Black Narcisssus' Aisling Franciosi On Playing A Nun And The Complexities Of A Wimple

Katie O'Malley
·4-min read
Photo credit: BBC Pictures
Photo credit: BBC Pictures

From ELLE

Aisling Franciosi didn’t start out as a rebel. ‘I never put a toe out of line. I didn’t do the rebellious thing as a teenager – and that became my identity,’ the 29-year-old states, matter-of-factly. Such perfectionism led her to gain a coveted place at Trinity College Dublin to study French and Spanish.

So, it was somewhat out of character when she decided to quit university to star as Katie Benedetto alongside Jamie Dornan in BBC crime drama The Fall. ‘Acting has given me the freedom to do and say whatever the hell I want without repercussions,’ she says.

Franciosi is calling from her hotel room in Vancouver, Canada, where she’s resumed shooting an at-present unnamed film with Sandra Bullock – ‘She’s lovely, supportive and intelligent’ – after the project was halted in March due to the pandemic. Usually, you’ll find her in her adopted home of New York, dining in the East Village or entertaining friends at home. In addition to running and skipping during lockdown (she takes a skipping rope everywhere she goes), Franciosi estimates she baked more than 20 sourdough loaves. ‘I was a basic “batch”!’ she says.

Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images

Born in Dublin to an Irish mother and an Italian father, both parts of the actor’s heritage are integral to who she is. ‘They provide different feelings of home,’ she says. ‘I associate summers with Italy, but there’s a certain smell to Irish air that instantly relaxes me.’ With credits in The Fall and Game of Thrones – both filmed in the Emerald Isle – and following the recent success of BBC Three’s Normal People, she’s never felt prouder to be Irish. ‘Ireland has always had a legacy of great artists. For a while, we didn’t appreciate it enough at home.’

Photo credit: Mondadori Portfolio - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mondadori Portfolio - Getty Images

In the past year, Franciosi has won critical acclaim and an award for her role in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (the cast and crew slept in fishing huts in the Tasmanian forest while shooting). The film chronicles a 21-year-old Irish convict in 1825, hunting a British officer with the help of an Aboriginal tracker. The film featured harrowing rape scenes, for which Franciosi conducted in-depth research, meeting with domestic violence survivors and clinical psychologists.

Above all, it’s empathy and truthful writing that motivates her. ‘If you’re dealing with something important that’s so full of pain, I don’t see the point if you’re not going to try to do it with as much heart as possible,’ she explains. But Franciosi notes that, while she’s happy to play dark roles, she wouldn’t mind starring in a comedy one day. ‘Empathy isn’t just about connecting over hurt and trauma but, equally, the joys we feel,’ she says.

This month, she stars in the BBC adaptation of Rumer Godden’s psychological drama Black Narcissus about a group of Anglican nuns in the Himalayas. Filming in Nepal without internet or phone service, the remote location helped the show’s cast – which includes Gemma Arterton and Jim Broadbent – bond.

Photo credit: BBC Pictures
Photo credit: BBC Pictures

‘We spent evenings around the fire and got to know each other quickly,’ Franciosi says. One of the biggest challenges, however, wasn’t so much its remote location, but her costume. ‘The old-fashioned wimples were designed to maintain “custody of the eyes” and to avoid distraction, so nuns could solely focus on serving God,’ she says. ‘But they were awful to wear! The shape and layers of fabric meant we could barely see or hear each other.’

Fortunately, Franciosi’s day-to-day style (‘relaxed tailoring with a bit of shape’) isn’t as restrictive. The Chanel fan credits stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray for changing her mindset when it comes to fashion. ‘Every actor has something in their costume that helps them get into character,’ she explains. ‘For me it’s shoes – they affect the way you walk. I’ve learnt that clothes can change how you feel and present yourself in your personal life, too. If you have a decent coat and pair of shoes, you’re golden!’ A goody two shoes with great shoes? Sounds like a winning combination.

Black Narcissus is coming to BBC One and iPlayer in December


This article appears in the December 2020 edition of ELLE UK.

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