Alicja Ayres is a Polish actress based in Dublin. She has been in such films as ‘The Canal’, ‘I Used To Live Here’, ‘Monged’ and ‘The Elephant Is Contagious’. I got her insights into film-making industry in Ireland.
What got you interested in acting?
Oh god, I don’t know. For as long as I can remember I liked doing it. When I was a kid, I made up whole worlds around me and I acted different characters, I made impressions of my mum or my aunt! I think it was just something I had in me – I liked experiencing other lives, you know?
So what do you prefer – stage or camera?
They are very different, and I like them for different reasons – like the stage I love, because it’s very alive, and the whole process is very ordered and organic. When you do the play, you do the whole thing from the beginning to the end, so you have the whole thing. You have the whole journey with the character as it is – in the chronological order if you want to call it that way. It’s a very organic experience.
And also the contact with the audience, it’s very alive, it’s very there in the moment, so it gives you a great vibe and it just happens there and then! But at the same time, when it’s done it’s done. You can’t really send it anywhere. If someone missed it, they missed it. It’s a shame that you spend so much time with something and then it’s gone.
So with film at least it stays, and you can come back to it, and you can send it to people, even if someone is not here, they can see it – something stays with you. You have something you can show other people in portfolios or something, but working with film is very different. You have to wait a lot, and there’s these five minutes they need you for – if it’s a very emotional scene then you just need to be ready to do it for those five minutes, and then they go and prepare another set, and then you have to wait another three hours, so it’s very… all over the place! I kind of love both of them, it’s just they’re very different things!
Film, it does take a lot more time because you’re getting those things down that one time – you’re bound to spend a lot of time on set then – do you guys have a lot of fun on set? What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you?
Well, film sets can be very boring! Especially for the actors, because most of the work is done by tech people, the crew. They have everything to work on, the equipment, and sometimes I’m actually jealous of them, because they actually do work! And you’re an actor and you just sit there and wait, and they put you in a costume and put makeup on you, and you just wait for your scene to be ready, and you have just a few minutes to do it and then that’s it!
Is it hard to just switch on the feelings?
Yes, it can be a challenge. Sometimes you need to just stay away from people if you need to get into something very emotional, a very important scene that you probably need some time before it to just get in the right space. Otherwise people will be chatting to you and joking and it’s not a good vibe when you have to be, you know, tragically going through something.
I loved working on ‘The Canal’ for example, because there were a lot of special effects that the guys had to do on me, Bowsie Workshop – they’re amazing, they’re these super-talented artists. I spent loads of time with them, most of the time, because they were preparing me for the scenes. It was crazy. But it was amazing. It was the craziest thing I did I think, when I was shooting “The Canal” – that one thing, actually, when we were shooting in the canal, actually in the canal, and they had to put me under the water and get me out, but I was wrapped in sheets! I had this little panic attack, because it was just surreal! I think that was the most crazy thing, I would never ever do that otherwise.
But ‘The Canal’ – it’s a horror film – so is it still scary when you watch it back? I mean you’re working with all these people and you spend an hour and a half watching you die or whatever, I could never really figure out that whole thing from your end!
I haven’t seen the whole thing yet, to be honest with you…I’ve seen the clips! I really love the vibe and I think I could be probably scared, because I only did a few scenes in it, I didn’t see the rest of it, obviously. But at the same time, you know those people, and you remember how it was, how you were working on it.
But then the magic happens, and on the screen it just looks so real that you can still get scared or be completely overwhelmed by what’s happening, even though you know it’s made up and you remember guys talking about it, how they’re going to work on it and stuff.
But yeah – I still haven’t seen it! I’m still bringing myself to see it because I’ve heard reviews that it’s really scary and disturbing and I’m like – OK…I’ll just wait.
I suppose that’s the great thing about film that even if you are in it and you know that nothing happens to all these people, they’re still there. Another film you were involved in was ‘I Used to Live Here’. That ‘s got a lot of taboo themes in it. Does that take a mental toll on you as an actress? I mean do you take those feelings home with you when you’re engrossing yourself in a role like that?
Well, I was probably thinking more about those subjects. I mean my character wasn’t in the middle of the whole drama, it was a supporting character. But the whole project was very focused, we were talking a lot about that, about mental issues, and suicide and suicide clusters.
Frank, the director, was so passionate about everything. You could see that his heart was in it, and you could see that he really really wanted to tell that story. It was amazing to work with him. I wouldn’t call it an emotional toll or anything, but I was probably thinking about it much more and reading about those things and, probably, you know, when I heard something, my attention would go there, because I was just working on this project. But, actually, working on the film, there was a very good vibe and positive vibe and everyone was really committed – there was a beautiful energy on set.
And do you think it’s easier – I mean Frank Berry wrote and directed it – so do you think it was easier to work under him or do you think it came together better because he did both of those things as opposed to separate writer/director?
I think so, because you write something and you have some vision, and then the other person may completely change it, and something you wanted to have there is gone. So with him it was a very organic process of just, changing things as well – when he wrote it, he knew what was important, and what he could leave out, and sometimes he would even let the actors, especially the young actors, come up with some other lines, because teenagers would have some of their own things to talk about that he wouldn’t know about.
I think they had a few things where the young actors were improvising. Or they were saying “we will talk about this because this is on top now”, and he was like “okay let’s leave it in”. But he kept changing the script as they were shooting.
And also it was a very interesting approach, because I never actually read the whole script. I was only given scenes that I was supposed to shoot, so I never actually saw the whole script till I saw the film, I didn’t know the story. I think he did that with everyone, he just gave them the scene that they were supposed to work on, and they were supposed to focus on that scene and that’s it, without the context. I think that works really well, because you’re in the moment. You don’t think about the journey, you don’t pre-empt things, you’re just there and that’s what matters.
It’s definitely a unique technique – talking about that film, that was probably low budget would it have been?
Oh yeah yeah, and of course it was basically shot in Tallaght, with people from Tallaght, that community, and they had other things to do like work and school and everything, so we were shooting mostly in the weekends, so it was a very long process.
And yeah, Frank had problems getting funding, mostly because of the theme of the subject – I think people were scared that it was just too far out, too dangerous or something. So it was mainly just funded by him, by himself. With some help maybe, but mostly I think it was him.
It took a lot of bravery and effort for that! But talking about a completely different subject, totally different film , “Monged”. What can you tell me about it?
Well, ‘Monged’ is a script that was adapted from a theatre play written by Gary Duggan. It’s basically a very ‘lads’ film. It’s about three guys who have a crazy weekend of drugs and parties and there are some gangsters in the background. It’s a comedy, bit of drama, bit of action, but basically it’s just parties, drugs and…
…sort of like “The Hhangover” but a lot darker?
Kind of I’d say, probably something like that. They have this huge amount of drugs that they have to get rid of over the weekend, but at the same time, each of the guys deals with some issues in their own lives. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
What sort of role did you have in the film?
Mine was just sort of a silly role, because it’s basically a love interest, y’know?
Oh, OH. I won’t ask any more!
Yes, that’s basically it! It was just shot in a club, so it’s just silly, you’re kind of drunk and it’s just very silly – just love interest, so that’s mainly it! It was fun, a few days of shooting. And also, the guys were improvising a lot. Of course there was a script, but they always had some extra ideas of how to make it more funny, so it was a lot of fun. But no major drama for me or challenging emotions.
Showed up, made your money…
Is it hard to make money when you’re an actress in Dublin actually?
Oh god yeah! Most projects are very low budget. Actors are usually on the very bottom when it comes to pay. In general, the acting business is really tough. To make a film, that takes a lot of money. So to pay every single person that works on it, plus pay for the equipment and the venues and insurance, everything, it’s very expensive to make a film.
So then, as an actress, you end up doing films for nothing or for a minimum or symbolical fee or something. Or sometimes it’s some kind of a profit share thing where you sign a contract, and if the film makes money then you’re entitled to some percent of what it makes. Mostly it’s very difficult. Unless you’re a big name, and you can start acting proper parts in proper productions for proper money. Otherwise, you would starve if you didn’t have other things.
That’s the other side of the coin, you have that higher earning potential that you can reach but very few people reach that.
Yeah exactly, most people are in that huge pond, trying to make it. You need to have another income because you wouldn’t make it on acting itself, I’m afraid.
You’re from Poland – that’s got to be hard starting fresh. What took you to Ireland in the first place?
Well, in Poland I was studying English – the language, history, literature, I’m a certified English teacher. So when I finished, when I graduated, I just thought it would be great to actually live in an English speaking country to take it to the next level! With acting even it’s the same thing, because back in Poland I was involved in a semi professional, I mean we were amateur theatre. But everywhere we went, they were telling us we were too professional to be in this competition of amateur theatre etc, so I always think of that group as semi professional. It was very high level and I was part of this group for 6 or 7 years I think.
And, again, we did everything, English and Irish and American plays in the original language, in English, so it was also educational theatre. Teachers would take students to see our plays, because we were performing in English. So acting and performing in English became more natural for me than performing in Polish. So when I came here, I didn’t know anyone in the industry here, so I was wondering how I could get into the industry, and then I thought I should do the school, professional training, because then you’re just thrown in the middle of it.
What is the best part, and the worst part about being an actor in Ireland?
I don’t know, probably that a lot of great productions are happening here, not only Irish productions, but a lot of great TV shows that you can get involved in.
Like game of thrones?
Yeah! Or the Vikings or even Penny Dreadful. I watch those, especially the Vikings, because I know so many people in it! Every episode there’s someone I know and it’s such a cool feeling. It takes you out of the whole thing for a moment, but at the same time it’s still really cool. So there’s a lot of TV shows and films that are big and out there in the world, but they use Irish actors, so that’s a great thing.
The worst thing is probably what everyone rants about, the payment thing. You end up doing projects for nothing or really just ridiculous money, and you can’t really rely on it as work – it kind of becomes your hobby, or something you do on the side.
So whats your next move?
Well, I’m involved in two theatre projects, they’re developing now, so there’s not much to talk about yet. One is with Fried Egg Theatre Company which I founded with two friends from the Gaiety School of Acting. We already did a few plays and now there is a big play that we are thinking of putting on, but it’s, again, a lot of work and fundraising, a lot of money, so I don’t know when it will be ready. But that’s one of the projects out there, waiting to be tackled. The play is called “Abort”.
The other project is with another two friends from the Gaiety School of Acting, and we’ve just been writing scenes and skyping, because one of them lives in Kerry now and the other one is back in the States, so it’s more tricky to put it together. But we are sending scenes back and forth regularly, so we have a rough idea of what it could be. So again it could take another year or two.
Logistically that is hard.
Yeah. And also I have a couple of short film ideas. When you’re an actor, it’s difficult and you’re so dependent on other people, because there’s nothing you can do on your own really – you’re just needed for a project or a character. So I have a couple of ideas for short films that I could do for myself.
So you’re thinking of moving across to writing.
Yeah yeah, I mean I had a little adventure with writing a script and making it, but it was really short and rushed, and still I count it as just an exercise more than anything else. And also I was working on the day they were shooting, so I couldn’t even be on set! Someone else was directing it. It kind of happened outside of me for the most part.
It was a first experience so it was great to do it. But now I’d like to be more involved in the whole production process. But I know a few people who I worked with before, and they made a couple of shorts, so I know who I want to approach, I’m kind of working on it slowly at the moment.
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