Chicago Critics Film Festival Interview: Aisling Franciosi for THE NIGHTINGALE

Anyone reading this has most likely already seen The Babadook or is part of the 90 percent of the population who watches Game of Thrones. Aisling Franciosi played a significant role on the now ended HBO series and Jennifer Kent now directs her the unapologetic revenge drama, THE NIGHTINGALE. Delivering severe reactions at screenings, especially from males, THE NIGHTINGALE made its presence known at the Chicago Critics Film Festival as it held a screening there accompanied by lead actress, Franciosi. She took some time to sit down to discuss the dark nature of the film and its eerie relevance to current events.

First of all, I want to say I’ve seen the movie and thought it was great. How did you get involved?

Aisling Franciosi: It was pretty much like every other movie. I was sent the script and had to go on tape. I read it and thought there was something about the script that I really liked. I put myself on tape, they said Jennifer really liked it and wanted to chat on Skype. That was a much longer process as I had to fly out to LA, then wait for Sam (Sam Claflin of The Hunger Games fame) or someone like him to sign on because I’m not well known. Thankfully, it was Sam because he was brilliant.

This is a really tough movie to watch. How does one prepare to film an intense one like this?

Aisling Franciosi: We knew that Jen would never shoot it gratuitously. We talked a lot about how important that these scenes were from the female perspective, that there was no nudity at all. You never see skin. It was very much about the emotional trauma. She was also very considerate on set and even had a clinical psychologist involved with the project and always on set. She would call for breaks and checked in with us, making sure we were okay. In terms of the research side of things, Jen did a ton of research about rape and PTSD. We had an incredible crew who was sensitive to what we were doing. There was a lot of love on set.

I read a little about the movie before I saw it and many referred to it as a rape-revenge movie, which is a sub-genre I’ve seen many times. When I watched this, it kind of started out that way but I realized it was more of a story about one’s self-worth, more specifically a woman’s self-worth.  

Aisling Franciosi: I was just telling Jen about this the other day and about how it would be easy if this were an eye for eye type movie, but it’s really about saving your own humanity in the end.

I noticed your character in the movie is seen as a crook and pretty much wears a scarlet letter on her face for one mistake, but the men in the movie do far more awful things and they can just get away with it.

Aisling Franciosi: Yeah, that helped elevate my fury for this role. I was vaguely aware of this history in Australia. The women were taken from their homes and pretty much served a life sentence and it was like that for a very long time. Frequently, it would be for petty reasons like survival crimes. Some of the worst convicts were sent to Tasmania. The ratio of men to women there was 9 to 1 so you can imagine what it was like to be a female convict there. So of course if you’re a convict, you were dirt. If you were a woman, worse again. And if you were Irish and a convict, you were seen as the worst of the worst. Women often had to shave their heads which were a sign that they were a criminal. There are still things that we have to get right now which is scary, but things were a million times worse then.

Aisling Franciosi in THE NIGHTINGALE

This is an extremely graphic movie, but not in the way one expects. It’s more of an emotionally graphic experience.

Aisling Franciosi: I think that’s a really great term for it, but that’s exactly the point. We are so desensitized to violence now. A lot of violence you see, there’s no human element there. In our movie, we are going to show violence as it was a part of the human element. There’s no sugar coating. This is what happened and is still happening. You will feel something and I think some people will find that very confronting. People’s reactions to the violence in this film are so fascinating, especially seeing how rape is not about sex. It’s a horrific act of power and dehumanization. It’s a weapon. Rape and war go together. This movie helps detach from a certain frame of mind.

Before you guys started filming, were you nervous at all about how people would react to some the scenes?

Aisling Franciosi: Jen is fierce! She is so uncompromising. I would’ve been nervous if I hadn’t known how committed she is to truth and authenticity. I spoke with rape victims, went to centers of domestic abuse and chatted with social workers. Jen wanted to make sure before even making the film to have permission and an Aboriginal on set as an advisor. She even spoke to Aboriginal elders to get their blessing to make this film. It’s very sensitive material and the story of her country. She wanted to make sure everything on film came from a place of truth. Yeah, I knew people were going to react strongly to this, but that’s the whole point. I think it’s important that we showed the whole PTSD aspect of it.

This isn’t a movie about how horrible men are, but unfortunately, there is a history where awful is perpetuated largely by men against women. Then, there are things that are going on now with Alabama where how are we still at a point where we are trying to control women. Where is this coming from? I want people to see this because I think it’s a burning fury of a film. I think it’s really timely.

If I had never seen THE NIGHTINGALE before, what would you tell me it is about?

Aisling Franciosi: I would say lots of things. It’s a study of violence. It’s a study of grief and loss, but most of all it’s a look at how important is and how hard it is to choose humanity in times of darkness and hell. It’s when things are really hard that you see the kind of people you really are.

A little lighter question: You sing in this movie and I remember you singing in the BBC series The Fall. Was that always part of the script?

Aisling Franciosi: It was always in the script. It’s interesting how singing is approached in every project. In The Fall, Alan, the creator, said he didn’t want me to sound like I had singing lessons. He wanted me to sound like a 16-year-old singing in her bedroom. For THE NIGHTINGALE, Jen said I couldn’t sound polished. It was fun to play around with that and sing Irish songs.

For more information on THE NIGHTINGALE and for any upcoming screenings, make sure to follow IFC Midnight.

Jovy and Aisling Franciosi
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