“I didn’t think I needed to practice the Nazi salute…”
The eldest of two daughters, O’Casey was educated at a Steiner school where students were “not pushed to read until they were about seven years old.” It was a relief for the dyslexic O’Casey although, she says, “I’ve often found the pressure to be creative to be quite terrifying. It made me feel stupid. I remember trying to write a play when I was about 15 and the project overwhelmed me. But because of the small class sizes, I had to overcome my fear of being seen.
At home, O’Casey enjoyed watching period drama on television with her mother, including repeat viewings of Jane Austen’s adaptations, enchanted by “the ball scenes with all the dresses.” The idea that these characters rarely spend a moment alone together, let alone touch each other, but then they become close while dancing – it’s magic for me. The amount of heart in these stories amazes me. I bring tears to my eyes just thinking of Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility.
She was able to soak up a little more of Austen while studying English at the University of Edinburgh. For a long time, she says, she “struggled against” her dream of becoming an actress. She would romanticize ideas of herself in different careers: A particularly beautiful law library allowed her to conjure up a vision of herself studying leather-bound books late into the night. But she realized that she was more interested in playing those jobs than actually doing them and, despite some parental resistance, continued to study drama at Lir Academy in Dublin, including recent alumni. students include Normal People star Paul Mescal.
There, she was thrilled with “period movement” classes, where she learned how the clothes people wore at different times in history “really dictated the way they moved their bodies. If your skirt was around here, “she nods to suggest a crinoline,” then you were allowed to take that space and express yourself as widely. They would have attended parties and engaged in a sort of revolving door movement, waving their arms: “Here I am, so royal!”
O’Casey was also fascinated to learn that “at different times different parts of the body were considered more desirable.” While currently filming a prequel to Dangerous Liaisons in Prague, she is reminded that in the 18th century, “the collarbone was considered very attractive. So you need to think about how you might behave if this was seen as the most attractive part of you. I play a very virginal girl, a shadow of Michelle Pfeiffer’s role in the  movie, and she’s very aware of her collarbone. O’Casey suspects she has a “vintage face, maybe a 19th century face.” It’s the kind of face that I can cleanse, but it can also look super simple.