Aoife Duffin: An actress is truly a fully formed thing
We know Aoife Duffin best as the funny goth Trisha in Moone Boy but the Kerry actress mines even the darkest roles for comedy in her latest work, writes Sophie White
'All the world's a stage and all the men and woman are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his times plays many parts." Or in the instance of director, Annie Ryan's recent theatre adaptation of acclaimed novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, one woman plays all the parts - Kerry actress, Aoife Duffin.
Aoife Duffin takes herself seriously, though not too seriously. She is describing her daily routine during her recent and much-lauded run in the Dublin Theatre Festival when she breathed raucous, raw, savage life into Girl, the narrator of Eimear McBride's ground-breaking and often brutal novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing on the stage of the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Duffin's alma mater.
"I was living like a monk… I was doing a lot of yoga every day. I would make juices or try and meditate or go for walks and listen to the text. It was tapping out the time until I got to the show… you try to stay zen. It's a crazy way to make a living," she laughs with little of the reverence we so often hear from actors.
For Duffin this year has largely been a year of tapping into harrowing themes - along with A Girl is a Half-formed Thing she also toured with Spring Awakening, an equally searing and demanding work -and Duffin clearly immerses herself unreservedly. "As an actress you do play a lot of dark roles not necessarily because you are a dark person but because you are a girl or a woman… you're playing a victim a lot and that can wear you down."
Duffin strives to make her characters more rounded which is what really attracted her to the part of Girl in the first place. "With A Girl is a Half-formed Thing it's different because she has ownership over her story, as a character, she gets to tell every side". Though when director, Annie Ryan first sent her McBride's book, Duffin initially "felt like I had reached my limit with the darkness" having played so many dark roles over the years.
Conversely, Duffin is possibly most well-known to us for a more comedic character, Trisha, in Chris O'Dowd's award-winning sitcom Moone Boy, though she is characteristically circumspect on this role also. "Comedy is not always as fun as people think it is because there is pressure with that. You have to take comedy seriously!"
Duffin, the youngest of five, grew up in the small town of Castlegregory, on the north coast of the Dingle peninsula. With two brothers and two sisters, the family set up is not unlike her fictional family the Moones. Her father is a chef but there was always acting in the blood "my dad's uncle, Shea was an actor and apparently my mum is related to Veronica Lake somehow!"
A testament to Duffin's heritage was the comedic dimension she managed to bring to Girl in what is essentially a story of serial abuse, abandonment and grief. But Duffin knows that the world is neither all darkness nor all light and deftly brings flecks of humour to even her most ravaged and desperate roles.
But that is sort of Duffin's modus operandi. She has a painterly knack for bringing nuances of light and dark to her roles that gives her characters great depth and empathy. In her role in Donal Foreman's award-winning Out Of Here, on general release this weekend, Duffin plays the love interest of the disenfranchised Ciaran, a recently returned backpacker, played by Fionn Walton - the two also stared together in Lenny Abrahamson's What Richard Did. The very phrase 'love-interest' can sap any role of any greater significance, but Duffin brings a delightfully jaded and sardonic feel that instantly makes her brief appearances among the most memorable and engaging in a film with an emotional landscape of isolation and disengagement.
Out of Here is being credited with introducing mumblecore to the Irish film scene and critics have already proclaimed it this year's Once but this low-key portrait of that dilemma of the returning Irish - when home no longer feels like home - is very much it's own thing. Foreman delved into the burgeoning Dublin film scene for a cast of idiosyncratic characters to populate the film such as experimental filmmaker, Dean Kavanagh and writer, Sam Coll who add a pleasingly surreal and unmistakeably Irish flavour to the proceedings that harks back to giants like Beckett and Flann O'Brien and ensure that Out of Here firmly avoids the often twee trappings of the mumblecore genre. The project was crowd-funded and has won two awards at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014 including the prestigious Michael Dwyer Discovery Award.
For Out of Here, the creation of the script took an innovative approach. Foreman, who wrote and directed the piece, took his starting points from improvisations between the actors themselves which he then worked up into a more structured and scripted format. For Duffin this allowed for even greater input; "this was quite different from any other film I've ever done because you kind of created your character in a way."
This organic approach to the script gives the performances great naturalism and also allows for some conversational gems within the dialogue - banter, after all, is not easy to write. The film has an intimate feel and is beautifully shot in Dublin with the talented director of photography, Piers McGrail using unusual settings like the industrial side of Dublin Bay to locate a story about essentially being out of place and un-located.
Out of Here chronicles Ciaran's very first few days back at home after a year spent travelling abroad. It beautifully illustrates that sense that both nothing and everything has changed in one's absence and captures that crossroads in life that transcend generational divides - equally as familiar to everyone, Duffin says, "it is very close to being a young person in Dublin".
Duffin, who studied in Dublin, recalls her own crossroads at the end of an insular and gruelling drama training in Trinity College.
"I wasn't definite that I wanted to pursue the acting. I had a 'moment' when I finished college... I had been homesick for about three years in Dublin and I just didn't like it. I wanted to go back home to my friends and everybody… I'd had these amazing experiences in college… but in the back of my mind I was thinking I don't know if I actually want to do this."
Speaking to Duffin now this 'moment' seems impossible to imagine. She speaks so passionately about her vocation and is unbelievably driven and dedicated - this year, despite having made the move to London she has yet to spend any significant time there as she has spent the best part of ten months touring with two demanding shows.
She reflects on her trepidations early in her career and laughs at the memory of her younger self: "I didn't know how to do anything else," she laughs, "when I think about it I was only like twenty-one or something. Even though I was rebelling against it, there was a voice in the back of my head telling me to push on through. Sounds a bit corny."
Duffin is quick to chastise herself if she veers towards taking herself too seriously but admits that she can be quite cerebral, even in her so-called down time.
"I probably have a brain that moves at too fast a pace, but it's good I love the more academic side of things. So when I'm not working, it's not that I feel I should be doing an acting job, I feel like I should be reading more philosophy. I feel like there's always something… Oh God I sound like such an asshole," she admonishes herself, laughing, "but there's always something else to learn because acting is about everything. Everything in the world."
Out of Here is now showing at the IFI