Life After Graduation: An Interview with Spotlight Prize Participant Aoife Fitzpatrick

Spotlight talks to Aoife about adjusting to life after graduation, and landing your first on screen role...

By Nicola Long

Aoife Fitzpatrick is from Dublin, Ireland. She graduated from The Gaiety School of Acting in June 2018 and is a graduate member of Spotlight. Aoife was chosen as one of 20 graduate finalists, from over 70 competing drama schools in the UK and Ireland, to perform in front of an exclusive industry panel in London in the Spotlight Prize 2018. This was the first year that an Irish graduate was a finalist (Conor Maguire of Bow Street was also chosen). She was recently cast in new BBC1 and RTE1 drama, Dublin Murders, due on our screens this year. We spoke to Aoife about the challenges of adjusting to life after drama school and any advice she has for others preparing to graduate and embark upon a professional career.

I had to learn to be kind to myself. I had to not beat myself up for not doing as much work as I did in drama school
Aoife Fitzpatrick

How have things been going for you professionally since graduating from The Gaiety School of Acting in summer 2018?

Things have been great, I really can’t complain. Especially having done the Spotlight Prize, I feel like I have just been launched out there! It really gave me a boost of confidence. I have been doing a lot of auditions. I recently got my first television role in Dublin Murders, which will be showing on BBC1 and RTE1, so that has been very positive for me having just come out of drama school. I feel very blessed about that. I am also a singer and I am working on my EP launch as part of the Scene and Heard Festival at Smock Alley. I think it is very important to keep challenging myself with different forms of theatre. I like to always be creating so I always have some sort of project to sink my teeth into.

What are the challenges you faced as you left drama school behind to embark upon a professional career as an actor? Was it a hard adjustment to make?

I’m not going to lie, it is hard. The adjustment of time was tough. In drama school it is very intense; minutes and seconds are everything and you are always running to class. Then you leave and suddenly everything just slows down. I had to learn to be kind to myself. I had to not beat myself up for not doing as much work as I did in drama school.

When you start to audition it can take a while to get used to. Going into a room, giving it your all and then being able to let it all go afterwards and just hope for the best. But the main thing I realised, after meeting so many casting directors through the Spotlight Prize, is that they are just trying to do their job and, as an actor, you are just doing your job. You are both human beings and it is a collaborative process and I love that!

You were one of the two first ever Irish drama school graduates selected to perform at the prestigious Spotlight Prize in 2018. How was this experience and what was it like to perform, in London, in front of an audience of such influential industry professionals?

 It was an amazing experience! Being in London felt like a whole different ball game, it is such a big industry and on a bigger scale than Dublin. It was an experience that taught me a lot instantly. Meeting the other actors, they were so intuitive and talented. They were definitely very special, you could see why they had been chosen. You could tell that everyone in Spotlight wanted you to do well.

I was the first one up, so I had to open the show. That was a huge challenge for me, but I was made to feel very supported. Performing is always so fun but there are no nerves like showcase nerves! You just have to bite the bullet and get out there. It was great making the industry connections that I made through it, it really helped my confidence. Everyone was so approachable, and it made the industry feel less big and scary. Now I know I can contact these people any time I have new work or with anything that may be relevant.

Casting directors want to see you and not a replica of someone. The more authentic and genuine you are the more people will respond to you
Aoife Fitzpatrick

Do you have any advice for students preparing for a showcase?

Choose a piece that is close to your heart. Showcases are not a time to think about climbing mountains! It’s about putting your best foot forward. Do what you know. You need to get in there with a piece you love and nail it. Look to your strengths. You want to make a mark, but you also want to make it quite individual to yourself, so pick something that you are really personal with. Choose a story you want to tell and that you are passionate about as passion shines through and you become alive. Don’t compare yourself to, or be competitive with, the other students/actors, only be competitive with yourself. Be true to yourself and you can’t go wrong.

What wider advice would you give to drama students who are preparing to graduate?

Patience is definitely a virtue. You can only do so much, you are only human. You need to live a bit so take it one day at a time, spend time with your friends and family. Go back to hobbies and other outlets you had before. Finding yourself in the world again is the difficult part but you will eventually find a natural rhythm.

I was very lucky, I found my agents (Lisa Richards) just before I finished drama school. I used opportunities that drama school gave me to be in a room with agents and I worked that room! I am a chatterbox, in some ways I feel like I was in the right place at the right time. I was just being myself and [my agents] contacted me afterwards. If you can get face to face with an agent or casting director that is best, but otherwise email them with something to show them. When you start auditioning don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t beat yourself up over any. No auditions will ever be perfect. Be confident in who you are. Rather than trying to be who you think a casting director wants you to be, be yourself and be someone they think they can work with. Casting directors want to see you and not a replica of someone. The more authentic and genuine you are the more people will respond to you.

Also, you are only as good as the time and effort you put in to any audition or performance you do. If you go in prepared and give it your all, it will stand to you on a professional level whether you get the job or not. Be proactive. Make new work and put new work on. Do short films to build up your showreel. Once you have a showreel, or you are appearing in a show, contact casting directors and get yourself seen!

Can you tell us a little bit about your first television role and your experience filming Dublin Murders?

Dublin Murders was a pretty big production, I definitely learned a lot from it. I had never been on a set before, so it was a dream. My first day though I was absolutely terrified. I was picked up in a car and given my own little trailer, I was so excited! I got my costume on, my hair and makeup done, and the whole time I was like, “Oh my god, this is actually happening!” Then I went back to my trailer to wait and realised I hadn’t brought anything with me (to keep me entertained), and the waiting is long! I went looking for a cup of tea and I had no idea where to find it, so I just wandered in circles trying to look like I knew what I was doing, until one of the drivers eventually came up to me to see was I okay. It was very funny! I got comfortable very quickly though. Everyone on a set is trying to do the best job they can, and they want you to do the best job that you can do too. I had quite a tough scene and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. As a new actor I was initially nervous, but I learnt quickly that if I needed anything to help me in the scene to just say it and that it wasn’t an issue. Everyone just wants to make the best show possible.

Rebecca Gatward was the director of my episodes and she is an amazing actors’ director. She lets you do your thing but she directs you almost subconsciously, it never feels like a direction. Killian Scott (who stars in Dublin Murders) is the loveliest man! After one scene he came over to me to say well done and that I was so convincing. I felt it was such a lovely thing for another actor to do, especially an older actor to a younger actor; it was very supportive.

From this experience, what advice would you give to any actor going on set for the first time in a professional role?

Always warm up and always be prepared. As a new actor I would advise to have a routine for this because you can easily lose your wits about you, when you are new on a set, with so much going on around you. You are going to be in and out of hair and makeup, waiting around, getting into a car to go to set, waiting again. Give yourself tactics to keep yourself present and in the moment for your performance. I used my breath, before and in between takes, to stay focused. But do whatever you need to do to keep yourself in the moment. And don’t go on your phone! When you are on set and working, stay in character and leave the distraction of your phone behind!

What are your own hopes and goals for your career in 2019?

To develop my skills further - I want to challenge myself. I want to always walk into an audition room as my best self. I want to take part in projects that fill me with passion and allow me to be creative; to wake up in the morning and have a bounce in my step. I don’t want to put pressure on myself by thinking too far ahead. Yes, I want to have goals but little goals that I can do every day that build towards my future. I want to become more clued in and knowledgeable about the industry and to keep learning.

Thank you to Aoife for chatting with us about post-drama school life! If you want to read more great information and advice for graduates, take a look here