The star of the newest film by Australian director Jennifer Kent is as European as can be. Half-Irish and half-Italian, Aisling Franciosi takes up the lead role in upcoming feature The Nightingale, which will soon be released in cinemas around the globe after having its premiere at Venice in 2018.

Set in 1825, Clare, a young Irish convict, pursues a British Army Officer (Sam Claflin) through the Tasmanian wilderness, on a mission of revenge. On the way, she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), also scarred by a terrible past.

Franciosi, 25, got her big break playing Katie Benedetto in BBC Two crime drama The Fall, alongside recognised stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan. She continued her career in television, appearing in TNT show Legends and more recently taking up the role of Lyanna Stark in television juggernaut Game of Thrones. Although The Nightingale is the first leading role for Franciosi, Jennifer Kent was not the one to discover her. She had already appeared in Ken Loach’s big feature film Jimmy’s Hall in 2014.

Contributor Lisa Wehrstedt had the chance to chat with Franciosi at this year’s Berlinale Festival, as she recieved a European Shooting Star Award, about The Nightingale and what lies ahead.

Shooting The Nightingale must have been quite difficult, because of being in the Tasmanian Bush as well as the gruesome subject matter.

It was wonderful but it also the most challenging thing I have ever done. I definitely found the former much tougher: it was way more emotionally difficult. I felt a weight of responsibility, to tell the story right and honour the people who had shared their stories with us, both the Aboriginal people that we had on set and the victims of sexual violence and abuse that I had the opportunity to talk to as part of my research. It was the case where being physically tired played into the mental stuff we were tackling and everyone got a bit more emotional.

You definitely ruffled some feathers with the release of this film. It’s about gender and it’s about race. Did you expect such a response from audiences?

When we were filming it, I was so focused on getting through the day that I didn’t even realise that people were going to see the film. But from the very first moment when I read the script, I knew people were going to have strong reactions to the story. It’s not often that a script gives you goosebumps. We had people who loved it at the extreme and people who hated it at the extreme. But it is not about the violence itself, as it is no more violent than any other film out there. The Nightingale is very intimate and uncomfortable viewing. The subject is extremely heavy going and it is not often you see these themes from a woman’s perspective. Jen (Writer, Director and Co-Producer Jennifer Kent) was so committed to showing the truth of what it means for a woman to experience sexual violence and I trusted completely in her. I knew the reasons she was telling this story and I knew how she was going to film certain scenes. She had done research into the depiction of rape in film, especially in rape/revenge exploitation genre films, and knew that she wanted to stay away from that as much as possible.

Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale

Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale  Credit: Kasia Ladzcuk, Nightingale Pictures

I think in those films the rape is a defining moment in the movie, but it is only that. As soon as it is over, that’s when the revenge part begins. In our film, we wanted to drive the fact that it is not just something that happens to you and then stays in the past. It is something that lives with these women for years, sometimes for their whole life. We wanted to show how brutal the journey of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is, and it was so gratifying when I had women come talk to me after screenings and thank me for showing PTSD on screen. If we ruffled some feathers, I get that, but we did it for the right reasons and I am proud of it.

This was your first big break-through role and you were amazing in it. Do you have the aspiration of stardom now or is that something you are not looking forward to in your career as an actress?

It depends on what you mean. If I get well known because of recognition of my work and it is considered good, then I think that is something very different from just becoming famous. I don’t love the idea of getting out on the streets and getting mobbed, I don’t know how people deal with that. To be honest though, unfortunately, a little bit of notoriety does then help to get in the room with people that you want to work with. But I feel so unbelievably grateful to Jennifer for giving me this breakthrough. She took a risk and I know she made it much more difficult for herself to get the film made by casting me, and I am hyper-aware of that.

What do you mean by that?

I found out half-way through filming – thank goodness, if it had happened sooner I would have panicked – that there were well-known people who wanted to take the role. I am not naïve, I get that particularly when American funding comes into play you would want a bankable star. I don’t like that, but I can understand the decision behind it. I auditioned for the part three years ago, so it took us a while to get going. To make things easier for myself and my directors going forward, if I can get a bit more notoriety, then I am ok with it.

Which directors would you want to work with?

I came to my film education very late, and the first director that struck me was Paul Thomas Anderson but also Susanne Bier and Andrea Arnold, who I have heard works in a similar way to Ken Loach who I have worked with before. Then I also like directors who have a strong vision and voice, like Wes Anderson. I would work with Jennifer again in a heartbeat, but I don’t think I will get to do her next film.

Aisling Franciosi and Jennifer Kent with co-stars Sam Claflin and Baykali Ganambarr

Aisling Franciosi and Jennifer Kent with co-stars Sam Claflin and Baykali Ganambarr  Credit:  Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Europe

I would also love to work in other languages. I was raised bilingual and I studied French and Spanish. I keep telling my agent “So, Luca Guadagnino has a new project in Italian…” And Sorrentino as well. I find languages so fascinating. I know that I change physically when I speak different languages and I think every language has its own unique characteristics. I think acting is just an extra layer.

You have done a fair amount of television so far, but where do you see your career going from now on?

I think television is so good now that I don’t feel the need to separate the two. I would love to do more films because I think there is something so interesting about having an encapsulated world. But if the writing is really good, that is what I am looking for. I struggle with the commercial side, but I am starting to come to terms with the fact that if it weren’t for some of the big commercial films that I don’t feel anything for particularly, people would not go to the cinema and see the arthouse films that are also showing. They support each other in a way, so who knows, I might get to so something really commercial.

The Nightingale will be released in the UK on 22 August 2019 with Game of Thrones returning on April 14.