Interview: Aisling Loftus

Interview: Harry Wilding
Saturday 07 February 2015
reading time: min, words

Don’t be fooled by the Cockney accent, Aisling Loftus may play a southerner in the ITV drama Mr Selfridge, but she’s cut from Nottingham cloth. With roles lined up in an adaptation of the notoriously weighty War and Peace, and the somewhat lighter Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we spoke to her about her screen journey thus far…


“I don’t have a wish to be famous,” Aisling states matter-of-factly, “I just want to work and do good stuff, really.” The 24-year-old actor has recently been doing just that, masquerading as a Cockney on our telly screens in ITV’s Mr Selfridge. “It is difficult to know how good a programme will be at audition stage. With Mr Selfridge, I was sent about three scenes and the premise of the show. The fact that Andrew Davies was the creator was great, I absolutely lovely his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. I do say no to auditions, if I think the script is crap, but most of the time you just go in and hope that it is going to turn out good because there’s only so much you can tell.” 

But how much did she know about the man behind one of the country’s largest high-end department stores? “I didn’t know anything about the history. The stuff about Selfridge is based on fact but there was no Agnus Towler, which is good because I don’t have to honour anyone’s memory.” As anyone that’s seen the show will agree, the original Selfridge’s was a sight to behold. “We never film anything in the actual Selfridges; the set is in Neasden in what used to be a carpet factory. The actual store is nice, but pretty overpriced...”

With such a popular show, now in its third series, you’d expect that she’d get recognised on the street, but can people see beyond the period hair, make-up and clothing? “When it’s on the telly, I get recognised fairly often. It’s usually when I’m talking to someone in a shop. When The Borrowers was on it was really nice that little children recognised me. I don’t think I’m particularly recognisable and that’s a good thing. I’ve got one of those bland faces.”

It all started, like with so many Nottingham actors, with the Television Workshop. Her peers included Jack O’Connell, Joe Dempsie, Lauren and Michael Socha, Chanel Cresswell, and Georgia Groome. “This sounds really unpatriotic to Nottingham,” Aisling explains, “but I don’t think there’s anything in the water. I think it’s Ian Smith and what he’s made. Ian, and Alison Rashley – who left a few years ago – were incredibly important to the ethos and the teaching there. It wasn’t a group of insufferable show-offs. Well, I hope it wasn’t. It’s a different way of seeing acting that isn’t about being the centre of attention and showing off, but being truthful and real.

“While at ‘Workshop, I’d do a couple of things a year, in, say, The Bill or Doctors. I’m glad that I didn’t leave school early and miss out on having a normal time of it.” She began her television career at ten years old in an episode of Peak Practice. “If I was ever to see it again, I would just cringe; I was really shit but it was a brilliant experience. I loved that there was tea and biscuits on tap, I got to put on someone else’s clothes, and all these adults actually wanted me to be good at this make-believe game. It was a shock to actually see it on the telly.”

Now living in the Big Smoke, she comes back home to see her parents and Ian. “I don’t get back as often as I’d like. I love going to Broadway, I’ve always seen films there. I have a really strong memory of seeing Hunger there, me and my friend had a bottle of wine and didn’t quite realise how harrowing the film was going to be. I also love JamCafe and end up in Lee Rosy’s a lot.”

Aisling has a few things in the pipeline: next year she will be in Russia, Latvia and Lithuania for twelve weeks to shoot a television adaption of War and Peace. “I can’t wait. I had to go over to Lithuania for a costume fitting the other day, which was just mental.” She pauses. “I’ve been putting off reading the book because it’s so long. I will read it; I will be that professional person.” She also has a small role in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is finally in post-production after having a few delays - David O Russell was initially attached, and still credited as writer. It stars Lily James as Elizabeth and Sam Riley as Darcy. “I’m playing Matt Smith’s wife. I’m such a small part in it, my character doesn’t even know about the bloody zombies; she’s just doing Pride and Prejudice.

Having primarily kept to telly thus far in her career, is film the obvious next step? “It’s about what opportunities come about. I have come close to some really good films, but it’s a different ball game. I used to think you get every part on merit, if you’re the right person. My American agent has told me that some decisions haven’t gone my way because I haven’t got any value yet.” Aisling laughs, “Which makes you feel rubbish. I know what it means, though – there’s no guarantee that if I were cast in a film that it would make money, as opposed to, say, Chloë Moretz. The business of film is much more about making money than television. Maybe that’s a bit too black and white, but it seems that way.”

Aisling also talked about how theatre is something she would like to do more of. “I’ve done a play at The Royal Court and The Old Vic in the past five years. The good thing about telly, though, is that it is different every day. Towards the end of the run of a play, you have to try to make it a new experience for yourself, rather than going into autopilot.” Do not hold your breath for an Aisling pantomime appearance anytime soon, though. “I, erm… kind of hate pantos,” she laughs and hesitates before going further. “I actually hate them. I don’t find them funny. Even as a kid I thought they were the least funny, least entertaining thing.”

As we enter 2015, 87 years after UK women were given equal voting rights to men, the film and TV industry remains a surprisingly masculine environment. “Females have never made up more than a quarter of the crew on any set I have been on. It feels like that anyway.” Aisling turns to women directors, in particular. “The female directors that I have worked with have been really, really good, so it is a shame there aren’t more. There are plenty of terrible or mediocre male directors, so it would be good for women to have the opportunity to be mediocre, no? I guess because it’s so difficult for women to get those opportunities, the ones that get them are especially good. I don’t understand it – directing isn’t something inherently masculine.”

Male actors seem to be more likely to try their hand at writing and directing than female actors; would Aisling consider moving her career in that direction? “I have huge admiration for writers but it’s not something that I’m good at, it would be a folly to even try. In terms of directing, I sometimes wonder. If the opportunity arose, I would if I knew enough to take it on.”

But, for now, the woman who is not bothered about being famous is taking it one step at a time, and that is just how she likes it. “I‘m not the kind of actor who knows what they’re doing a year in advance,” she says. “Maybe I’ll get a part on one of those franchise things; I’ll know what I’m doing for the next ten years but I’ll lose my mind.”

Mr Selfridge is now showing on Sunday nights on ITV.

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