Antonia Campbell-Hughes – the actor who’s thinking her way to the top …

Taste the difference. The actor who’s thinking her way to the top …

The first thing that strikes me about Antonia Campbell-Hughes is how thoughtful she is when it comes to talking about her work.  You get the sense that here is a mind working at ten to the dozen figuring things out, understanding the world, and trying to see some degree of truth in everything she does.

Mind you, just when you think the conversation is going to delve into the realms of philosophy so deep we ought to be breaking out the whiskeys and committing to a lock in, she checks herself and punctuates the conversation with an impish chuckle.

IMG_3516Antonia Campbell-Hughes. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

If you have not yet come across Antonia, she’s an actor and writer from Northern Ireland, via America, Switzerland, Germany and London.  She has a soft spot for art house movies, but a break in proceedings this year will see her in her first blockbuster role, in the action sci-fi thriller DxM.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

Then again, that’s Antonia all over – always challenging her own status quo, always looking to do something she’s never done before.  It is that same motivation that’s got her writing and developing her own projects with the Irish Film Board, including one about Lucia Joyce, daughter of the famed Irish novelist and poet.  It’s also the reason for her involvement in her latest movies, Les Cowboys and Swansong.

Swansong, a black comedy that’s been making waves at Raindance recently is a love story gone wrong.  With a small cast including Eva Birthistle (“whose work I love”), the film was made on a shoestring budget but with a wealth of passion that shines through Campbell-Hughes’ speech as she describes working on the project.

“It’s very clever, and when you work with a great team doing it for the love of it, everyone gets on that positive energy’” she enthuses, emphasising the film’s appeal because of the purity of motivation amongst all involved and the directorial talent of Douglas Ray.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes in Swansong

Further evidencing the unique nature and close bonds made on Swansong, she says: “we had a week of rehearsal, which is unusual on a film, and while I often play the lead in movies I really liked being part of an ensemble; it’s an exciting journey to be on together, particularly in something like this where the outcome relies on the dynamic between few characters.”

“The character is interesting and lost.  She engages in a relationship with a married woman and it has a nice nod to modern culture that tickled me.  I think a lot of people would relate to the characters – three people thrown together because they are dissatisfied in the early stages of marriage and relationships.  It’s the plights of the middle classes and explores what people can be pushed to, but done with comedy.”

IMG_3519Antonia Campbell-Hughes. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

One gets the feeling Antonia could talk about it all day and still have the same love of the film, the people and the way it all worked out.

But the emphasis for her is on doing different things: “I’m really interested in doing things I haven’t done before,” she reiterates time and again, which explains her involvement in another film du jour, Les Cowboys, a French drama that dabbles in English and Pakistani is a “very beautiful” film that Antonia says she’s “delighted to have been included on.”

Allowing her to use her linguistic skills (“I wanted to grow up and be a French actress”), the drama about a murder that leaves an unwitting witness in a battle with himself sees Antonia in a role that’s much smaller than her usual headline performances.

However, it’s one that she couldn’t resist for the reputation of the writers, and director Thomas Bidegain who believes all characters in a film are of equal importance – a theory that lead to six months of character development for Antonia, and flights across the world.”

Again, the experience was one that the actress wanted to be a part of because of her rather purist commitment to her craft and experiencing new things within it.  It’s a quality one can’t help but find admirable for the sincerity with which she talks about it, a concept that could in another context sound rather scripted, if it weren’t for the energy and articulate understanding with which she talks about it.

IMG_3532Antonia Campbell-Hughes. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

We go on to discuss at length another upcoming project that allows her to play a very religious character based on a real woman, and it raises Antonia’s curiosity about what drives people – the sometimes contradictory nature of real individuals such as the ego and its juxtaposition to this particular character’s devout Christianity.

“People say acting is about lying,” she says, “but I don’t believe that, it’s about telling the truth.” On that note, if that’s the integrity she continues to search for throughout her career, one can only believe that this smart cookie of an actress is going leave a legacy of very special films in her wake… things are certainly looking good so far.

by Bonnie Friend

Photographs: Justin van Vliet