Even as Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw smoldered in Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” a breakout performance was happening in the margins. As the Brawnes’ illiterate housemaid Abigail in the pic, Antonia Campbell-Hughes quietly stole most of her scenes — her performance earning critical raves and a nomination at the 2011 Irish Film and Television Academy Awards.
For the then-27-year-old actress, it didn’t come a moment too soon: “I’d actually been working for quite a long time at that point,” she says, “but mostly in British TV comedy (BBC sitcoms ‘Lead Balloon’ and ‘The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle’) — and really quite old-school TV comedy at that. Which to be honest is not a world I knew all that much about; we never watched much TV in our house. And I suppose I felt a bit … well, ‘stuck’ is the wrong word, because I certainly wasn’t ungrateful to be working — and the people were wonderful. But I did start to wonder if I’d ever get to make movies.
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“I grew up loving arthouse cinema, so the chance to work with Jane Campion was obviously something I jumped at. It wasn’t a big part — yet people seemed to warm to Abigail, for some reason, which was really unexpected and gratifying. And suddenly I started to get these other offers.”
She’s since appeared in Alexandra McGuinness’ B&W dramedy “Lotus Eaters,” and Rebecca Daly’s thriller “The Other Side of Sleep,” which saw her return to Cannes; she recently wrapped Kieran Evans’ “Kelly + Victor.” “I’ve continued to work with young directors, and young women, in particular, who, oddly enough, remind me of Jane. She helped turn my career to exactly where I wanted it to go.”