Eva Birthistle

Ae Fond Kiss...

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

“If Hollywood comes a-knocking, I'll open the door and go, "C'mon in, have a cup of tea" ”

Eva Birthistle has carved out a career in TV and small Irish films. Now, thanks to her acclaimed lead performance as an Irish Catholic schoolteacher who falls in love with a Glaswegian Asian - in Ken Loach's cross-cultural love story Ae Fond Kiss... - the Bray-born actress looks set to enter a new phase in her career.

Ken casts actors who are similar to their characters, doesn't he?

That's absolutely how he casts. There's not much adopting of anything - it's kind of you. And it has to be, because you don't get a script for starters, and you never know what's going to happen. You can't sit down and go, "OK, I think I should play her like this..." So, you're going on gut and instinct, and that means you're largely playing a lot of yourself.

Why do you think they wanted your character, Roisin, to be Irish?

I think part of the reason was because it was a nice similarity that herself and Casim would have in being outsiders in the Glaswegian community.

Your family moved from Bray, in the south of Ireland, to Derry in the north when you were 14. Did you also feel like an outsider?

I felt very much like an outsider. And at the school I went to, I felt even more so. It was a Protestant school and I'm a Catholic so I had to contend with that. I think, ultimately, what that does to you as a person is it makes you stronger and it makes you stand up for yourself. It could have a reverse effect [laughs], but fortunately in my case it didn't.

There is a scene in the film where Roisin confronts a priest who is outraged by her relationship with Casim. He says she must break off the relationship in order to continue working in a Catholic school. Is this based in reality?

Absolutely. That leaflet he waves is the actual leaflet. It states how you should conduct yourself whilst working in a Catholic school. And one of the things it states is you shan't live in sin with somebody who is of a different denomination. I have a problem with that, you know? So long as someone does their job well, they have good morals in a social way of living, what does it matter who they live with or don't live with in their private life? I think that should have been addressed, because that's still the case.

You're about to visit Hollywood to test the lie of the land. Obviously you'd like to work there...

I would. But it's not my goal to go, "Oh my God, I have to make it! I have to be Charlize Theron! I have to be up there winning an Oscar!" I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice. If they come a-knocking, I'll open the door and go, "C'mon in, have a cup of tea." But just as long as I keep working, that's fine. If the work is good, it doesn't matter where it is.