The trips that made me: Aisling Bea
Appearing alongside Dawson’s Creek stars and belting out 1990s chart hits – if you’d asked a teenage Aisling Bea what her dream job would look like, then you’d know that right now she’s hit the sweet spot. She tells us about her top-flight career and her travels
“Snails remember where they’ve been for up to a mile, so to get rid of them you have to put them in an Uber or stick them on a BA flight.” Fresh from a day at The Chelsea Flower Show, Aisling Bea is giving gardening advice. “I’m a massive plants person,” she says from her London home. “I love the environment, I love foliage, I love bees. My garden is teeming with wild stuff. My lovely, very English neighbours’ garden is in neat rows and mine has wildflowers, bees and a sign that says: ‘Potato waffles’.”
We’re here to talk boy bands not bulbs, so we move on to Greatest Days, the Take That jukebox musical. “I play Rachel, the lead – thank you!” Bea says proudly. “She’s a nurse and there are flashbacks to her childhood, where she wins tickets to see ‘The Band’ with her friends. We watch her teenage years unfurl through the concert and what happened afterwards.” It’s nostalgic and feelgood with a soundtrack that any ‘Thatter’ will love. “There was definitely something I felt about reconnecting to my younger self,” adds Bea. “If you’d asked me what acting would be like, it would have been something like jazzy shoes, and singing and dancing with friends. I would probably have mentioned the Spice Girls, but I’m absolutely happy with Take That songs.”
As a writer, actor and stand-up comic, who has won awards and critical acclaim for all of those things (including a Bafta nomination for dramedy This Way Up), she seems to have achieved the perfect multi-hyphenate career. But she admits she hasn’t always seen it that way: “Because I’d been an actor for 20 years and never got a ‘whoosh’ like I did with stand-up [winning Edinburgh’s 2012 ‘So You Think You’re Funny’ award], I worried for a while that people wouldn’t know I was an actor. I was more known as a comedian, which was why I ended up in things. It’s balanced out now.”
No fear of that with the projects she is constantly juggling, which include panel shows, stand-up, scriptwriting and film work, such as the upcoming And Mrs with Colin Hanks. If anything, the nature of her work means she’s never totally ‘off’. “I travel a lot, but rarely go ‘on holiday’,” she says. “I might do a spa for a day, but I wouldn’t take a week off. If I’ve left stand-up unattended, that means I’ve been doing an acting job, and if I’ve been doing an acting job, that means a script is due in. There’s always something to get back to.”
“I travel a lot, but rarely go ‘on holiday’”
Raised in Ireland, based in London and having spent a lot of time in Los Angeles for work, Bea reveals the other destinations that have made an impact on her.
As a child, I did the norms, or what I feel are the norms, like camping holidays in France. We got the ferry once, but my mother and my little sister got so violently sick that we didn’t do the boat again. I didn’t get seasick, and I’m convinced it’s because I was eating Terry’s chocolate oranges on the journey.
We went to America once when we were small, too. My dad’s sister lives in Connecticut, and we went there and then went to Florida. I got heatstroke on day one in SeaWorld when the water went over us and washed all our suncream off. We ended up just staying in the hotel. My poor mam. She was on her own with two small, translucent children, with my aunt who was a nun, and we were all far too pale in Florida in July on what should have been a dream holiday.
Living in New York for six months filming Living with Yourself, the Netflix series with Paul Rudd, was one of the greatest privileges of my life. It’s maybe my biggest role as an actor and the sort of work I hoped to get when I was 20. It was one of those dream jobs, where I did one audition, they flew me to New York and I got the job – the story you hear about in interviews. After hundreds and hundreds of auditions, it had never happened to me, but this time it did.
I lived in Tribeca, round the corner from Paul and down the road from an Irish pub called the Ear Inn. It was really good fun and a bit of a dream, definitely a very special time. I’d had a breakup and was ready to be like [in a cinematic voice] ‘girl walking through New York City’.
My boyfriend is Australian, and two months ago I got to go to Sydney for the first time. My mother spent a lot of time down there, working as a jockey, and my dad was a vet at the racecourses and surrounding area. The idea of Australia had been talked about at home when I was younger quite a lot, and I absolutely loved Sydney. I was only there for 12 days, so I’d love to do a bigger deep dive next time round. When I go back to Ireland this summer, I’m going to have a proper look through the photos to work out where to go, and will see who’s around. A couple of my dad’s old friends live in Australia, so that’ll be special.
I’m going to Kansas City in two weeks, which is a place I’ve loved. Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and a load of Kansas comedy people do a charity gig there called The Big Slick for the Children’s Mercy Hospital. Last year, they raised something like three and a half million. A few of us do stand-up, and a lot of the others are simply celebrities at the hospitals and on stage. Last year I had to follow James Van Der Beek doing his dance from Dancing with the Stars and limboing. If you’d told teenage me about my future career, I’d be like, “Well, I assume I’ll be doing something with Dawson from Dawson’s Creek at some point.”
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