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'Ridley Road' star Agnes O’Casey: 'It’s a really important story for now'

Agnes O'Casey as Vivien Epstein in BBC1's Ridley Road.
Agnes O'Casey as Vivien Epstein in BBC1's Ridley Road. (Image credit: BBC/Red Productions/Ben Blackall)

Newcomer Agnes O’Casey hit the jackpot when she landed the part of Vivien Epstein in BBC1's tense political drama Ridley Road. Not only is it a first-ever TV role to die for, she also gets to lead a star-studded cast that includes Eddie Marsan, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Rory Kinnear, Tamzin Outhwaite, Danny Hatchard, Samantha Spiro, and Tom Varey. 

The four-part drama starts on BBC1 on Sunday Oct.3 (and on PBS in America at a later date), plus all four episodes will be shown on BBCiPlayer from Oct.3 too. It has been adapted from Jo Bloom’s acclaimed novel and is based on true events. It's set on Ridley Road in London’s East End during the early 1960s.

Agnes, who's also sometimes known as Aggi O'Casey, plays Vivien, a young Jewish girl from Manchester who travels to London looking for her lover, Jack Morris (Tom Varey).

There, Vivien discovers he’s infiltrated the fascist group The National Socialist Movement (NSM), led by the fanatical right-winger Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear), which is calling for the removal of Jews from Britain.

Jack is working undercover for the Jewish resistance organisation, The 62 Group, alongside her uncle Soly (Eddie Marsan). So when Jack goes missing Vivien comes up with a risky plan to find him. She too infiltrates the group of far-right extremists and tries to seduce its very dangerous leader, Colin. 

Here, Agnes, who is the great-granddaughter of Irish playwright Seán O'Casey, reveals much more about Ridley Road

Do tell us more about your 'Ridley Road' character Vivien Epstein?

Agnes O'Casey says: “When you meet Vivien, she’s living a comfortable, middle-class life in Manchester. But then we see her run away to London and go on a journey of complete transformation.

“Playing someone so empowered and brave is lovely. Being able to watch Vivien’s mind as she makes decisions about how to take control and look after the ones she loves has been an education for me. Also, the set and costumes are absolutely magic.”

Ridley Road.

Vivien Epsten gets caught up in the dangerous fight against Fascism in 'Ridley Road'. (Image credit: BBC/Red Productions/Ben Blackall)

Agnes on landing her first TV role….

“I auditioned for a film that was going to be directed by Lisa Mulcahy, who is also the director on Ridley Road, and she put me forward for this. When I was auditioning, I never assumed I would get it – it was just too much of a dream. It was in lockdown so I had a Zoom audition in my bedroom.

"It’s been hard at times and a huge challenge, but it’s a huge gift. The thing I found most challenging was doing service to Vivien – the stakes are so high for her all the way through. Physically that’s quite exhausting so I’ve been sleeping quite well.” 

Agnes O'Casey on working with her fellow cast members….

“I got so much advice and care from both Eddie Marsan and Tracy-Ann Oberman (who plays Vivien’s aunt, Nancy). I was terrified because this is such a huge role and I’ve never done any screen work before. I was blessed by my cast. I get emotional thinking about it.”

Agnes' Ridely Road role meant starring opposite Eddie Marsan (on left) as Uncle Sol in Ridley Road.

Agnes O'Casey's Ridley Road role meant starring opposite Eddie Marsan (on left) as Vivien's Uncle Sol. (Image credit: BBC)

Agnes on her Jewish background…

“I have a Jewish grandfather who I never met. He died when my dad was 21. Dad hadn’t really spoken much about him, so that’s where I began. I talked to him about my grandad’s experience. I found loads of documents and pictures. Our writer Sarah Solemani (star of Him & Her fame) has been incredibly helpful, she sent me material to read and put me in touch with her Rabbi.”

Agnes on what she hopes the audience will take from the show…

“I really hope that people take it how it’s meant – with heart and love. I hope people watch it and understand. It’s a part of history that’s been totally forgotten.”