The Other Side of Sleep star Antonia Campbell-hughes shares girl-talk with Tara Brady,
The Other Side of Sleep star Antonia Campbell-hughes has been an art student, fashion designer and heavymetal vocalist. ‘My life has been a mishmash of recreating myself and fitting in,’ she tells Tara Brady
SHE LOOKS like a lovely changeling and she eats sweets from a bag. Not regular grown-up candy either, but Haribo sweets from the defiantly gooey end of the day-glo food groups. If we didn’t know it before, we’re quite sure now: Antonia CampbellHughes is a girl’s girl.
Her CV confirms her unique appeal for female directors: Jane Campion, Aisling Walsh, Rebecca Daly, Deborah Kampmeier and Alexandra Mcguinness have all wielded a megaphone at the delightfully pixie-ish 29-year-old. There’s a whole lot of girl love going on. “I know immediately when I walk into an audition,” nods Campbell-hughes. “I either appeal or I don’t. And a lot of the women who have cast me are quite like me. There’s a love thing there from first sight. And it’s mutual. I’ll think ‘Oh I just want to put you in my pocket and keep you there forever’.”
So Antonia Campbell-hughes is a Marmite brand? “Well, I know people say you’re supposed to love or hate Marmite but I’m
kind of on the fence with it.”
Only a creature as singular as CampbellHughes could venture such an eccentric notion. But that’s why there’s nobody else like her in indigenous cinema or anywhere else. Born in Northern Ireland and raised between Germany, Switzerland and the US, she was an international entity even before she got into the global business of movie-making.
“I was born in Derry but we moved to Switzerland when I was two and to the States when I was five,” she says. “I was very American by the time I came back. Even in Europe everybody was half American. They were German-american or Swiss-american.” It all sounds very exotic. “Switzerland and Germany are great places but I wouldn’t call them exotic,” she laughs. “And then Bloomington, Delaware. The home of white-collar bigotry and station wagons. Definitely not exotic.” Still, moving around and reconfiguring herself to different schools and cliques was, she says, good training for her future career.
“My life has been a mish-mash of recreating myself and fitting in,” she says. “I wasn’t ‘oh, woe is me, I don’t fit in I’m such a loner’. But I kind of was a loner. And it’s a good thing. It gives you a freedom. When you grow up with the same people they can keep you down to some extent.
“There’s almost a fear of breaking out because everybody is going to give you a hard time about it. Getting back to Dublin was a huge part of my schooling. It’s the first place where I felt really free.”
A precocious creative force, she was an art student, a successful fashion designer (with her
own clothing line at Top Shop) and a heavy-metal vocalist before she found her true calling.
Her Eurocentric upbringing had left her with a taste for the films of Mike Leigh and Lynne Ramsay and for the acting work of Asia Argento and Charlotte Gainsbourg. She loved cinema but admits she “had no clue” how to join the club.
“I was looking up the yellow pages,” she recalls. “I was crippled with shyness as a kid. I couldn’t speak to humans. Acting was a bizarre but logical choice for me. Like everything I’ve done it came about organically. It just hasn’t been a very definable process.”
She first came to prominence in Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon, a four-season comic turn that brought her to the attention of MTV, where she created and developed Bluebell Welch, incompetent celebrity interviewer extraordinaire. But across a series of day jobs in UK TV staples such as Silent Witness and Casualty, Campbell-hughes proved her worth as a genuine thespian talent.
By 2009, the big league beckoned. Her impudent scullery maid was quickly recognised as the brightest aspect of Jane Campion’s Keats biopic Bright Star and she walked off with the picture from under the noses of bigger billed colleagues Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw with a performance Vanity Fair called “stunningly vivid and winsomely winning”.
Unsurprisingly, the actor has kept in touch with Campion, whom she now describes as a mentor.
“It’s only now I realise what a big deal it was,” says Campbell-hughes. “At the time it wasn’t clear. I love Jane Campion. I really wanted the job. But at the time I kept getting recalled for Polly Stenham’s That Face, a play at the Haymarket. And Polly is one of those
“This film really changed me . . . I had to strip myself of everything that made me me. Music, books, phone, contact – everything went”
girls we were talking about. I had that love thing for her even though I was far too old for the role. So when I got the call about Bright Star I was genuinely thinking I might do the play instead.”
What happened? “Everybody said ‘ you fucking what?’ They were right. I was thinking about the film like it was all these amazing actors and this funny little freak playing a funny little freak. But I get why that worked now.” She is funny but we won’t agree to freak. Campbell-hughes’s accent, though very globetrotting, is peppered with Irishisms. And occasionally she says things that could only come from the mouth of a north-westerner.
“I think I’m getting into cars and driving,” she admits. “For the past month or so I’ve been flying into Derry and hanging around Donegal where my family are. I’m starting to get the driving thing. Or I fly into Dublin so I can get the bus up. It’s a ghetto bus but it’s part of my process. The second I commit to
doing a film I can’t breathe. I wish there was