Explain a bit about the show, what’s the story?
Pure is about a young woman called Marnie who has a type of OCD which is known as Pure O, which means that she experiences unwanted, intrusive thoughts. Hers are of a sexual nature. It’s about her coming to London to start a new life for herself, and figure out how best to deal with her OCD, and to live as normal a life as she can. It’s also about new friendships and relationships and navigating millennial life.
What did you do by way of preparation for the role? Did you read Rose Cartwright’s book?
That was almost my first port of call. I got the book and read it very quickly. It’s a page-turner and an easy read. I read that, and then I met Rose a few times, and she was a real open book, which was amazing. I got a lot of insight from her. I did some independent research, just initially, online, just looking at what I could. There’s not as much as I thought there would be about it, especially from the point of view of a young person, and especially a woman, actually. So I did as much as I could online, and I was given a lot of information by production, and from Kirstie Swain, the writer, who had done a lot of research herself. We had lots of conversations about it, too.
If you were to tell someone that this was a drama about a girl going through distressing mental health issues, it would sound quite harrowing. But it’s important to stress that this is also a very funny show, isn’t it?
Absolutely, yeah. I think that’s something that’s really special about the show, and hopefully that allows us to be quite inclusive – it’s a good way to talk about OCD in general, as well as specifically Pure O. I think that like anything, especially in British culture, it helps to try and find the lightness in a dark situation. I think comedy is a really good way to get into a larger dialogue about it. It’s just a way of making a subject more accessible. I think the ratio of comedy to drama is pretty evenly distributed – I don’t think it’s ever making light of the subject, or making OCD the punchline, it’s just the circumstance within the comedy, rather than the subject of it.
How was it filming with your fellow cast members?
It was really great. I was really nervous to meet the cast because I’m quite new to the industry, and I’d heard of and seen quite a lot of the work of people who were in the cast, who I knew I was going to be working with for quite a long time. And there are some pretty intimate situations in the show. So it was nerve-racking but I think I couldn’t really have been luckier with the people who are on the show. We all got on really well and are all still good friends.
Similarly to Marnie, you’re not from London. In the series we see Marnie finding her feet in London – during filming were you also doing the same?
Absolutely! It was a really nice vantage point to be doing the show, because I was experiencing it with similar wide eyes; going into London and realising quite quickly that the streets aren’t paved with gold, and how brilliant it is, and how overwhelming it is, which is exactly what Marnie goes through.
Did you work a long time on your Scottish accent?
Yeah. I have a background in sketch comedy, which is all voices and different characters, so I had a bit of a grasp on accents, and I auditioned in my own accent as well as in a Scottish accent. When I got the role and it was decided that Marnie would definitely be Scottish, they got me a brilliant vocal coach who I worked with for two weeks before the show and during shooting, which made me feel really comfortable. I loved doing the accent, actually. I felt like it really suited the character. I think it was a really good choice.
You mentioned you’re something of a newcomer to the industry. What have you done before this?
I went to drama school in New York…
Why over there?
My mum’s American and that gives me citizenship. I’ve always wanted to spend time in America, and when I got the opportunity to go to the drama school I pounced at it. And then I worked back in England – my best friend and I are a comedy duo and we did some shows back in Edinburgh, which is how I got in touch with the UK comedy side of things.
One of the shows you did in Edinburgh was about quite a personal subject matter, wasn’t it?
Yeah, Britney, our first Edinburgh show which we’ve subsequently done in London a few times. It was about my brain tumour which I was diagnosed with a couple of years back. My best friend, who’s also an actor and writer, moved in to my family home for all of the treatments and surgeries and that period of time. And while we were going through all of that, she kept saying “We should do a show about this!” which planted the seeds. At the time I didn’t completely have the capacity to understand what she meant, and then when things cleared up a little bit she pitched the idea to me, and told me it could be really funny. I said it sounded okay and she said, “Well, I really hope you want to do it, because I’ve got a venue!” So we went, and we did it, and it was the best thing that could have happened. I’m so grateful for it.
You’ve gone from doing a show with your best friend, to being the lead role in a huge TV production. That’s a pretty big jump. How did you feel about that?
I think I gave myself a lot of pressure – I was really worried, because of where I was in my career. I kept thinking someone would say, “Actually, this is a big joke, of course we’re not going to give it to you, you’ve never done TV before. And the more they weren’t saying that, the more I realised, “Oh no, this is real!” But after I met everyone and started talking to Aneil [Karia] who directed our first three episodes, I started to become a lot more comfortable. I knew that they wouldn’t cast anyone that they thought couldn’t do it, so that was a huge confidence boost.
One way people often deal with nerves is to picture everyone around them naked. Given the nature of the series, presumably you often didn’t have to use your imagination at all…
Yeah, that’s right, I was surrounded by a lot of naked people. Some of that happened quite early in filming, and it was a bit like a band aid being ripped off. Once you’ve been in one room full of naked strangers, every other room full of naked strangers… well, you never get desensitized to it, but weirdly it just becomes another day at the office. Real credit to the supporting artists, who were largely the ones having to be naked, because they were all super-friendly and lovely. It is strange having a conversation with someone who’s completely nude when you’re not, but that’s something you get used to.
When you’re in a room where everyone is completely naked, do you start to feel a bit self-conscious having your clothes on?
Weirdly, yes! Also, I felt very strange when, in between takes, hair and makeup would come in and adjust things on me. It felt weird looking at a group of naked people having a really normal conversation and being the odd one out. It felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone. And then they’d call action and suddenly I’m a Scottish girl giving a speech, and everything felt rather strange. But that was just the nature of the filming. It did get quite normal quite quickly.
When this goes out, will you feel comfortable sitting down to watch this with your family?
Well, I don’t know that I’ll be in the room for it. I think I’ll be in the kitchen, making a cup of tea or something potentially stronger for the person watching it. I think my family are going to really enjoy the show. The nakedness and the other uncomfortable things to watch are all basically from Marnie’s point of view, so for the most part, I’m not really appearing like that. I think the weird thing for my family is going to be just seeing me on screen, especially doing a Scottish accent.
Do you feel that the series is shining a light on an important subject, and in so doing helping people who might be having a hard time?
Definitely. OCD is something that people have preconceived notions about. Most people, if you say OCD to them, will think of people washing their hands a lot, or counting, or not stepping on cracks on the pavement. How many times do you hear people say, “Oh I’m so OCD about this?” Nobody means to be insensitive, but it makes it harder to talk about the condition with any nuance, because people already have an idea of it. So I think the show will really shed light on that and make discussions a lot more varied about it. Also hopefully it will help anyone with Pure O to realise that other people have it and struggle with it and live with it, and live very normal lives with it. Marnie’s great fear is that she’s in some way a deviant or a pervert, so it’s really important to be able to shed light on this sort of thing. It’s not an easy conversation to have with friends or parents and hopefully the show will create other platforms for people to discuss it.
An awful lot of people in your profession go through decades without the tiniest bit of recognition. You basically haven’t even started, and you’ve already been named as Screen International’s Star of Tomorrow. How did that feel?
It was absolutely surreal. I knew about the list they do every year, and also that Joe Cole, who’s in the show, was previously on it. But it never occurred to me that I’d ever be on it. I happened to be in a field when I got the phone call from my agent, and she said “This is mad, but you’re on this list, and we’re really happy and excited, and this is what it means.” I couldn’t believe it. I was standing in a field with Niamh Algar, who plays Amber on the show, and I immediately told her, and we were hugging and laughing. And then about a week later she called me to tell me she was also on the list.
So does that mean if I go and stand in this field then at some point I will become one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow?
Yes, I believe so. It’s a field just outside Oxford, I’ll send you the co-ordinates. It provides great creative luck.