We recently spoke to Antonia about her time on the new Apple TV thriller miniseries Hijack and her time here at the school. Antonia graduated from the One Year Course in 2018. Her credits include Moon Knight (Disney+) and The Play That Goes Wrong (The Duchess Theatre). She is also on the audition panel here at the school.
By Omi Mantri
Photo: Antonia Salib as Leesha in Hijack. (AppleTV)
Congrats on Hijack, it’s great to finally sit down and talk to you! How was filming last year?
It was great, it feels like a lifetime ago! I got to work with genuinely lovely and talented people. We filmed for six months, and I was there intermittently within that time. We had two casts, there was the plane cast, and then the people on the ground. Everyone on the plane was sitting on the plane for so long we really got to know each other and bond, so that made the experience.
What was the audition process like?
It was quick! I did a self-tape and it was maybe a couple of short scenes. Some self-tapes, you really stress over and want to get right and there’s a lot of angst, whereas with this one, I was like, okay, I know what the scene needs, I’ll just do it. And then, of course, that’s the one I get the recall for. I had a zoom recall and then I found out I got it. There’s been a shift since the pandemic and my last two TV jobs I’ve gotten through zoom recalls.
What was your most memorable moment during filming?
Actually, I can’t say because it’ll be a spoiler. You’ll have to put a warning here…
*Spoilers below read with caution*
We had been filming in Aylesbury on this old plane that had been converted for filming purposes. And I was sat in the same seat in the same outfit for six months. It was a long process. And then in the final episode… we get off the plane, dun dun dun. We were like giddy school kids because we were all in our costumes just running around this old airfield. They had this big plane, loads of ambulances, crew and so many supporting artists. It was a big production day. It felt a lot like what you dream of when you’re picturing being in a big TV show, you know?
Sounds like an amazing day. Are there any specific pressures that come with playing a series regular for an esteemed platform such as Apple TV?
Well, because it was a new series, it wasn’t like I was stepping into this long-standing thing, which I think would be stressful because there’s a fan base already. I mainly felt excitement. Apple’s an incredible platform and they make such high-quality work. I was just really excited to get stuck in. The pressure didn’t hit until the first day. We’d been in hair and makeup for an hour and a half and then you’re on set and the cameras start rolling, and it hits you all at once.
How do you deal with that? Is it just kind of going, six months, you’ll figure it out eventually?
I was figuring it out as I went along, because I’m fairly new to screen acting professionally. I played a CGI character in Moon Knight, which was amazing and felt like an extension of my comedy work in theatre. Hijack was very different. There were a lot more technical demands on me. What I really tried to do with this job is just ask if I didn’t know anything, which can be scary at times. But at the same time, it’s okay not to know right away.
Have you always been interested in acting?
Yeah, I’ve always really liked performing. I remember I did this play in primary school. I think I was in a music class, and I told a joke. And then my teacher, who was the director of the play, held me back up after class and said, you should play the comedian in the school play and as a child that’s the coolest thing to hear. That’s where it started.
Was there a particular moment in your life when you decided to pursue acting?
I think I always really enjoyed it, but I didn’t know it could be a proper career. I went to university, and I studied politics. I thought maybe I’d be a news broadcaster, journalist or something, kind of bridging those two worlds. Then at university, everyone was acting in plays, and lots of people were going on to drama school, and I saw that it was a path you could do. That was when I was like, Okay, I’m going to give it a go and got into Oxford.
Looking back, was there a time at the school that was of particular significance?
I remember having little epiphanies. Clowning is always one I come back to, because I was really bad at it initially. I always thought of myself as someone who is quite playful, and I was just not funny in class. I was trying really hard to get it ‘right’ and be funny, and it wasn’t working. Which says it all, trying hard to be funny is a sure-fire way to not be funny. One day I was just done, I was so tired. And I remember I had my red nose on and this hat that I was wearing. And you had to come in one by one. And everyone was sitting as a mini audience. I just threw open the door, stood in the room and just looked at them, and everyone started to laugh. And I realised that as soon as I stopped caring so much, stopped trying so hard, that was funny.
How did you find transitioning from drama school to the industry?
It’s hard. People tell you and the school tells you, but you don’t really know till you do it. It’s still a learning process every day. I think obviously you expect the rejection. That’s one thing, but it’s just the day in day out, what am I doing if I’m not acting all the time? How do you still stay creative? Even if you’re doing well as an actor, most of the time you’re not acting. So I think that’s been a big realisation to be happy and fulfilled as much as you can outside of your job. And then if an audition does come along, or things start to pick up, that’s an added bonus.
Are there any aspects of the training that you particularly value now that you are in the industry?
Oxford’s very good about pushing professional development and thinking about making your own stuff. During the pandemic, I made my own short film with friends. It’s instilled in Oxford that you can create whatever you want, you can create your own work and you can learn yourself. And I think that’s such an important way to think about it. This is ideally a long-term career. How can you feel fulfilled and keep learning?
You produced and starred in the short film Chronic. What was it like to work on the other side of things because I know producing is a very demanding role?
It’s so hard. I have major respect for producers. It was amazing to choose people I wanted to work with, who I really gel with, who inspire me, and who were friends. As an actor, you often have limited creative control. So I felt so empowered to lead the creative project with them, and bring on a team. That’s the good thing about making your own stuff, because you’re forced to learn so much at your own pace and it takes the pressure off a little bit. If you fail, you’re not beholden to other people to the same degree as you’re on a professional job, so it was great. It was so fulfilling, and I really miss having my own creative project.
How important is it for actors nowadays to create their own work?
I think it’s totally up to you. If you want to do it, it’s so helpful. I think I’ve gotten more opportunities to showcase my work through making my own projects. I’ve made a whole new network of people within the industry who not only I could work with again in the future but are just good friends. It’s opened a new avenue and I’m thinking about directing. It’s a way to keep your hand in so you’re not just sitting around waiting for a job. And plus, it’s always good when someone asks what are you working on? You have something in your back pocket, you know, makes it seem like you’re on top of your game.
You were a part of The Play That Goes Wrong which is a very technical play with a lot of ‘revolving’ parts. And I wondered on a series like Hijack, how much of the acting is technical, like hitting your marks, focus etc compared to the performance?
It’s sometimes purely technical with screen acting, which is quite a weird adjustment. You can’t be too self-involved that you forget that you’re just one part of a very big team. Having watched Hijack now, I see why they shot that angle, or why I had to hit that exact beat with my head because now it looks beautiful and the light’s streaming through, or it sets the tone well. So, it is a big part of it. And it’s then your job to either just do it or, find reasoning as to why your character is suddenly leaning on their left elbow at a 90-degree angle.
I’ll look out for that in the series. You’ve also been a member of the audition panel for the last three years, how has that changed you as an actor?
It’s been so useful in terms of understanding what it’s like from the other side. As a panel member you’re really rooting for the auditionee. So as much as you can, relax, and be confident in what you’re offering. I tell myself that now all the time for an audition, be confident in what I’m offering because they want it. Don’t get in your own way.
Wonderful advice. Is there anything else you want to let the readers know?
I think it’s to reiterate that the industry is hard and to really lean on each other. When you graduate in your year, support each other because they are the only people that really understand what you’re going through. Also, to re-emphasise, find things that really fulfil you outside of acting so that you can be in as good a place as possible for when a job comes along.