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Maria Austin

25th April 2024

Interview & Digital Editor: Pankhuri Bhutani

Photographer: Saskia Lawson

Hair & Make Up: Lauren Phelan

Styling: Ruta Jane

Cream Dress: Daska / Earrings: Retro Chic

With the current premiere of the 2024 Laurence Olivier Awards, a plethora of musicals and plays have been at the forefront of many entertainment discussions. One such significant play is AGATHE. 

Written and Directed by Angela J. Davis and Mukhul Ahmed respectively, Maria Austin showcases her impeccable acting flair in the multi-award-winning production centred around the Rwandan genocide, leadership and motherhood alongside spotlighting the true story of Agathe Uwilingiyimana; the woman who became Rwanda’s head of state for less than a day.

Maria Austin is also a neurodiverse actor who is immensely passionate about celebrating neurodiversity in front of and behind the camera. 

Austin is also gearing up for the release of her upcoming film 'Tell That To The Winter Sea' where she embodies the role of 'Sister Catherine' alongside the phenomenal Jessica Plummer, Amber Anderson, Greta Bellamacina, Tamsin Egerton and Josette Simon.

With such an extremely exciting project in the pipeline for this year, we talk to Maria Austin about her involvement in AGATHE, what it means to be a neurodiverse creative in the contemporary era, her performance in the upcoming project "Tell That To The Winter Sea" and her plans for the future! 

Hi there Maria. Thank you for joining us on ReVamp! How are you doing? 

Hey, thanks so much for having me! I am very well thanks!

I'd love to start our conversation by mentioning your absolutely impeccable involvement in the recent production of "AGATHE"; written by Angela J. Davis and directed by Mukhul Ahmed.  What can you tell us about the production and your performance?  

Thank you so much! I am currently working on Agathe, a new play which is set in 1994 at the start of the Rwandan genocide. It tells the story of  Agathe Uwilingiyimana who became president of Rwanda for 14 hours before her own assasination. She was a Chemistry Professor and advocate for education and girls/ womens rights. It has been super interesting learning about her work and bringing her story to audiences. I play Carrie, a Canadian peaceworker on the UN mission, UNAMIR. 

Why this specific play? Since this production revolves around the Rwandan genocide, leadership, and motherhood and further deals with a lot of heavy elements, I would love to ask you if there was any particular factor about "AGATHE" that instantly made you say yes to this production? 

I love a research rabbit hole and to work on projects that teach me about people and places that I haven't learnt about before. The richness of human experience. I thought the play was beautifully written and that Agathe’s story needs to be heard. It gave me goosebumps when I read it!

How did you perceive the play when you were initially offered the script? What were your first impressions of your own character?

I really felt for Carrie. She is described as a ‘struggling idealist’ and is working for the UN because she wants to make a difference. She has a masters in girls education in the developing world. She goes on a huge journey during the play as she discovers that the international organisations and response are not going to assist in the necessary way and so finds herself much more vulnerable on the ground than she is trained for. She has to choose whether to step up and take action as an individual. 

How did your rehearsal process go alongside your fellow cast-mates and crew? Was there ever any challenge or obstacle that you encountered during the production stage?

I am working with such a talented group of people helmed by the incredible Natasha Bain (who plays Agathe). She is breathtaking! The whole cast had done a lot of research in the run up to rehearsals so we have been sharing of information to try and enhance our understanding and build the timeline of the events taking place around the play. I think the biggest challenge has been feeling a responsibility that we tell the story of events and real people from such recent history with compassion and respect. 

Linen suit and shoes: Vivienne Westwood / Jewellery: Maison Lumiere

Being someone who has followed discussions around this significant topic a lot, I completely understand the struggles and intricacies of ADHD. 

Talk to me more about what it is like immersing yourself in the world of entertainment through the lens of a neurodivergent soul. 

That’s such a lovely way of putting it! I think my brain lends itself to the life of an actor as I can be super focused when I am interested in something. Also, when I am on set or on stage I hyperfocus on the character or their circumstance and can zone out my own life! I always wonder if that helps me to feel the character. 

I do find managing my time is hard, I can get so focused on whatever project I am on that I accidentally disappear to friends and family. I am sure it must be irritating to them but they are very supportive and I love them for it.

Any advice that you would like to bestow upon the people who are currently experiencing Neurodivergency and want to pursue entertainment as a form of profession? 

I know that everyone’s experience is different and so taking time to get to see where you struggle or need a bit of strategy. For example, I know that if I am having a day or research then I will probably forget to eat and just tunnel vision. Which ends in a very hungry and grumpy Maria! I now set a timer at lunch time to give myself a little reminder. 

Being neurodivergent can also sometimes makes one prone to observing anxiety. 

Did you ever witness any such jitters before performing live in front of the audience or the cameras? If so, how did you overcome your personal stage fright? 

For me, the anxiety doesn’t come so much from the performing side - I love zoning into a character. However, I do get quite anxious that I have been so far down a rabbit hole on a job that I have forgotten to do something really important in my own life or accidentally let someone down. I really love yoga and have been doing that for a few years - just breathing in time with movement is such a grounding thing for me. My brain works at about a million miles an hour and so turning the lights down and just zoning in is always a welcome reset. 

Since this production has already had its spectacular opening, how has the reception been like for you and your production crew/castmates? 

It has been really interesting chatting to people after the show. They tend to be so moved by Agathe’s story and many have not heard of her or her work before so hopefully it is helping to spread her story far and wide. The play also asks some big questions about humanity/ war/ international intervention during unrest and a lot of people are commenting where they can relate it to the climate today. 

You also have a really exciting year ahead with another feature film 'Tell That To The Winter Sea' in the pipeline to be released soon in the UK cinemas! 

Do tell us more about your character 'Sister Catherine' and the general plotline for the project. 

Thank you! I am really excited to see the film! Sister Catherine is a rather stern Irish nun. It was a lot of fun to do a little filming and it was my first time working with the team.  I had long been an admirer of Jaclyn Bethany’s work as Director and the script that she has written with Greta Bellamacina is brilliant and messy and complex. It really celebrates women’s friendships and how they evolve over life. 

Lastly, what's next for you, Maria? Any message you'd like to convey to your fans currently reading this interview? 

We shall see! There are a couple of film projects in the ether and so am keeping my fingers crossed that they come into fruition. I have also just finished filming on The Beholder, written and directed by Priyanga Burford and starring Ronke Adekoluejo , Rebekah Murrell, Anastasia Hille and Peter Forbes. A total dream team!

(Thank you for taking out your time for this interview, Maria! Wishing you lots of luck on the launch of your play!)

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak!

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