India Hendrikse: Congratulations on the show! I must say – I was very moved by the character and what she goes through. I’m not going to give too much away here, of course, but I would love for you to speak about how you got into the role of such a complex character who’s obviously plagued by dark, invasive thoughts.
Aisling Franciosi: Well, firstly, I’m so happy that you said that you were moved, thank you. And secondly, because Ruth, I think like with any difficult personality, as an actor you kind of try and see if you can make the audience sympathise with them, even if they’re irritated by them. That was something I really wanted to try and explore with Ruth – that she’s not just a crazy character, she’s actually a bit of a tragic character as well. In terms of the prep for the role, the starting point was that, you know, there was obviously a film in 1947, which is iconic and Kathleen Byron, who played Sister Ruth, she did brilliantly. I kind of thought to myself ‘there’s no point in trying to recreate something that’s iconic and that’s been done so well’. And so I thought, ‘well, I’m just going to come at it with fresh eyes and see if there’s another version of Ruth there’. And when I was reading the novel [by Rumer Godden] in particular, I really saw that, yes, she is difficult and sometimes just downright annoying, but actually she’s someone who’s very unwell and that was really the hook for me. I thought, ‘okay, this character is really suffering with her mental health’. And I felt really sorry for her because basically the way that she lashes out are cries for help in a way.
IH: Absolutely. You’re in the generation where as a female actor, you have the opportunity to play complex female characters, which probably wasn’t something that was as common for women in the past. Do you personally feel more drawn to roles where you can really have a range of complex emotions?
AF: I’ve actually been very lucky. You’re right, I think there are more roles like that now than there were before. So I feel like it’s a good time to be a female actor, but I was very lucky from the get-go and you know, my first job really was The Fall and I was playing a pretty troubled teenager and someone who was very, very vulnerable. I think maybe that in part set the tone for the rest of the work that I did. There is something to be said for when someone sees you in something dark, then they kind of associate you with being able to do that. And so from there, I always played darker roles in darker material, and I loved playing them. They’re so creatively satisfying, I find in ways it’s probably cathartic for me to kind of unleash some of the bottled up stuff.
IH: Obviously the themes in Black Narcissus are dark and heavy. I’d like to talk about the theme of sexual repression, which seems to have run right through the plotline. How did you navigate this theme and what was the development process of that as a cast?
AF: We wanted to be very careful with how we balanced the nuns dealing with these repressed desires, but them also not just brought to the surface when Mr Dean arrives. We wanted to make sure that it was clear that these women were dealing with their own inner turmoil, that there would be things that they were going through anyway, and not just thrown into chaos by the arrival of a man. So as not to trivialise these feelings.