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Aimée Kelly

Aimée Kelly on starring in Hijack with Idris Elba

Culture

Aimée Kelly talks to us about playing a violent, brutish terrorist opposite Idris Elba in Apple TV's new thriller Hijack.

Hijack is one of the most surprising and exciting series on right now. As an Idris Elba thriller on Apple TV, you’d expect it to be Luther on a plane, with Elba giving it some Liam Neeson and kung fu-ing terrorists to pieces in between in-flight meals. Instead, it has Elba as a man of the mind not the body, a negotiator who finds himself on a hijacked flight, warns off other passengers from rebelling and instead works his linguistic and psychological magic on the hijackers to turn the power dynamics around. Each of the episodes corresponds to one hour of the seven-hour flight from Dubai to London on which the action takes place, and boy is it tense. One of the standouts in the support cast is Aimée Kelly, who plays the most angry and violent of the terrorists, a woman in a man’s world who plays tougher than anybody. As the fast-rising Geordie actress tells us, it was a marvellous chance for her to wield guns in anger, which kind of made up for the fact they were stuck filming in a mock aeroplane cabin for 7 months with no air con…

Hijack is not Taken on a plane is it?

No, that’s interesting, a few people have said to me they weren’t expecting Idris to be playing the part of the person not in power. I think that was interesting for him too. His character starts with a low level of power and it’s how he brings his real life job and skillset to determine the fate of the passengers on the plane.

Can you tell us about your character?

My character is the only female hijacker. She is very much the only female in a man’s world. The sole female villain in the series. She brings a lot of venom and viciousness, which was a lot of fun to play. Those characters are usually portrayed by men. It’s funny because I went into the read through, and because my character’s name is Jamie. I had a couple of people come up to me because they’d overlooked the fact that Jamie is a woman. She’s written so masculine and brutish, and so when they heard my voice and see me doing it at the table read I think they were surprised. Props to George Kay the writer he could have so easily made it a man but he took the opportunity to give it to a girl.

It’s so fun as an actor, it’s such a physical role. In terms of the things you get offered as an actress, you’re never really the one inflicting the pain and trauma, having higher power as it were, you’re usually on the receiving end. With this, she’s the bad one so its super exciting. Just doing things like handling a gun – I’ve never really worked with weapons before – and we had to do training with a military expert, which I found really fun.

The process is quite lengthy with the military expert. It’s a lot more complicated than you’d imagine. It took me half a day to load it and unload it. And even when you’re handling the replicas on set it feels very real.

Did you do much research for playing it tough?

I’m very petite in real life, I’m 5’1. You have different things to help with that on set, you can stand on an apple box when you’re shooting, although it’s a bit more advanced these days. So the DOP would often shoot me from below, to give the effect that I’m bigger and taller than what I actually am.

I also felt it was down to me to have a shift in energy. Idris for example is so tall compared to me, so it was, how do we make it believable that I have power over him? I watched a lot of films with female actresses playing quite masculine parts.

Where did you film it?

We shot in the same studio every single day for seven plus months. It was up in Hertfordshire, at the Apple TV studio there. For the cast on the aeroplane it was a whole 14 hour day just inside a tin can. Some days it felt like Armageddon but there was always some action to be doing with my character. Other people were just sat down for seven months just in the same seat! With the hijackers we at least had that movement around. I think it was one of the hottest summers we had, it felt that way, and to be enclosed with 300 plus bodies was just vile! Because we couldn’t have the air con on or anything [because of the sound] when you’re shooting. It was like, ‘we’ve just got to get through this. If we’re sweating, we’re sweating, and we’ll power through’.

Did you all socialise and bond because of all that?

We definitely had a social set because there was so many of us and we were there for so long. Usually when you have a job you’re in for a few weeks or couple of months, and you’ll only really see the people that you’re in scenes with. Whereas we were all on the plane together. So when we weren’t in scenes and had the option to go to trailers, instead we used to hang out in between the studio and the trailers because there was snack table and it was nice to be together. That was how we passed the time – with games, different things, we’d always have lunch together. Wherever the cast was you’d usually find food.

How was Idris to work with?

Idris was also producing, and he’s extremely generous in scenes, always open to debate. He was at the head of shooting things, but always getting different feels on a scene. He’d question how it could go smoother, finding ways to elevate it. He’s find space to have that conversation. It makes you feel like you’re part of the decision making.

Has the series put you off flying?

It hasn’t, but my first flight – this was so wild – since that job last year, was one I took from London to Dubai. What are the odds? If anything had happened I would have been one step ahead of the hijackers. I would know all the exits.

So you went off the set after all that time and straight back into the same plane?

Yeah it was deja vu because those planes are all the same. I was like, what have I done? What am I doing here?

The series is great though, because it really plays with your expectations, its impossible to predict…

Yeah when you have a huge event like a hijack in a film, you don’t know it’s going to happen and then it unravels in that moment. The name of our show gives it all away – you know there’s going to be a hijacking. Already in that first episode the tension is so high. Which is kind of different to your usual projects, usually you build it, whereas we have to go to the top than back down and make our way through. So as a viewer that’s really gripping to watch, especially with the real time element. Every episode is jam packed, you’re on edge.

How did you first start acting?

I always wanted to be an actor not through the love of acting but a love of film. I was obsessed as a kid. If I wasn’t acting I’d be doing something else in film. But I got a scholarship to a performing arts school in Hertfordshire, and eventually went for an open audition for Skins. The casting director got me my first film [‘Sket’], and I was nominated for Best Newcomer at the BFI Film Festival for that. That was my starting point, I didn’t have an agent before that. It’s not the usual way people enter the industry. From there, my next job, [Wolfblood], was nominated for a children’s Bafta. And I’ve been straddling film and TV ever since.

What were the films you watched during your early days that really inspired you? 

As a kid I watched films that were way too old for me. Everyone is so strict now when it’s 12-rated. But I used to watch Channel 4 back in the day, when it used to do movies every Saturday night. Every Saturday I would stay at my gran’s house and they weren’t so strict, I’d watch what they were watching. Me and my twin sister would get away with watching the evening movie which was usually the most adult film. I remember watching a range of films from The Pianist, to Hilary Swank in Boy’s Don’t Cry – imagine watching that as a young child! But it was so great. One of my favourite films became Once Upon A Time In America – Robert de Niro, super graphic film. I watched it again as an adult and I cant believe I enjoyed it as a kid. But it made me very immune to violence and gore in films. My core memory of school was leaving on a Friday and going to the video shop. And being able to choose a 50p rental or if we joined our money together, we could get a £1 new release. I was the type of the kid who would watch the film then rewind it and watch it again. Some of the films that I see on TV now I know them off by heart. It’s still in my head.

What kind of film would you love to be in?

I would love to do a film with Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs is my favourite of his. I like True Romance but he didn’t direct that. But Reservoir Dogs is like a theatre play, set in that warehouse. I’d love to work with him.

Hijack is on Apple TV now. 

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

ényí Okoronkwo

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