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Aisling Loftus (Mr Selfridge)

January 2014

 SHE doesn’t get recognised a lot. It’s not like it’s becoming a problem, although Aisling Loftus, who plays Agnes Towler in Mr Selfridge, which returns to ITV1 tomorrow for a second series, would prefer not to look so rough when it does happen.
“Usually the people who say hello are really nice,” says the 23-year-old.
“The only thing is, it always happens when I look awful. You can see it in their faces... ‘wow, they heap the make-up on you, don’t they?!’”
If Aisling (pronounced Ashling), who grew up in Lady Bay, is going to be recognised anywhere it is in the actual Selfridges store in Oxford Street.
“My mum had come to London and we popped in,” she says.
“And my mum went, ‘Ooh, Ashy!’ because she saw all the Mr Selfridge DVDs and books with a little picture of me on the front. I said, ‘Mum, we cannot be seen loitering near these, we need to move on!’ At which point a woman who had one of the DVDs in her hands turned to me and said, ‘Would you mind signing it?’
“I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m allowed to! I don’t think I can just scrawl on one of their DVDs’.”
She laughs: “That was a very cringe-worthy moment. But it was really lovely for my mum.
“And I did sign it in the end but it was really embarrassing. As if I’d gone into the store especially to autograph a DVD.”
Mum Eileen and dad Patrick still live in Lady Bay, where Aisling and her older sister, Aoife grew up.
“I come back every six weeks or so,” says the actress, who lives in North London with her musician boyfriend.
Mr Selfridge, which is set before the First World War, is loosely based on the story of the flamboyant American Harry Selfridge, who heads to London to set up its first department store.
The first series became a TV fixture every Sunday evening at the beginning of last year, attracting up to eight million viewers each week.
“People really got behind it,” says Aisling, whose character Agnes – or “Aggie” – experienced an abusive father and a broken relationship during the ten-week run.
“She’s a bit of an underdog and a trier, facing her fair share of hardships,” says Aisling, who shares screen time with American star Jeremy Piven as Mr Selfridge, Katherine Kelly, the former Coronation Street actress and Downton Abbey actor Cal Macaninch.
“I was also quite excited to see that Sara Cox and Zoe Ball both watched it and liked Agnes – because I like them an awful lot,” she adds.
“But more than anything I was really happy that my friends and family enjoyed it.”
The second series moves on five years and Agnes is back from Paris where Selfridge sent her to continue her artistic and retail education at the Galeries Lafayette department store.
“She returns with a real sense of confidence.
“She has been living as a single, independent woman and knows exactly who she is.”
In reality, she and boyfriend Jason Anderson, who is also an actor best known for starring as Omen in the film Adulthood, visited the French capital just before filming started for the second series.
“I thought I really should go to Galeries Lafayette but we both wanted to go to Disneyland Paris,” she laughs.
“I did a fair bit of online research on the store instead.”
Selfridges has moved on in those five years and is a more glamorous place to work, particularly for Agnes, who is promoted to head of display.
But this creates a conflict with the new head of fashion, Mr Thackeray (Cal MacAninch).
“He is her self-doubt personified,” says Aisling, whose TV credits include Public Enemies with Anna Friel and The Borrowers alongside Christopher Eccleston.
“Mr Thackeray is undermining and quite acerbic, always ready to stick the knife in at a time when Agnes is really trying to show what she has learned.”
There’s added pressure with the First World War looming, as younger brother George (Calum Callaghan) is encouraged to sign up.
“The prospect of him going to war is deeply upsetting and unsettling for Agnes,” she says.
There were plenty of male suitors in the first series and romance is on the cards again.
“There is lots of turbulence in her love life, you could say.”
She adds: “The first series was all about establishing the store and the characters.
“Now there’s more focus on how life would be playing out at this moment in history and I think the series itself is deeper and richer.”
Aisling started acting at the age of nine, while at St Edmund Campion, the Catholic school in West Bridgford, then The Becket School during which time she joined Nottingham’s renowned Television Workshop.
There were roles in Peak Practice, The Bill, Doctors, Casualty and Bernard’s Watch up until the age of 19 when she left for London.
Aisling was back in Nottingham in November for the Workshop’s weekender at Broadway to mark its 30th anniversary of training young actors.
“I love seeing anyone else doing well from Workshop,” she says.
“I love watching anything with Joe Dempsie, Jack O’Connell and Vicky McClure in, not just because they are Workshoppers but because they are among the best actors in the country.
“Vicky was one of the actresses at the Workshop that I looked up to. Joe is good mates with my boyfriend so I saw him quite often.”
Next up for Aisling is theatre and a Tennessee Williams play called Green Eyes.
“I’m absolutely terrified because there’s no second chance but I think that’s a good reason to do anything.
“It’s about a young couple on honeymoon in new Orleans. He’s just come back for Vietnam and is in quite a bad way, mentally.
“It’s a wicked play. There are just two of us on stage and the audience is in the round, within touching distance.
“I want to do things that I get excited by, although I do have a mortgage to pay.”

Mr Selfridge begins on ITV1 on Sunday, January 19 at 9pm.

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