Isis Hainsworth never found time to formally study acting — she was too busy doing it.
At the age of 18, after some youth theatre in her hometown of Edinburgh, she moved to London to take one of the leads in the West End transfer of Olivier Award-winning Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour. “I had just finished school and I thought acting might never happen for me, especially because I’m from a working-class background,” says the actress, who can next be seen on-screen in Lena Dunham’s upcoming feature Catherine, Called Birdy and in BBC/Netflix series Red Rose.
“[Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour] changed my life. It was a baptism of fire. It was very intense but I work best like that.” The themes of the show — Lee Hall’s musical adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1998 novel The Sopranos — also resonated with her: “It was about these girls taking up space and being unapologetic.” Hainsworth’s later stage roles include Hermia in Nicholas Hytner’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at London’s Bridge Theatre.
The actress initially trained as a dancer, and following Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour says she would still “love to do more singing”. For her role in Netflix’s 2022 coming-of age comedy Metal Lords, from writer DB Weiss (Game Of Thrones), she learned to play the cello.
Now aged 23, she has appeared in series including The Victim and Wanderlust and next to be released is the eight-part Red Rose from production company Eleven (Sex Education). Hainsworth is also proud of an intense monologue she performed as part of the BBC’s Skint series, playing a teenage girl coming out of the care system. “That was the most exposed I’ve ever been — 15 minutes of just me talking,” she says.
For Dunham’s Catherine, Called Birdy, set in medieval England, she joins a cast including Bella Ramsey, Joe Alwyn and Andrew Scott. “Lena is so clever and giving,” says the actress. “I loved being able to have an opinion with her — you don’t get that with everyone.”
Perhaps because Hainsworth did not receive formal drama school training, she says her process is “very instinctual — I lock myself in my bedroom and try things different ways”. The actress, who moved back to Edinburgh during the pandemic, plans to continue to work across theatre, film and TV. “I would love to do something gritty like Winter’s Bone. Or if anyone is adapting Gabriel Tallent’s book My Absolute Darling. But it’s about playing a range of characters, and projects that are considered difficult.”