Normal People actress Aoife Hinds has revealed how she and breakout star Paul Mescal got caught up in an ugly racist attack while filming the hit TV series on the streets of Dublin.
Aoife told the Sunday World how she regrets that she and co-star Paul did not confront the group of young thugs who targeted her while she filmed scenes as Connell's lover Helen in the hit show.
The twentysomething actress is the only child of acclaimed Northern Irish actor Ciaran Hinds - who has starred in Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones - and his actress wife, Helene Patarot.
Aoife, who previously starred in Derry Girls, is originally from Vietnam but moved to France at the age of three.
Her shocking description of being openly racially abused on Dublin's streets comes in the same week that the death of George Floyd in the US sparked a debate about racism in Ireland.
"It was while I was filming Normal People, a group of preteens I'd say, ran up to us when we were in a middle of a scene and started shouting 'chink' at me - we were all just baffled," she said.
"Paul started to walk towards them as they were running off. I told him not to bother as I wanted to brush if off and get back to the scene, but that was obviously a defence mechanism.
"I later regretted that and wished Paul had have gone over to them, to tell them it wasn't OK to say those kind of things. Or better, to calmly go over to them myself."
Aoife said she is still reeling from the confrontation.
"All the crew were extremely supportive, needless to say shocked, but it just goes to show how racism is ingrained in our society when kids are being brought up hearing all these kind of things," she observes.
This is not the first such racist incident Aoife - who has a soft English accent and was raised in Paris - has had to endure.
"It happens everywhere, it has happened to me in Madrid, in Paris, in the south of France," she explains. "One of my friends was punched by a full-grown man in Oxford Street in London just before lockdown.
"There was an article in The Guardian about the amount of gun sales in the US since the start of the epidemic and how a lot are first time Asian-American buyers who fear for their safety and lives - that's just heartbreaking and says it all."
The TV adaptation of Sally Rooney's novel Normal People has caused quite a stir worldwide with its full-frontal nudity and raunchy sex scenes. But Aoife, the only actress besides Daisy Edgar-Jones to appear naked alongside Mescal in the show, admits the cast was fully at ease with the script.
All three actors have admitted that it was hugely beneficial to have an intimacy coach for such erotic scenes.
"Personally I didn't find it difficult, we were extremely well looked after," she says. "Of course there can be some apprehension when you know you have to do a scene like that, but having an intimacy coordinator just changes everything.
"I've had to do one intimate scene in the past and it was a lot more difficult as you have to figure it out for yourself and everything daunting that goes with it.
"But when a production actively makes sure that you are the safest and most comfortable and empowered possible, then it makes the experience incomparable and says a lot about the production itself, to be honest. Which is why an intimacy coordinator should be a prerequisite for any production with scenes of that nature."
Aoife previously had aspirations to study theatre at the Lir Academy in Dublin's Trinity College, where characters Helen, Connell and Marianne were students.
"I didn't actually have any scenes in Trinity itself, but I did sneak into the Medicine building on my day off to get a feel of where Helen would be studying," she smiles. "Although there wasn't much going on as it was the summer holidays, it was just really lovely spending an extended time in Dublin as it's a place I have visited often since I was young, I just got to know the city a bit better."
Aoife admits she is delighted with the feedback from the series, which ended its 12 episode run earlier this week and smashed the RTE Player record with 3.3 million streams.
"When you're filming something you never know how it's going to be received, but there was definitely a feeling of being part of something that was quite special, not only on the creative side but also on the human side," she points out. "The cast and crew were all just so warm and brilliant."
Asked if Helen left Connell because he was too obsessed with Marianne, she replies: "I don't think she feels he's obsessed with her, I don't think she would have stayed with him that long if she really though he was obsessed with her.
"But I think that when he goes through this extremely tough time, that she maybe realises that no matter how hard she tries, she's just not the right person to be there for him and in relationships you can't really explain why, but that's what makes Connell and Marianne's bond so special."
Given her dad Ciaran hails from Belfast, Aoife also admits that she quite enjoyed putting on an Irish accent for the series.
"I love accents. I love working on them and learning new ones," she beams. "For ages I was the only one in my family with an English accent, so I have definitely grown up around those sounds, they have always been in my ear. The Irish accent is just so gorgeous, all Irish accents, I love them all.
"And my dad did really enjoy the show, he thought it was really beautiful film-making."
She also says she was a fan of the book. "I had just finished reading Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney's first novel, when the audition came through," she recalls. "I was on my way to catch a train to Paris, so I immediately picked up a copy of it in a bookshop at the station and read it back to back on the Eurostar. I've read it a couple of more times since."
Aoife will be familiar to fans of Derry Girls, in which she played Donegal lass Mae Chung.
"I loved filming Derry Girls so much, it was such good craic," she raves.
"Again, just brilliant genius people involved. I'd definitely be very excited for her to return, but I'm pretty sure she has gotten the boot from Our Lady Immaculate after the trick she pulled."
Aoife starred alongside Liam Neeson in one of her first projects.
"Liam is a very close family friend, so that was really lovely. It was my first professional job and I only had a couple of lines, but it was great fun," she adds.
via Sunday World