Fortune surely favors Aisling Franciosi.
That, in her first TV gig, she ended up playing opposite Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey) in Allan Cubitt’s critically lauded The Fall confirms not only right place, right time — and right audition, Franciosi notes — but also is, of course, a testament to the 23-year-old’s promising talent.
This week, Netflix unleashes season 3 of the series, in which Franciosi appears as Katie Benedetto, a teen obsessed with Dornan’s alluring serial killer, Paul Spector. Season 2 left off with Spector shot and bleeding in the arms of Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, Anderson’s flawed, but tenacious heroine.
How Katie, who has been arrested for trying to dispose of evidence of Spector’s crimes, responds to news of the shooting will be something to behold, Franciosi promised when Rotten Tomatoes spoke to her about the new season.
We also talked to her about landing the plum role as Lyanna Stark — aka Jon Snow’s (maybe, probably, definitely) mom — in season 6 of Game of Thrones and asked her about the prospects of a limited series on the untold love story between Lyanna and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Can’t fault a GoT fan for trying.
Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: Your character Katie is very complex, and she’s grown a lot since season 1 — can you describe what her arc has been since the time you read the first script and season 3.
Aisling Franciosi: I was instantly drawn to the character of Katie, I have to say, from the first time I read the script and was auditioning. I kind of went a few times where I felt, really, “This one has to be mine – I have to play this girl!” I mean, even though, in season 1, when we meet her, she’s seemingly a typical teenager, just young, maybe has a crush on Spector. I feel like — it’s clear from the beginning that there was some damage there and a potential for her to be drawn to pretty dangerous situation. Even in the first season, when she gets pinned down to the floor by Spector in kind of a slightly violent attack, and yet she still wants to see him, wants to see more of him, write songs about him, so, it’s very quickly moved from just a crush to something slightly more sinister.
Then, of course, in season 2, Allan brought me a great arc for Katie. I know a lot of people kind of hate the character — she’s quite trying, obviously, as a personality — but I feel sorry for her, as well. Not only has Spector claimed her life at a time, which is, for most people, a complex —during your teen years, all the lessons, your slight rebellious phase. On top of that, she’s had real tragedy in her life, and she’s broken in ways that he’s able to prey on. And, of course, he’s a master manipulator, so it’s all just a perfect storm, really, for poor Katie. In season 2, as well, she’s drawn in by Spector’s darkness and by her misplaced feeling of purpose. He gives her a sense of meaning, like she’s got something that’s important for her to do. She, I think, has convinced herself that he’s giving her the love that maybe she feels she’s not getting. She’s filling the void as a result of her father dying — yeah, a lot of complex stuff going on.
In season 3, we start to see the damage that the relationship with Spector has caused her and how she chooses to deal with it. She makes some pretty terrible and misguided choices. I think it comes from a place of misplaced and distorted sense of purpose, on top of the fact that she has become completely obsessed with him. At the end of season 2, Katie doesn’t matter at all, to him, and that was clear to the audience from the beginning, but, you know, in her world, he’s her everything and now she’s left to pick up the pieces, and she didn’t do that so well. I kind of feel that she’s a victim of Spector’s — obviously, a different kind of victim, but she’s a victim all the same. He’s definitely had a horrendous impact on her life.
RT: You have to understand your character’s motivations and like them, to some degree, right? Is it difficult for you to like Katie? Do you pity her?
Franciosi: No matter what part you’re playing, you have to … try to make the character real and relatable, or, at least, human. You have to find the humanity in them, some truth in there. She’s a damaged young girl who gets preyed on by this evil, sadistic murderer. I connect with the fact that she’s in a very vulnerable place, and when someone’s vulnerable they can be taken advantage of. Obviously, there are some scenes where, you kind of go, “You’re being such a little cow,” but, it’s coming from a place of inner turmoil.
There are things, obviously, that aren’t excusable, but you, as an actor, have to try and find a human reasoning for why they feel compelled to do the things that they do. So, for Katie, the obsession, loss, the need to feel wanted by Spector, needed by Spector, feel important to him, and then having to deal with the complexity of the kind of person that she’s discovering he is. I think she’s probably waded so far in that, when she realizes the kind of person he truly is, I think, in her head, just distorts her reality and everything around her to try and make it fit, this twisted love that she has for him. She’s damaged, so I felt sorry for her, in many ways. I don’t know that I like her, but she’s definitely interesting. In any situation when you see someone vulnerable being taken advantage of, it’s sad.
RT: She makes it very difficult for people to help her though, it seems.
Franciosi: She does, yeah. It’s a dangerous combination, in that she’s at a rebellious state in her life — whereas for most people that might be one thing to dye your hair, get a tattoo or piercing, or whatever — her rebellious streak and her stubbornness that come with being a teenager, being paired with a greedy, sinister complex situation.
RT: It’s biological, too, for her, though – she’s a teenager, so it’s rebellion, but is it also physical changes that teenage girls go through?
Franciosi: Of course, and I find the really interesting thing about her, too, is that she’s gone along the cusp of that strange time that girls find themselves in where she’s not a child anymore, but she’s not a woman, either. When he says to her, “You’re a child,” that’s something that really gets her back up, because, to her mind — those of teenagers — she thinks she knows it all.
She’s kind of just discovering her power, her sexuality, too. Spector, obviously — and this is why I think the casting of Jamie is so brilliant — he’s a very charming, attractive man, and, you know, that, in itself, would be enough of a motivation to kind of want to impress someone, wanting to feel liked by them. And, again, as I say, not only is he that man, anyway, but, on top of that, this manipulator who will play on all of those things that she wants. But, of course, he’s an attractive man, and initially her first reaction to Spector is just that she’s attracted to him. It’s only after she spends more time with him that she becomes attracted to the more sinister side, as well.
RT: She’s accomplished something that not many people have done, in that she’s actually gotten to know who he really is, so —
Franciosi: Yeah, which certainly is the version that he wants her to think.
RT: So where is Katie, exactly, both physically and emotionally when season 3 begins?
Franciosi: She’s almost under house arrest, she’s on bail. When she hears that someone has been shot in police custody, she assumes that it’s Spector and goes into meltdown. Emotionally, we start to see her come unraveled a bit. She’s trying to cling on so hard to this false notion of love and connection that she has with Spector and this purpose that she thinks they share. She tries to — I’m trying to be careful, of plot twists, as well — she finds herself in very dark mind frame and tries to navigate her way through that in what she thinks Spector would approve of her doing, or like her doing. It’s not great.
RT: Do you think Spector is “grooming” Katie intentionally?
Franciosi: Yeah, I think so. Maybe not initially — she’s gotten drawn to him, more so than him drawing her in, I think — but once he realizes that he’s got her in the palm of his hand, then, yeah, I think she becomes just another plaything, another twisted plaything for him. Another, I think, another life, that he, in some way, can kind of destroy. Again, it’s different, than his murder victims, but, yeah, I think it’s intentional. I think he’s fully aware that he’s messing her up. In his speeches, when he says he doesn’t think why he does the things that he does, and that people’s pain brings him pleasure, and he says, “Especially yours,” to her – she’s another plaything for him.
RT: Is she supposed to be clinically, mentally ill? Is she a sociopath?
Franciosi: That’s a complex question. From my point of view, when I play her as an actor, I kind of don’t focus on that, I just focus on what her motivations might be. I didn’t decide, “OK, I’ve decided that Katie is a sociopath.” I think that there would be potential for her to become that. I think some of her behaviors definitely point towards this, but I don’t know that it’s something that’s inherent in her or that it’s a chemical thing that’s going on in her brain. I think it’s been quite environmental, her relationship with Spector having brought it out. Certainly, she’s, obviously, mentally fragile, for sure, and psychologically fragile. But, is she a sociopath? I don’t know. I think she makes some terrible choices, but I don’t know that it’s inherent in her make up.
RT: So I have to ask the requisite question — were you a fan of Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan when you first got this part, and what did you think about playing opposite them?
Franciosi: I remember when my brothers and I used to watch X-Files, so I had known her from that. Yeah, I was really excited. The Fall came along as my first TV job, so, I was already pretty excited, as it was, and then getting to work on a show that was so great for the first time, as my first job, was really a blessing.
It’s so funny how things change, as well, in the space of a year. Initially, it was, like, “Ah, I’m working with Gillian Anderson and this really nice guy playing the murderer, Jamie, he’s so lovely,” but, people would be, “Oh, yeah, I don’t know him.” And then, a year later, it’s like “Oh, my God! Jamie Dornan — and Gillian!” So, it was kind of the two of them, then. It just shows you how much can change so quickly. The two of them are great actors, so lovely. I had a lot, obviously, of scenes with Jamie, and he’s a very giving actor, and we get on really well, so it makes those heavier, more complex scenes easier to navigate when you know you can trust the person opposite you, and you’re being supportive of each other and stuff.
It’s been a really lovely experience. I can’t believe that we’re done. I’ll always have a special place for this job, because it’s been my life for four years now, so, it feels strange, since it was my first one, which I think is always kind of special.
RT: This being your first television job, it must be a little like, “Yay, I hit the jackpot!”
Franciosi: Absolutely. When I read the script, there was a real buzz around the script. I remember that. It was so interesting, because loads of actors got the train up together to go to Belfast from Dublin. I was living and studying in Dublin at the time, so, when we were on the train and there was a real buzzing, like, “Have you been seeing The Fall? Are you being seen for The Fall?” So, I knew that there was definitely excitement about it, but, obviously, I do feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. It’s also kind of spoiled me a bit, in that, the writing is so good — Allan is such a great writer — to be handed such a great, complex character makes it tricky navigating other scripts, where you’re kind of like, “Oh, that’s not like The Fall,” when you read some scripts. It was a very lucky start. They gave me a good sense of what good scripts are like and stuff to go on going forward.
RT: It’s great to have your standard set by such quality material.
Franciosi: I mean, it is and it isn’t, obviously, because I’m still kind of a newbie … The goal for me is always to do the best work that I can, but, it’s tricky navigating at the start of your career, because you’re, like, “Well, I can’t be too picky.”
RT: And then you did Game of Thrones, which was another —
Franciosi: That was maximum exposure for minimum time. (Laughs.)
RT: Exactly. Your character, before you even stepped into it, was much loved by the fan universe.
Franciosi: I know, yeah.
RT: If you don’t mind talking about doing that scene, because — obviously, I can’t get you on the phone and not talk about you being Lyanna Stark.
Franciosi: Yeah, it was cool. I auditioned, and I hadn’t actually seen Game of Thrones. It was on my list, I’d heard it was great, and I had always meant to watch it, but, I hadn’t seen it. Obviously, confidentiality on these kind of jobs is really, really high, so when I was sent the scene to audition, it wasn’t really the same scene, and it wasn’t kind of — you know, I wasn’t sure who I was even auditioning for, because names are different, and all that. And then, when I found out, I was like, “OK!” And I binge-watched, and could say it’s excellent, just an amazing series, and I can see why it’s become such a huge success. In a way, I think I would have been really, really nervous, if I had known how — like, say if I had been a fan, like everyone else, from the books and then, seeing the series before auditioning, I think I would have been mad with the pressure playing her. (Laughs.)
I tend to believe you can’t please everyone, but most people really liked it. It was a lovely scene and working with Rob Aramayo, as young Ned Stark, as well. He was really lovely, and great fun to work with, and we got on really well. You know, when you instantly have a short scene with someone, but you’re supposed to have this deep connection with, to find that when you arrive on set, that you guys get along really well, it’s always helpful and reassuring. It comes across on screen.
Actually, it’s funny, when I was filming the scene, that day on set, Kit Harington was there. I don’t know what he was there for, but, you know — my Mom, or something, or my brother, who all knew that I was there — I hadn’t said what part or what scene or anything about it — if they said, “Did you see anyone, from the cast?” I was like, “No! No, I didn’t.” Because, obviously, the question was still there as to whether he was alive or not. (Laughs.)
RT: He wanted to meet his mum, right?
Franciosi: Yeah, sure — I can say that that’s why he was there. I don’t think it actually was why he was there. (Laughing.)
RT: So, how long were you in that bed? Did it take long? You looked so comfy.
Franciosi: It was just the one day. I was covered in gross, sticky blood, so it could be, normally, ‘cause I was lying down, but then it’s like you almost feel like you’ve wet yourself, because you’re covered in gross, wet, sticky blood.
RT: At that point, is she supposed to have just given birth, then?
Franciosi: Yes. It’s been a only few moments, really. Yeah.
RT: I hope we get to see more of you as Lyanna Stark. That would make people very, very excited. I think there are some fans out there who would be hoping for a limited series of Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen in their Tower of Joy. The untold love story…
Franciosi: Well, get them to pitch it!
RT: I will! Actually I think that’s probably the subject of a lot of fan fiction out there.
Franciosi: Oh, yeah, I try not to read too much on the Internet.
RT: Yeah, that’s dangerous. One more question: What are you working on right now?
AF: I’m working on a BBC3 series called Clique. It’s the same creators as Skins — I don’t know if you guys have got that over there. It’s a drama centered on these two best friends who go to university and find themselves in that sort of sinister internship world. (Laughs.) … [And there’s] an exciting project, but I’m afraid I’m not allowed to say yet — but, yeah, I’m being kept busy, so it’s nice.
The Fall season 3 begins streaming on Netflix on Oct. 29