Aislín McGuckin: On My Culture Radar
The actor on Azurmendi in Bilbao, Mark Ruffalo’s talent, and sources of inspiration
Current favourite book?
I’m reading Circe by Madeline Miller, a modern retelling of the ancient tale. It’s a glorious portrait of a strange and uncompromising sorceress who discovers, through her love for Odysseus, what it means to be mortal. I’m loving it, it’s very character driven. I’ve not finished it but I have a feeling it’s going to all end well.
This summer I was taken to Azurmendi in Bilbao for my birthday. The building looks like a huge, utilitarian space and it’s not what you expect for a three-star Michelin place. The theme of the meal is that nothing is as you’d expect: the colours, the temperatures, the visuals. You begin by opening up a picnic basket and inside is a truffle egg yolk with saffron. It’s the kind of taste combination that Heston Blumenthal is known for. It was 25 courses altogether, including their delicacy of cuttlefish neck, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Steve Coogan’s early character Paul Calf still makes me howl. When I discovered him, I was in college and doing lots of character-transformation work. The ambition was to be unrecognisable, and there for our entertainment was Steve, playing this character who was so far from the comic that we knew.
I’ve seen so many remarkable shows in West End, at The National Theatre, and huge RSC productions – but Peter and the Wolf, a dance piece by CoisCéim at the Mermaid Theatre in Bray, sticks in my mind. Pure magic, just like their name.
Jenny Holzer’s exhibition Thing Indescribable at The Guggenheim introduced me to her. The raw, provocative work was shocking. It’s a reference point for my current project, Hecuba for Rough Magic.
I always return to Bon Iver’s album For Emma, Forever Ago. It has been an early morning playlist, a bedtime soother, a dinner party background soundtrack and so is full of memories of different jobs, places and friends.
I’m relatively new to Dublin but am starting to call it home. The size of the city is perfect, and the distance between the sea, the mountains and town is wonderful. My favourite walk is along The South Wall, opposite the Bull Wall on Bull Island. I was introduced by a special Dubliner who adores his hometown and who took me as “his eyes” on a journey to some of his favourite places.
Mark Ruffalo, because his work is very honest. He was outstanding in Spotlight and I loved In The Cut, his first major film, with Meg Ryan. You can’t even call it an honest performance because it doesn’t feel like performance – it’s a representation of someone else in the body of an actor.
On Being with Krista Tippett. This series covers the most searching questions of our time: what does it mean to be human, how do we live together, what is spirituality? I listened to a recent interview with Katy Payne, an acoustic biologist, who, along with her husband, discovered whale song. She studied music as a student and became involved with the project as her husband was a biologist studying whales in Argentina. I find these stories of other lives truly fascinating and inspiring.
I simply adored Derry Girls, there were so many recognisable parts of it from my growing up in the North. I watched every episode in the series in one greedy, tear-stained sitting. It has what I relish about Northern Irish comedy: it’s suffered atrocities but comedy is the tool to get through. Derry Girls honoured that so subtly, and with grace.
Debra Granik’s film Winter’s Bone was haunting and ferocious, and it made a real impact on me at the time. Jennifer Lawrence became a star after her blinding performance in it, and deservedly so. The Grand Budapest Hotel is another favourite. I adored Ralph Fiennes’ mad, hilarious turn as Monsieur Gustave. It was useful to remember that character when I was playing Queen Elizabeth to his particularly venomous Richard III a few years ago.
McGuckin plays the lead role in Rough Magic’s latest production Hecuba. It runs at the Project Arts Centre September 25th to October 6th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival.