Friday 20 July 2018

Actress Eva Birthistle: 'My partner Ross tried to do acupressure on me during labour and I nearly punched him in the face'

Eva Birthistle (41) is an actress and writer. Born in Bray, Co Wicklow, she has been in London for the last 15 years. She lives in Queen's Park with her partner, Ross, and their son, two-year-old Jesse

Actress and writer Eva Birthistle. Barry McCall
Actress and writer Eva Birthistle. Barry McCall

Ciara Dwyer

I get up very, very early because I have a two-year-old boy, Jesse, who can't quite tell the difference between 4am and 6am. We're trying to get his head around the message that you don't get up when it's still dark, but it hasn't sunk in yet. Sometimes I bribe him to get into the bed with me, so we can get more sleep - some mornings it works.

The average time he wakes is 5am. To our shame, we sometimes stick on Peppa Pig to get another hour's sleep. I'm not proud of it. Ross, my partner, is an acupuncturist, and he starts his working day early. He is generally out the door by 7.30am. Fortunately, we were kind of morning people before we had Jesse, but there's morning . . . and there is night-time.

I'll play with Jesse for quite a while doing jigsaws, and then we'll have breakfast. Like any toddler, he's a picky eater, so we try to all sit down and have breakfast together. It's usually porridge or toast. I like to have the radio on in the background, but often Jungle Book will be blaring from the stereo instead. We play a bit more, then it's the struggle to get Jesse dressed, and we try to get out the door by 8.30am.

We live in Queen's Park in London, which is kind of renowned for being a kiddies' area. When I was single, I didn't realise it. You don't see those worlds. Then, one day, somebody pointed out to me that there were a lot of buggies. When you're starting out with your first kid, it's great to feel that you're in a very supported environment.

Jesse goes to a little nursery three days a week. My first time leaving him there was hard because, in that almost comical way, his face was pressed up against the glass door, which was just heartbreaking. I was trying to walk away and felt dreadful, but now he loves it. His nursery days are my writing days.

When I come back from dropping Jesse off, I do a quick clean around - there is the usual mess after a morning with a toddler. Then I can sit down and focus. I need a clean environment to work in, to have a clear head. I'm writing a feature film, which I'm developing with the Irish Film Board. Writing is a new discipline for me and I find it very hard. I just started three years ago. I was working on a film called Swansong. I told the director that I had an idea for a film, and he encouraged me. The shoot was only two weeks and he set me the task of handing him homework of a page a day. So, in the end, I had 14 pages. Once you start, that's half the battle.

Then, when I was 11 weeks pregnant, I did a short job in London. One of the other actresses on the job was pregnant too. We had a chat about what the hell we were going to do when we were more heavily pregnant and couldn't do any acting work. We decided that we'd write together. So I write with her on a Friday. I'm working with her on a TV drama. Having more control is a huge appeal, but also, I enjoy that you are creating it solely and that you are your own boss. You put in the hours and decide which direction it's going to go in. Of course, that's in the early stages, before you get notes and people ask you to change it.

Writing is a completely different discipline and I still struggle with it, because, as an actor, everything is done for you. Someone decides to give you the job, you get picked up and brought to work, they give you your costume, your food, and you walk on set - and then, of course, you work very hard, but it's a completely different.

I pick up Jesse from playschool at 5pm. And then, on the days I'm with Jesse for the full day, we might go on play dates, or play in the park. I find that you get so much more out of it, when you've got your own thing going on as well. You come back re-energised. After doing my job, I come back to him better at doing my job as a mother.

If I have to go away for work, Jesse comes with me. We film The Last Kingdom, a BBC period drama, in Budapest. There is a lot of horse riding and sword-fighting and stunts for it. It's a really fun gig. I play Hild, a nun who, having been attacked by the Vikings, joins the Saxon troops and becomes a sword-wielding warrior. For the first series, my parents came with me and minded Jesse while I worked. It was my first proper job after having Jesse. I really enjoyed all the downtime in between scenes, because you don't get that with a toddler.

Ross comes home at about 6.30pm. Jesse is usually fed by then. We put Jesse down at 7.30pm, and then we generally have dinner together. If I have the energy, I'll cook, and if not, we'll be lazy and get a takeaway. I used to live above where Ross worked, so we knew each other from the area. That was four years ago. I got to know him over a period of time, and then I sent my niece to him for acupuncture. In the end, I asked him out. Actually, I asked him out for a cup of tea. It was very exciting. He is the most chilled person I know. He's very good at keeping us all grounded.

I didn't know much about acupuncture before I met him. He did it on me while I was pregnant, and post- pregnancy too. The only time I wanted to throttle him was when he was trying to do acupressure on me during labour. I nearly punched him in the face. I roared at him to get his hands off me.

In the evenings, I watch boxsets with Ross, but I'm usually in bed by 9.30pm. I go to bed very early because I know I'm going to be up very early. I need my sleep. I get into bed with that slightly anxious feeling of 'When is he going to wake?' I think part of your brain doesn't shut down completely, so I'm not sure if I ever get into a deep sleep. But Jesse is a gorgeous little boy - really funny and incredibly loving. For all my whinging, I wouldn't change things for the world. I'm totally grateful.

Eva Birthistle is an IFTA Best Actress winner. She has been nominated for an IFTA in the category of Actress In A Leading Role: Film, for 'Swansong'. This year's IFTA Film & Drama Awards will take place on Saturday, April 9, and will be broadcast on TV3 on Sunday, April 10

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