Monday 20 August 2018

Funny girl: Aisling Bea is on the cusp of the big time

Ahead of a string of high-profile stand-up shows and a role in 'The Fall', Aisling Bea is finally on the cusp of the big time. She tells our reporter about life as a jobbing actor in LA and dealing with stage fright

In-demand: Kildare-native Aisling Bea has been doing stand-up and acting jobs in the UK for 10 years Photo: Karla Gowlett
In-demand: Kildare-native Aisling Bea has been doing stand-up and acting jobs in the UK for 10 years Photo: Karla Gowlett
Mentor: Sharon Horgan
John Meagher

John Meagher

Aisling Bea has not done stand-up in Ireland since Christmas, but the days where she dreaded performing in her native land are long gone.

"I started doing comedy in the UK and I thought, 'When I go home, the game will be up - they'll see through my faux-charm and they'll see it all as bullsh*t.' But actually, it feels like coming home and I've loved doing the gigs here more and more."

The 32-year-old from Co Kildare has been a London resident for 10 years - she studied drama there after completing a degree in Trinity College - but has returned to Dublin for a round of promotion. She makes a quip about a brothel as she invites yet another journalist into her hotel room.

If you're not yet familiar with Bea, that is bound to change in the next six months. She's going to be everywhere.

Tonight, she plays the Vodafone Comedy Festival at Dublin's Iveagh Gardens. In September, she is among the attractions at the comedy stage at Electric Picnic. And in October, she will bring her show to the Vodafone Comedy Carnival, Galway.

There's significant small-screen work too. She has a major part in the third series of the Belfast-set crime series 'The Fall', to be broadcast in the autumn, and will be among the leads on new comedy-drama 'Foreign Bodies' which will air in January.

Bea - real surname O'Sullivan - is grateful for the work, but refuses to get carried away, noting that while her stand-up career has taken off - not least because she won the prestigious So You Think You're Funny Award at Edinburgh in 2012 - her acting CV still lags some way behind.

"I've spent 10 years getting to the last two [only to lose out on a coveted part.]"

Earlier this year, she spent two months in Los Angeles auditioning for pilot season during the day, and gigging at night.

"It's like this cattle call of actors. I started collecting screen grabs I auditioned for" - here she adopts an American accent - "'Amy, 25, cute but in a kind of intimidating way'. The last thing they ever mention is a personality trait.

"I've been a jobbing actor and I'm incredibly lucky to be a jobbing actor," she adds. "I know some hugely talented people who haven't gotten a break and while they're not bitter about it, it's hard not to be able to pay your bills.

"When I see people saying, 'I turned down this and I turned down that' I think, 'You've never been in a situation where you had to pay the mortgage or pay the ESB'."

She's hugely excited to have landed a part in 'The Fall' and admits to having been nervous during the first week of shooting. "I'd done a lot of stand-up and had to jump straight into a dramatic part," she says of a role that she insists she can't talk about, although she did have to put on a Northern accent and got to film alongside '50 Shades of Grey' star Jamie Dornan for most of her scenes.

"The best thing about acting is you don't have to be yourself - there are very few jobs that are legal that you get to do that. In stand-up, you dig within yourself to find the truth - it's still a part of me. But with acting, the person just has my face."

She says she "loves actors, but comedians are my people". They match her personality.

"You don't have to be an angry, white man to be a comedian anymore, or have a competitive streak, or want to be alone in the darkness all the time," she says.

"You can be connected to something bigger now. During the 90s, there was this laddish competitive vibe and people think that's still the case in comedy, but that's not something sustainable for your mental health."

Sharon Horgan is a friend and mentor. They worked together on 'Dead Boss', a comedy series Horgan co-created and which was shown by the now defunct BBC Three four years ago. It had strong female storylines, was set in a women's prison and featured the talents of Jennifer Saunders, but it attracted lukewarm critical reviews and was not renewed. She doesn't know why it didn't 'click'.

"It had a great cast - so many talented people - and they say they're looking for strong women vehicles but…" Her voice trails off.

Horgan was nominated for an Outstanding Writing Emmy earlier this month for her latest TV show, 'Catastrophe'. It's been a critical sensation and Bea believes that's because of its intrinsic honesty.

"It looks at stuff that hadn't been done before like the non-sexiness, the ugliness, of being a parent. It's real, and so much of what we see on TV and how we present ourselves, is a fallacy.

"I mean, I don't post pictures of myself when I'm sad and eating spaghetti hoops out of a tin for my dinner. I post pictures when my hair's done and I whack a filter on it and it's, 'Hey guys, I'm having a night out with all my friends'."

Bea is an enthusiastic tweeter and attracts her fair share of trolls. "I get two responses on social media," she says. "I love you or I hate you. Does nobody just think I'm grand?

"You're more likely to believe the hateful stuff because that's what humans are conditioned to. It's never nice to have people get in touch with you [to abuse]. It's not nice to have a friend to tell you something you didn't want to hear, but to have random strangers saying you're no good can be hard to take."

Bea is an engaging raconteur - and, unlike some comedians, keen to appear funny in interviews. She's also open about her private life, mentioning that she's single and not long out of a two-year relationship with a Dublin man.

Her father Brian died when she was three and her stage-name is in honour of the initial of his first name. She notes that her entire life up to the age of 18 was completely surrounded by women, including her mother Helen, a jockey, nine aunts and her only sibling, Sinead, now a successful costume designer who works in the movies.

The two live together and are exceptionally close. It's Sinead who's the sounding board for new material, but Bea points out that when she's doing stand-up she's very much on her own.

"There are moments where you feel you are dying on your arse," she says, "but you can't walk off after 15 minutes or you won't get paid. You have to be out there for 20 minutes.

"I had a gig just like that in London two weeks ago. I lost confidence in myself and I began to agree with the audience. And the awful thing was, they were being kind - they were looking at me like I was their niece.

"Happily," she says, "that sort of thing doesn't happen too often."

Aisling Bea plays the Vodafone Comedy Festival 'Jokeshop', Dublin, tonight

Irish Independent

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