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Diving Right In

Irish director neil jordan's latest film Ondine, a modern fairytale set in a heartbreakingly beautiful south-west Ireland, stars Colin Farrell as Syracuse, a fisherman who can barely catch a break nevermind a fish.

Into his life, in startling fashion, comes the mysterious Ondine, played by Alicja Bachleda.

Well-known in her home country of Poland, Bachleda is a relative newcomer to international screens and her role in Ondine, which blends myth and reality, proves to be a tricky topic to discuss in an interview.

"I've been asked, 'So tell me something about your part,' and I've said, 'I can't really!'" Bachleda laughs. "I was so vague, she's this but she's not that, but you can't really talk about her because the second you start talking about her, you unravel the secret."

On to other things then. Ondine spends a lot of time in the sea which meant Bachleda was required to hang around in chilly Irish waters for hours at a time wearing not very much at all. She says of the freezing conditions: "It was beyond my imagination, that's for sure. I thought it was beyond my abilities [but] I broke every boundary I had and I managed. There were many times I was even too cold to cry, it was so painful. But then you think, you suffer now but you have that beautiful picture so it was alright at the end."

While most of the film was shot in July, some of the water-based scenes were held off 'til the end of filming. "They tried to put all my and [co-star Alison Barry's] swimming scenes towards the end in case we got sick. Towards the end, meaning late September. It was freezing, it was almost snowing and I was in that water and I had to hold my breath for around a minute.

"I would say at some point I kind of passed out, in a way. I have no idea what happened but I really went to a very peaceful state of mind. I almost felt like I was drowning, it was almost pleasurable, it was the weirdest thing."

The location, mostly spots around Castletownbere, where Jordan has a house, is like a character in itself; Ondine is one of those films that makes you realise how beautiful Ireland is.

Nicely fitting then that the two lead actors are the types to appreciate nature. "We're quite similar [she and Farrell], we have quite a similar sensibility and awareness, especially that awareness of that beauty of nature. We were lucky enough to be quite on common ground there, so that was helpful. If you hate somebody it's difficult to create such a lovely, magical environment."

And that environment did work some magic; Bachleda and Farrell fell in love. But by all accounts it didn't happen during filming; it was during re-shoots a month later when, as Farrell put it: "Maybe meself and herself had a closer look at each other."

Bachleda says of her co-star: "He's a great actor, he's very professional. He's very focused on his work, very much so." She adds: "He's very sensitive, very witty, which is great. He's a good one." And is he a good dad? "He is," she smiles.

Bachleda gave birth to a son, Henry Tadeusz, in October (Farrell also has a six-year-old son with model Kim Bordenave) and motherhood has, unsurprisingly, had a huge effect on her. "I love it," she says as if she still can't quite believe it. "What can I say? It just changes your life completely. But you're never the same person once you see that little creature who's so dependant on you, so loving and it's just there, it's just immediate."

And, in a refreshing change from most celebrities, who'd have you believe motherhood is effortless, Bachleda says: "It's challenging, it's nerve-wracking. I worry so much, I hope I'll stop! I'm very blessed and I'm aware of that. It's really a blessing, it's like a gift.

"But on the other hand, I feel as well that I'm just at the beginning of my path career-wise, and I really want to develop and evolve, and I have so much to do still. I want to keep the two things in balance and be able to juggle both of them. It's a challenge but why not?"

As well as acting, which she's been doing since she was a child, Bachleda is also an experienced musician. She's written songs, released a few albums and sings in Ondine but won't be touring any time soon. "Right now I'm very committed to acting so I wouldn't call myself a musician," she says. "I would have to really dig into it and probably spend a year or so. So it's just on hold right now, my passion's on hold," she smiles.

Motherhood, movies and a certain fella from Dublin are her focus for now. HQ

Ondine is in cinemas on March 5th


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