Louis McCartney and Ella Lily Hyland in Silent Roar. Image: Ali Tollervey. Image: ALI TOLLERVEY
Ella Lily Hyland is a rising star. The 24-year-old from Carlow in Ireland made her debut in a leading role opposite Poldark star Aidan Turner in Prime Video series Fifteen-Love. She plays Justine Pearce, a tennis prodigy who accuses her former coach of sexual abuse, five years after her career was wrecked by injury.
The complex and provocative exposé of power, trust and abuse within coach-athlete relationships follows multiple real-life scandals. It highlights the struggle to be believed when speaking out against powerful people.
Hyland’s debut film Silent Roar opens the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which has mercifully been saved from closure, this week. It’s a brilliantly offbeat tale of grief, surfing and faith filmed on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. And Hyland also has plans to write her own tales of working-class, small-town life.
The Big Issue: The responses to Fifteen-Love have been overwhelmingly positive – how do you feel about your first starring role being a hit?
Ella Lily Hyland: It’s surreal. The story seems to resonate with people – and from what I’ve been gauging from friends who work in mental health care, people have even been bringing it up in group meetings. That’s really moving, because the intention for Hania Elkington in writing it was to find more ways to safeguard young people, young athletes and people in vulnerable positions.
Your character’s trauma comes out in complicated ways.
Justine has so many shades and emotions in response to her trauma. It is empowering to give the character feelings of shame, guilt, jealousy and embarrassment, while also having her remain on that quest for justice. And it’s complicated, because she has feelings for Glenn [Lapthorn, played by Turner] and such a tie to him. He was her coach and encapsulated her dream at that young age. It definitely feels empowering to play, to move through all those horrible feelings in order to do something greater than yourself.
Did you have a lot of discussions around coercive control and power imbalance on set?
I mostly looked at the tennis world when I was researching, but it’s in every industry – wherever there is a power imbalance or where someone can give someone a job. There were so many conversations about that, and we were constantly talking about coercive control and that grey area of consent. I got a brilliant note from [Fifteen-Love director] Eva Riley – she wanted me to play the first three episodes like a love story. I went into it with a very political mindset and anger, but that was not very useful. From the outside, you can think, he’s a monster – but in Justine’s mind it was much more complicated.
Where did you find your desire to act?
It was always in me. I felt it as a kid. I was always pretending and putting on costumes but, from a deeper perspective, I also always had extreme empathy for people. If anyone was being left out, I’d be coming home bawling! So it is a love for story and character and seeing people and wanting people to feel seen. That’s such a complicated response!
Silent Roar opens the Edinburgh Film Festival – and Sas is quite a character.
I loved playing her. In this mad landscape and world, she has this kind of knowingness, which is so fun to play. I think Johnny [Barrington, Silent Roar’s writer-director] thought of her as the fire element and Dondo [played by Louis McCartney] as like the water element – so Sas is a bit of an anarchist. And she loves fire!
It’s exciting for the festival to be opening with such a great independent film.
It was the most special time of my life. We were filming on the Isle of Lewis for two months. It’s such a small community, so everyone knew us and what we were doing. It was just magic. Johnny is such a unique creative voice. He is so special. I made friends for life on that film.
And the artistry of independent film is something to be preserved forever, you know? Thinking back to that experience it’s also about the jobs it gives people, the opportunities it gives communities, and the togetherness of it.
I have so many stories from that time. One of the local boys was a scallop diver who ended up coming onto the film doing props – and he taught us to surf. This was his first film job and now he’s hooked on it, working on film sets all the time. So it’s nice to see people getting opportunities from it as well.
Your debut monologue Big Mouth [watch on YouTube] won rave reviews – will you be writing alongside acting?
I definitely want to make my own work. I found it hard to call myself a writer for a while, but I’m writing something now in a similar world. You have to write what you know – so I am very interested to tell the stories of working-class, small-town Ireland.
The current thing I’m writing is about drug culture there, because there’s such an articulacy to that landscape. It’s really poetic because of how people speak to each other and interact. It’s influenced by my family and friends growing up, and the schools I went to.
That is where I want to tell stories. That’s what’s in me. It feels different to the opportunities I get acting, because those stories aren’t really being told.
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