For Disney’s new heroine, Lara McDonnell who plays Holly Short, a fairy kidnapped by Artemis as he attempts to discover what happened to his criminal mastermind father, stepping onto the set didn’t just capture her imagination, it changed her life.
You might recognise Lara as the 10-year-old version of Lily Collins’ Rosie in Love Rosie but the Irish actress’s life is set to change forever – cue fandom – when the film is finally released on Disney+ on 12th June.
The Artemis Fowl eight book saga, which focuses on the plight of 12-year-old criminal mastermind descendent, Artemis, has long captured the imagination of the young. Now it’s getting the big screen treatment with Sir Kenneth Branagh directing the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell and newcomers Ferdia Shaw (Artemis) and Lara McDonnell all joining the cast.
Despite the books being rich in imagination, nothing can quite prepare you for stepping onto the set of Artemis Fowl IRL as an adult. Disney is bringing the novels to life at Fowl Manor, the home to Artemis and his family dynasty. On screen, it is at the heart of the action and on the actual set, it functions as a perfect house, with a full library, a working kitchen and bedrooms that you could literally live in.
Today, as we speak via the less than magical powers of Zoom from her bedroom in Dublin with Matilda posters on the wall and a casual Laurence Olivier Award in the background – an ode to her star turn as Matilda in the west end musical, it’s all too clear the 16-year-old is just the heroine we need right now; one that will change many young lives, just as this film has changed hers.
Astute, self-aware and still not believing her luck, meet Gen Z’s new heroine as she talks baking fairy cakes with Judi Dench and finding her voice and critically, herself, on set…
What was it like stepping onto the huge set of Artemis Fowl for the very first time?
We were not allowed to see it before it was completely finished. They made it very special for us, they planned out this day where they brought all the cast around the set of the house for the first time. We were gob smacked, you could actually live in that house and to be honest I would be very happy living there, the work of the design team was incredible. It was surreal.
What was the audition process like?
I went for my first audition in the June of 2017 and my agent just rang my mum saying, ‘oh, there’s this audition for this film and it’s in Dublin.’ I read that it was a Disney film, which I couldn’t believe and then that it was Artemis Fowl. I looked over at my bookshelf and there were all the Artemis Fowl books, I was incredibly excited just to audition and even just knowing they were making it into a film made me think, ‘even if I don’t get this film, I will get to see it!’
I auditioned in Dublin and a couple of weeks later I was asked for a call back in London, so I flew over with my Mother and that’s where we met Ferdia Shaw (Artemis) and Sir Kenneth Branagh for the first time which was surreal.
A month or so later I was asked back for a screen test, which I had never done before, so I went back to England, did the screen test in the studio, then I was called for another one a month later. Then my Mum picked me up from my Saturday drama class around Christmas time about another month later and said, ‘come into the sitting room, we need to talk about Christmas stuff.’
I thought I was in trouble, so I just kept talking, talking and talking and then my Mum told me, I froze, I didn’t know how to react. I literally fell off my chair and sobbed. I could not believe I was going to get to play Holly. I just kept saying, ‘you are lying to me!’ She just said, ‘what kind of mother do you think I am?’
What do you think this character has taught you? How educational for you as a person was being on this set?
Holly is such a role model, she smart, she’s witty and she fights for what she thinks is right. That is a core belief of hers. To get to play someone who is so outspoken about her beliefs is incredible, plus she is the heroine.
The opportunity to bring her to life, this role model who people can look up to, is an honour that hasn’t quite sunk in yet. This whole experience I couldn’t have asked for a better one, this was already something I knew I wanted to do but this reassured me this was definitely what I want to do for the rest of my life.
The cast is incredible from Judi Dench to Colin Farrell – who did you learn the most from?
I learned a lot from watching Judi Dench, Collin Farrell and Josh Gaad at work. To receive notes and ideas from Sir Kenneth Branagh, too, was a gift and hearing their ideas on how to make your own better was amazing.
This is an amazing time to be a young woman coming into Hollywood as the respect for your voices as young adults seems is equal to the adults. Did you always feel your voice was valued and what was it like finding your voice on that set?
We were always encouraged to come up with new ideas and if we wanted to try anything new, we were told to go for it. Sir Kenneth Branagh creates such a comfortable atmosphere on set which made me feel free to try out anything and we were always encouraged to share our voices. I was able to play with my role, how I wanted to do things and I was given free rein to do so. It’s given me more faith in my own voice as well, I am lot more confident within myself now.
You were 14 years old when you filmed Artemis Fowl and now you are 16! That’s a huge two years of change, what has been the biggest difference for you within yourself?
I have grown up a lot more. I was 14 years old when we filmed, I have always been quite a precocious child, but I now have more of an understanding of how everything works. Going into Artemis I just thought, ‘how did this happen,’ and now I have more confidence in myself. Holly, no matter what happens always speaks up for herself and for what is right. That is an aspiration I have, and I think a lot of other people would love to be able to do as well. Playing her helped me find my voice and I want to use that voice as much as possible.
What do you want to use your voice for?
Equality is so important to me. No matter who you are, what you do, what your background is we are all the same. Education is so important to me, I personally love school and I want everyone to have the chance to go to school and should be able to receive a proper education, with proper materials and in a safe environment.
Artemis Fowl is fundamentally about two worlds that collide, and your character tries to bridge the gap, which is such an important message for today. How important is being an ally to your own life?
Although the film is about fairies, it is very close to home. That is why people loved the books so much too as even though there is all this fantasy and adventure, we can relate to it.
Artemis and Holly come from two very different worlds, yet they are still able to relate to each other which goes to show no matter what we think or where we come from, we do all have similarities and things in common.
It goes back to that cliché of, ‘you should never judge a book by its cover,’ because you need to get to know someone. I always think you should treat others how you want to be treated yourself, I always try to get to know someone first before I make any judgements.
What do you think is the most pressing issue for you sitting here today as a 16-year-old young woman?
I am very lucky that I am coming up at a time when it’s good to be a female in this industry, my voice is listened to and I have worked with amazing people. So, the most pressing issue for me would be that everyone in this industry and beyond has the courage to come forward.
We need to give everyone the tools and the ability to come forward so there are more people coming forward with their creative ideas. That is the most important thing we can do for each other.
What was your most memorable moment from the set?
I always heard you become a family with your cast and crew, but I didn’t realise how true that was until this film. We all became like a family, there are so many amazing memories. I remember the first time I met Judi Dench which is an experience within itself, I cried. I couldn’t believe she was a real person standing in front of me. She came up to me, introduced herself and I could feel myself about to cry.
I held up my hand to shake hers and she just hugged me. I couldn’t believe Judi Dench was hugging me. After that Kenneth Branagh had this amazing idea where we baked fairy cakes together. And whilst we baked with Judi Dench we talked about the film; the story it was such an amazing experience to fine tune those details in that situation. I cannot believe that happened!