IN MY OWN WORDS: interview with One Film Fan

Recently I had the honour of being featured on ONE FILM FAN'S website where I talked about my start in the industry, my drive to keep going and a lot more. Thank you so much to Kirk S. Fernwood for this awesome interview.

To see the ORIGINAL ARTICLE please Click HERE

Kojii Helnwein by Brendan Morrissey.jpg


Actress Kojii Helnwein

 of "Radha"

by Kirk S. Fernwood, 22 Jul 2017   | ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE

Diversity. It’s the driving force found within the community of artists that represent and put forth the amazingly human cinema that is independent film-making. Frankly, in my experience, all of these individuals, no matter what facet of the industry they are involved in, have a passion and fortitude to succeed that would rival even the most successful Hollywood denizens, if not even more so on many, many levels. For these people, the real, down-to-earth art of making a motion picture resounds within their very beings, and the results speak for themselves. Such is the case with our next special guest who was willing to take the time to share about her prolific and highly varied road into acting.

Heralding from the Emerald Isle, aka: Ireland, this Dublin-born actress has truly exemplified perseverance and embracing change, demonstrating a fervor to dive into whatever opportunity arose for her, yet did so with a focus and desire to excel in what would become a myriad of fields and talents.  Culminating in her current profession of acting, the roles she chooses are as varied and nuanced as her skillsets, and the payoffs are only just starting to reveal a superstar in the making. Championing independent film while still finding the time to indulge in other creative hobbies, there’s no denying the appeal and charismatic charm displayed by the Irish angel known as Kojii Helnwein.


One Film Fan: Here we have a bonnie Irish lass named Kojii Helnwein.  First off, tell us a little about who this talented young woman is and what initially drew you into the entertainment industry overall.

Kojii Helnwein: I was born in Dublin to a holistic healer Mama and touring, songwriting Papa. My parents are a very creative and artistic pair. When I was a child, my Mum was always painting, crafting something, or encouraging my brother and I to create a work of art. My Dad could usually be found with guitar in hand, plucking away at a new song idea or writing poetry at his typewriter.

For much of my childhood he toured around the world with his rock band, An Emotional Fish. I was fascinated by everything involved from his songwriting, to laying down the tracks in the studio, the rehearsal process, to getting on stage; I was in awe. I hounded my Dad to take me everywhere with him. I loved going to his concerts early to see the sound check and watch the crew set-up or snooping around backstage to learn how the venues worked.

O.F.F.: How did you further learn the arts (ie: mentors, influences, and schooling)?

K.H.: I lived in Los Angeles for a time where I worked as a fashion model. I considered it my day job and never expected to have the successes that I experienced.

In Los Angeles it’s quite normal for Casting Directors to seek out “model-types who act”. I was very fortunate to have Jami Wrenn as my agent who has believed in me from day 1. She consistently submitted me for work I never thought I was capable of.

I’m naturally a shy creature and didn’t want to let her down with these huge film and TV auditions that she was submitting me to, so I signed myself up to classes at the Acting Centre in L.A.. After my first class, I had caught the acting bug. I’ve been hooked ever since and studied everywhere I could.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be feel I’ve learned enough. I treat classes and workshops like going to the gym. I’ve had the pleasure of training with so many incredible mentors, especially in Ireland, such as David Scott and Terry McMahon at The IFA Dublin, Gerry Grennel at Bow St in Dublin. I even tried my hand at sitcom comedy with the Actors Comedy Studio L.A..


O.F.F.: In reading your bio, it gives us a picture of one multi-talented individual! Talk a little about your modeling days first.           

K.H.: I started modeling later than most. I was 20 years old when a friend secretly sent my photos to the top modeling agency in Ireland. I still don’t know who sent them. The day after I met that agent, I was on the runway for a top Irish Designer (John Rocha), where I met a lot of people in the fashion industry. After that show I was booked solid for the following year so I never really had time to decide if I wanted to become a model or not. In those days I had been working as a freelance Stage Manager working long, hard hours in Theatres all around Ireland.

When I discovered my modelling work paid me more in 1 day than I earned in a week as an SM, I was sold on the career change. I honestly thought it would be something I would work at for a year to fund my music equipment. However, the work kept coming in, the travel opportunities more exciting and 10 years later I finally decided it was time to leave the fashion world behind me. I could no longer pretend that the industry interested me.

O.F.F.: It also lists you as a singer/songwriter as well!  How about a little sharing about that aspect of who you are and how you’ve utilized it.

K.H.: I often joke that music is the “Family Business”. Music was like language in our house growing up. I would spend hours in my room writing music on my guitar, composing on the piano, I even trained to become an Opera singer at one time.

When I was 13 I found myself in a venue in Dublin City and jokingly quipped with a staff member that I wanted a gig. Ten minutes later the owner of the venue found me and told me to show up a few days later for a lunchtime gig. I didn’t even have a band! I partnered with my best friend asap and taught her to sing some of my songs. That gig turned into an evening show and then we had weekly spots around various Irish venues all throughout our teens.

I have had various bands and musical endeavors over the years. The addictive part of making music for me is the communication between a group of people. I love the close knit connection one can have with other musicians when you are lost in the music together. It’s transcendental.


O.F.F.: You’ve even dealt in your own personal photography, which has been published, is that correct?

K.H.: Yes. I have a huge love of vintage cameras and film photography. I have a collection of beautiful vintage cameras that I found in various places around the world. I started taking photographs when I was a teenager, mostly of people around the venues I played or in the streets of Dublin as we roamed from gig to gig around the city. I used to spend my Saturday mornings in a dark room in the company of a giant pot of coffee and a raw voice from a night of singing and taking photos.

In the last few years I have taken to using the camera to process my acting roles. I found myself lost in the role of Hamlet’s Ophelia. Production of the feature film was a little delayed so shooting self portraits as Ophelia with certain moments of hers in mind helped me to keep the character alive in the down time.

It was at this time that Kai’outi Magazine asked me to shoot a series for them on a particular theme. I showed them a few of the Ophelia images I had already taken and they asked me to continue. In time they published a very nice interview along with all of the photos I had taken for The Ophelia Series to date. Since then I have exhibited three of the photos with a group of artists in Ireland and have a full solo show in the works that will include a short film and music I composed.


O.F.F.: Acting, though, is our ultimate focus here.  What was your first primary acting gig, and how did that shape your desire to pursue it further?

K.H.: I shot a lot of commercials in the USA throughout my years as a model. During this time I had the opportunity to shoot a music video/short film with one of my own personal acting and musical heroes; Juliette Lewis. Working with her was an eye opener. I have a huge amount of respect for her fight to become a respected musician breaking out of the Hollywood life. Most people thought she couldn’t do it but she did it. And boy, did she do it well!

I was so impressed by her strength of character, her honesty, her talent and her integrity as a person. As an added bonus, our co-star was Michael Des Barres. Not only did I love him as Murdock in “MacGyver”, I am also a HUGE fan of his music. His band Silverhead  and their raw 70’s sound was the soundtrack to many of my adventures.  These two heroes of mine gave me so much wonderful advice and encouraged me immensely. How could I not go on?


O.F.F.: Given your theater stage management experience as well, would the production side of film—directing, producing, et al—become a facet of the business you’d like to tap into?

K.H.: Most definitely. I started writing a script many years ago that I often return to and swear I will complete it some day soon. However, I have a lot left to learn as an actress before I divert my attentions to even more challenging endeavors. In saying that, I do have a short in the works to accompany my photography series.

O.F.F.: So, onto your current project, the short film “Radha”. What drew you to this film and/or how did the opportunity come about

K.H.: The Director, Nicolas Courdouan, and his producer reached out to my agent. When I read the script the first thing that stood out to me was the predominantly female cast. I had spent frustrating months turning down auditions for characters I thought were weak, had unnecessary nudity, or were written as  just the “Main man’s wife/love interest”. When I read “Radha” my interest was definitely piqued to discover a man had written about two female characters who were people unto themselves.

When I was asked to audition I initially assumed I was going in against a long line of other actresses but when I turned up it was just me. I didn’t realize that Nicholas had the storyboards worked around my photos and already pictured me in the role.


O.F.F.: Tell us, without spoilers, about the character, Radha, you play in it. What I personally loved about this effort was that it did such a superb job at only giving the viewer hints to play with as to what Radha truly IS. Was that a facet of this film that appealed to you? Leaving the viewer wanting more?

K.H.: Radha is a supernatural creature with a deep sense of interest in humanity, and she’s incredibly curious when it comes to Sue’s character in the film. Yes! I loved reading the script and filling in the blanks afterwards. I had so many thoughts as to what happens next or who Radha really is. Obviously we work-shopped it all together and I know the truth of her now. “Radha” the short film is an excerpt from a feature length film that Nicolas wrote, so the fact that it leaves people wanting more makes me excited to see the Feature come to fruition.

O.F.F.: The film had a very Neil Jordan-esque “Byzantium” feel for me.  Is this more cerebral/haunting horror style something you gravitate to more as an actress?

K.H.: I do have a penchant for the darker genres. I tend to gravitate toward anything that draws on the deeper side of life though not just horror or supernatural, I am a fan of dark dramas and thrillers also.

O.F.F.: That dance sequence alone was just flat out creepy yet undeniably mesmerizing! What was it like to experience those moments when filming?


K.H.: The dance sequence was the one aspect that almost convinced me to turn down the role. I am no dancer. I was terrified that I may have lacked the ability and stamina to pull it off.

Once I met our choreographer, Dagmara Jerzak, all my fears dissipated. We work-shopped the scene, choreographed each movement, and came to understand the character so much in our work throughout a week together that the extras on set assumed I was a trained dancer on the day, which was the most humbling of compliments I could imagine.

O.F.F.: How was it working alongside fellow actors Sue Walsh, Gerry Wade, and the others?  How about with director Nicolas Courdouan?

K.H.: I mostly worked with Sue and Nicolas, both of whom were amazing. Sue brings such a natural sweetness and grace to her roles that is hard to turn away from. Nicolas is incredibly patient and freeing to work with. He has this ability to make actors feel very safe and free to create while still making sure we’re all on the same page.  

O.F.F.: What is currently on the horizon for you film wise?

K.H.: I have recently wrapped filming a couple of projects and I’m currently prepping for my next. I’m not allowed to disclose the titles of any yet, but one was a stunning and emotional Short film shot on the West Coast of Ireland. The other is a Feature Film starring a couple of my favorite actors from the USA. Both are set to be released next year while my next project will hit Irish TV screens in the Fall.

O.F.F.: Independent film is such an incredibly prolific, passionate, story-telling, character-based genre.  How important is it for you as an actress within this medium that indie film get a better level of exposure, promotion, and support from the greater film-going audience around the world?

K.H.: Incredibly important! As much as I love losing myself to a Hollywood blockbuster or superhero flick, I am far more inclined to delve into Independent films. They have an incredibly honest connection with the viewer. Many independent films simply don’t have the budget to create effects that separate the audience from the screen. Some of the best I’ve seen ranged from sixty seconds long to full feature length. The simplicity and ingenuity of the independent filmmaker can create a very personal and raw experience, and these films deserve to be seen by as many people as possible. It can be heartbreaking to see so many talented filmmakers go undiscovered.

O.F.F.: Ok, everyone just LOVES me for this classic closing question—what is YOUR favorite film of all time and WHY?

K.H.: Just ONE!!? I can’t choose just one film.

I will always return to the original “Oldboy” or “Requiem for a Dream”. “Irreversible” was on the top of my list for a long time. I love it when a movie hits me in gut. If I find myself unable to shake the memory or feeling of a movie then I’m hooked on it.

With such a level of enthusiasm, dedication, and striving to constantly grow in her chosen art, much less in nurturing her other hobbies, is it any wonder the doors of chances earned have swung wide open, along with newfound options and as yet to be discovered opportunities, for this consummate actress?  As the film-going public, we can only sit back, take in the wonderful body of work already presented, and then wait with bated breath at what is yet to come, ideally tempered with a sense of excitement and anticipation of what roles, what stories Kojii Helnwein has to provide to us for our enjoyment. She stands as another example of the creative forces residing within indie film, and we can only help by promoting these artists as their films are released, guiding as many eyes to them as we are able.

Like I am always doing without any regret, I would once again like to extend a heartfelt “THANK YOU!!” to Ms. Kojii Helnwein for finding the time in one hectic shooting schedule to entertain this interview for I do genuinely hope we all look forward in expectation to what comes next for this gifted star of Ireland! From what this reviewer has seen so far, it should be nothing short of wondrous.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

Kojii Helnwein Vampire by Geoff Moore.jpg

Want to keep tabs on what Kojii is up to next? 

“Follow” Kojii on Twitter: HERE

“Like”/”Follow” Kojii on her Facebook Page: HERE

Check out Kojii’s profile on HERE

“Like”/”Follow” the Facebook Page for “Radha”: HERE

Kingswood's Kojii...

Kingswood's Kojii Helnwein - star of the screen and stage

By Aideen O'Flaherty

From working as a stage manager in theatres throughout Ireland to securing lucrative modelling contracts and being the frontwoman of her eponymous band, Kojii Helnwein has always been passionate about working in the creative industries.

Growing up in Kingswood in Tallaght, Kojii was always surrounded by music as a result of her father Enda Wyatt songwriting and playing bass in the rock band An Emotional Fish, but now Kojii indulges in a variety of creative pursuits: acting, modelling, making music and photography are just some of her talents.

Married to the artist Cyril Helnwein, Kojii lives in a castle in Tipperary with their three children and divides her time between Los Angeles and Ireland.

Your dad is a musician, so music has always been around you from a young age. Was there a particular moment when you realised you wanted to be a musician too?

I don't recall any one moment, music was like language in our house when I was a kid. In primary school I’d come home to find my Dad in his home studio recording music. He'd stand me up in front of the microphone and let me sing whatever came into my mind.

There are countless tapes of 4-year-old me rambling on about clouds and dragons. I do recall being incredibly impressed by the work that went into being a musician.

The constant practice, the writing, rehearsals, the recording, it all fascinated me. I loved shadowing my Dad when he worked, I would hang out at the Factory Studios back in the day and listen to U2 jam in one rehearsal room and my dad in another.

I was hooked the first time I saw the band on stage and saw thousands of people singing along to songs that I saw the band write. The energy from that crowd was electrifying and I was hooked!

You worked as a stage manager in theatres and also a Parisian circus before you started modelling, what was that experience like?

I enjoyed working in theatre. I studied technical stage training in Tallaght and fell straight into working freelance. I was very lucky and worked non-stop for years in some great venues around Ireland.

I had the pleasure of working on opera festivals in the Gaiety, I toured with Des Bishop on a rap musical, worked the Cat Laughs Comedy festival and so much more.

It was a wild and creative ride but the hours were long, the pay was low and the work was hard. I worked 18-20 hour days and I was on the road a lot.

When I discovered modelling paid more than a week’s wage in just one day I was happy to leave the stage management behind.

How did your work as a stage manager lead into your career in modelling?

Through my work at the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival one year I met the best friend of a famous American comedian and we started dating.

I moved to LA with him and everyone we met assumed I was a model, they were shocked to learn that I wore a tool belt and combats to work instead.

When I returned to Ireland after a few months, I discovered someone had mailed my photos to a top modelling agency in Dublin. I still have no clue who sent them in.

I was home from LA for only a few hours when the agency called to set up a meeting. The next day I was on the runway for John Rocha and was booked solid for the following year thanks to everyone I met at that show.

You've starred in loads of TV commercials and even appeared on Project Runway, what is it like to see yourself on TV?

I don't enjoy seeing myself on TV. I am super critical of my work and see nothing but the points I need to work on.

However, there have been those rare moments where I see a character in a film and realise “Oh wait! That's me! Completely immersed in character.”

Those are the moments I live for. Commercials are fun and easy to shoot though. Just yesterday my daughter jumped up in the cinema during the previews and announced “Mom!!That's you!,” I sank into my seat in mortification but I was also elated to see how proud my little girl is of me.

As for Project Runway, I have yet to see a single episode. I had never seen the show before I took the job and quickly realised that it's not my cup of tea.


More recently you've been doing some acting work, how does this compare to being on stage as a musician?

It's a totally different rush. There's an immediate connection with the audience when I'm on stage with my band so I know if we’re doing a good job or not.

I’ve also been making music a lot longer than I’ve been acting so I’m more comfortable with winging it when the crowd want something different.

With film, I have to trust myself and work hard to nail it. It's more challenging to be someone else and delve into their world.

You recently displayed some of your photography at an exhibition for photographers in Tipperary, are there any plans to have a full solo exhibition of your work?

That was a fun show, it was a group exhibit that showcased work from artists based in Tipperary. Photography is more of a hobby for me.

I love film photography and old cameras so when I have some of that rare free time I’ll sneak away with one of my cameras.

The work I recently showed was from a series called ‘Ophelia’ that I photographed while I was working on the role of Ophelia in a feature film of Hamlet.

I used the series to help me capture what the character was going through and to process the role. I never expected to exhibit these photos but the support from my family was the push I needed.

There's talk of a solo show in Dublin next year but no date set in stone yet.

You divide your time between Ireland and LA, what do you think are the biggest differences in pursuing creative work in the US and here?

There are many differences between the work here and in LA, namely the volume and scale of work plus the money. There is so much work out there.

In LA a company might spend millions of dollars shooting a commercial only to shelve the end product and never air it. The work in Ireland may be of a much smaller scale but the quality and creativity in here is stellar.

We have amazing filmmakers here who are pushing some serious boundaries.

You're married to the artist Cyril Helnwein, do you get to collaborate with each other much when working or do you prefer to work separately?

Cyril and I met through our work when I modelled for his ‘Ethereal’ series and I've posed for him a few times since then, but these days we work separately. In saying that, we’re very supportive of each other and always help out as much as possible.

If you had to pick one career out of acting, modelling, writing music and photography, which one would you pick and why?

Acting. It's the one job I have that will eventually allow me to partake in all my interests. In one role I might be a musician, another a photographer, another role I might be a homely mother.

It’s also the most challenging, it forces you to really study people and what drives us.

The process of developing a character is incredible and can open you up to ways of thinking that you may never consider when you're living everyday life as yourself.

I’ve always been pretty empathic and have the ability to see life from the perspective of others, to be able to channel that for work is phenomenal.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in the creative industries?

Be prepared for the business side of art, it’s not all creative. There are taxes, contracts and all sorts of administrative issues that you need to be prepared to handle yourself.

Hire someone you trust to do it, but always be sure you understand what they do for you. I see too many artists scraping the poverty line because they let the business swallow them whole.

Lastly, what is it really like to live in a castle?

It's a magical life. Our kids are living the dream - they have gardens, forest, animals, culture, history and art in their daily lives.

They climb trees, run free with their dogs and imagine amazing adventures with dragons and fairies.

I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful to have this life, it's a far cry from where I came from. As magical as it is though, I'm a city girl.

It took a long time for me to get used to life in the countryside and the slower pace. A castle is a lot of work though, an old building like that requires a lot of upkeep and you can't just run to IKEA for a quick fix.

Sometimes random tourists wander into the garden as they think it's a public place. I often joke that we should charge them €20 and hand them a sweeping brush, a mop and some furniture polish so they can take the ‘Real Life in a Castle’ tour!

You can find out more about Kojii at, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @kojiihelnwein.