how inspired they are.

You created and starred in ĎBluebell Welchí for MTV in 2009 - are you keen to create again?

I actually have a show thatís in development with Talkback and the BBC at the moment, and weíve just committed the first script. These things take a long time though; weíve been working on this for two years. I took something of a sabbatical from comedy for a few years, so, itíll be nice to jump back in. Itís very gratifying, to be given your own show, and Iím writing it with another guy, and itís for me to be in - which is a little frightening. I was surprised how much people liked Bluebell Welch, given how much of an idiot she was. No one said anything nasty about her. Must have been the glasses.

So, whatís the plan with ĎLes Cowboysí...?

Itís been shooting since November, actually... Iím heading to India next week to join it, and Iíll be finished in February.




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