Pure: Interview with Niamh Algar (Amber)

Category: Interview

Explain a little bit about Pure – what’s it all about?

Pure is based on Rose’s Cartwright’s memoir and is centred on a character called Marnie who is suffering from this obsessive compulsive disorder which is nicknamed Pure O, where she suffers from intrusive thoughts that are often sexual. The compulsions are affecting her everyday life. So she goes on a journey of self-discovery where she is trying to work out what is wrong with her, and through process of elimination she finds out what it is that she has. It’s about her trying to accept that and deal with it and get through life.

You play Amber – what’s her story?

Amber is the queen of this new gang that Marnie comes into contact with. She’s a bit of a ladies’ woman, but unfortunately she’s kind of gaining a bad rap for her own promiscuity. She’s a journalist at a company where Marnie comes to intern, and Amber gets her a job there.

What attracted you to the role?

It was a character that I’d never played before, and someone very different to who I am. I always look for that in a character, something that flex your acting muscles. Also, I think the subject matter is really important, and the creative team that was involved was also so good, it just seemed like a great opportunity.

Amber is initially a victim of Marnie’s confused state of mind, isn’t she?

She is. Marnie goes on her own self-diagnosis, where she doesn’t understand if she’s a sex addict, if she’s gay, if she’s a pervert… So when she meets Amber, she needs to find out if the thoughts she’s having mean anything. Things don’t exactly end well after their first meeting. But I think Amber has only moved to the city a couple of years before, she knows what it’s like to be in a city full of strangers, and how it’s a time when you need to find out who you are. I think when she first meets Marnie, she relates to that.

What did you do by way of research into the role? Did you read Rose Cartwright’s book?

I hadn’t read Rose’s book when we filmed – I have since, but I made a point of not reading it beforehand, because Amber doesn’t know what Marnie is going through. My knowledge of Pure O was very limited before I picked up the script. I felt that was kind of important, to maintain that sense of naivety, because there is a limited awareness within this area of mental illness. In terms of researching the character, Amber is Irish and living in London, and I can relate to that. I moved here two years ago; I know what it’s like trying to find your tribe in a massive city full of strangers.

It’s a tricky subject matter, but it’s also very funny, isn’t it?

Absolutely, I think that’s the best way to deal with something like this. If you root it in comedy, people can relate to it more. That’s the thing about life – you’re drawn to the stuff that’s funny, particularly if you’re dealing with quite a heavy subject matter. Kirstie Swain, the Script Writer, has done an amazing job of maintaining the warmth and humour of the book. As long as it’s grounded in the truth, and you’re open and honest about what it is you’re telling, then I think comedy is the best way to deal with this type of subject matter.

Do you get nervous before working on a new project?

I wouldn’t describe it as nerves.  I’d describe it as excitement I get excited about the whole thing. I love the prep, researching the characters, working out their back stories, figuring the whole thing out. So I really look forward to a new job. as far as your body is concerned, there’s no difference between nerves and excitement.  It’s up to your mind to choose how you interpret those feelings. If you got really nervous going from job to job it would be a horrible existence but a little bit of nerves is okay, it’s a good thing, to remind you that what you’re doing is important, and you care about it.

Is it a weird existence, moving from one job to another, getting really close, then moving on again?

You’re definitely nomadic as an actor. But it makes it exciting; you’re constantly meeting new people from different walks of life. I’ve been lucky enough in the last year to work with incredibly kind and talented actors, a lot of whom I’m still in contact with. That’s the joy of this industry – you pick up so many friends along the way. When I worked on The Virtues, there was a lot of workshopping in rehearsals, and I spent a lot of time with Shane Meadows and Stephen Graham and other actors and it becomes like a family, because you spend so much time together. You have to trust each other, so you become really close. It’s almost like when you go to summer camp, and at the end of summer you all have to go your separate ways.

Do you think it’s important to address this sort of subject matter on TV? Does it help?

I think this is what Channel 4 does really well. I grew up watching Channel 4, and as a teenager it opens you up to different issues. That’s what storytelling allows you to do. I think TV’s an amazing platform for that. We’ve come such a long way in the last few years, and if you can start a discussion which then takes in feedback from social platforms and spreads the conversation even further, that can only be a good thing. It helps normalise the whole thing, which is so important.

You’ve just been in the Bisexual, and later this year you’ll be back on Channel 4 in Shane Meadows’ new project, The Virtues. Would it just be easier if we found you a desk in the building?

That’s what I thought you were phoning to tell me about! I’ve been so lucky to work on some amazing projects over the last year. Channel 4 makes incredible shows, I’m so grateful to have been a part of some of them.

You’re the youngest of five, which means you can’t be a shrinking violet if you’re going to ever be heard. Is that where the roots of your acting come from?

There’s no-one else in my family that acts. A lot of my sisters and brothers were heavily involved with sport, and I was too. But I think that I was a very creative child, my mum was a painter, and I used to express myself visually, with things like photography, from a young age. So I think that’s where it came from.

Is the family where your interest in boxing comes from? You’ve got to have something when you’re tackling bigger siblings…

[Laughs] No! I got into boxing because of the challenge of it. It’s not just about beating the crap out of someone else, it’s a very disciplined sport. And when you’re sparring in the ring with someone, you have to focus on what’s happening in the moment, and as an actor, you’re constantly chasing that, you’re trying to live in the moment. So there’s a definite crossover. I love it.

You’ve been named as a name to look out for by both The Observer and Screen Daily – does that feel weird?

I feel extremely honoured to be among the people on that list. When I was training to be an actor, you watch so many actors that you admire listed on those platforms, and so to be included gives me a huge sense of pride.

This year, you’re going to go from not being recognised to being in people’s living rooms up and down the country. How do you prepare for that?

I don’t think you can. I don’t know, it’s weird, you can’t really prepare for something, and you have no idea how people are going to react to you. I think my family will keep me grounded, that’s for sure.