From starring in a Cork-set film, to securing a role in Ridley Scott’s major new HBO series, it has been quite a year for Niamh Algar, writes
When Niamh Algar was little, she and her sister named their ponies after characters from Ridley Scott films. She was, she says, a big Gladiator fan.
“My sister named her pony GI Jane and I named my pony Maximus. They were based off of characters inRidley’s movies.”
The Irish actor couldn’t have dreamed then that one day she’d get a call saying Scott wanted to cast her in his epic forthcoming sci-fi series Raised by Wolves, his first for HBO. “That was quite a moment I think in my acting career, finding out that I was going to be working with Ridley Scott.
“That’s the best part about acting, finding out you got a job, because the minute you’re told, you’ve got a window where you can really enjoy it and then you start to panic! From every job you’re starting something completely new. It’s always quite daunting in that sense.”
The huge-scale production, easily the biggest of her career so far, involved a lengthy shoot in South Africa. Scott’s 10-part series will centre on two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious planet.
“The shoot was in Africa so you’re taken out of your comfort zone completely. You’re not around your friends, your family, and the scale of the production is quite over- whelming. He’s had the same team since Gladiator. All these incredible people who have got Oscars and Baftas, and those are the people you’re working with. And then also the character that you get to play.
He’s known for quite strong characters, since Ripley in Alien. And it’s the same in Raised by Wolves.
Algar has had to get used to such “pinch yourself” moments in recent years. Since graduating from acting school The Factory (now known as Bow Street) she has rarely been out of work and is now well on her way to becoming one of our brightest emerging screen stars. She has done so through good choices and hard work.
She shines in Aoife Crehan’s new road trip movie, The Last Right, which opens this weekend in cinemas. It all started during a chance visit to the London Film Festival in 2016 with director Lorcan Finnegan, for their film Without Name.
The Mullingar woman thought she was on a flying visit, but fate would mean she would remain in London. “That was when I met with my agent in Independent Talent, Ollie Azis. They were saying: ‘Do you live in London?’ and I would do that whole: ‘Yeah of course I do!’” she laughs.
“An Irish actor, Paul Reid, put me up in his apartment for a couple of weeks while I started meeting directors and casting directors in London. The first major audition was for Shane Meadows’s The Virtues. I stuck around for the second round of auditions and then was offered the role. I basically didn’t leave after the festival, pretty much. I was always planning on moving over — I just didn’t realise it was going to happen that quickly.
I stayed put, and while I was doing the workshop for The Virtues I was temping in offices trying to earn money to pay rent.
Her terrific performance in Meadows’ outstanding series only aired this year, but it was in fact shot two years earlier. She’s been busy ever since, appearing in Pure and The Bisexual for Channel 4, coming home to shoot the strongly anticipated drama Calm With Horses opposite Barry Keoghan in Connemara.
A feature drama, Censor, and Guy Ritchie’s latest thriller, Cash Truck, are also on the way.
She credits Azis with helping her manage it all — and stresses the value of having had the right people around her. “He championed me from the get-go. We sat down and he said: ‘What projects do you want to do?’ I said: ‘What I’m drawn to is very gritty, raw, complex characters like I grew up watching’.
One of my favourite films was Monster with Charlize Theron. I think you really need to just make sure that the team you have around you gets what the work is that you want to do.
The Last Right tells of a man tasked with getting the corpse of a stranger to its resting place
following a chance encounter on a flight to Ireland. She has fond memories of filming the drama in various locations including Clonakilty, where writer/director Crehan spends much of her time. It was Algar’s first visit to West Cork.
“It’s such a beautiful part of the country. It was this time last year, actually, so it was that cold and crisp Irish weather.”
Crehan has made a good impression with her debut film.
“I am always grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with first-time directors,”says Algar.
“But the truth is every director is completely different in their approach and how they tell stories. And it’s always your job as an actor to cater towards that. And be flexible in how you would approach projects or a script, or the shorthand on set, because everyone has their own way of doing things.”
For as long as she can remember, she wanted to tell stories. Growing up in the countryside outside Mullingar, she would concoct tales to perform for her family. “It may be the youngest child syndrome where you’re trying to get attention, trying to get on stage,” she laughs.
“I grew up in the countryside, so your imagination was your biggest tool. We didn’t really have the internet. Everyone now has a phone and a camera and they can make stories. For me, it was always writing the plays and then putting them on and getting my dad’s old camera and recording them that way.”
Following Joe Dolan, Niall Breslin, and Niall Horan, she’s set to become the town’s latest well-known export.
“There’s something in the water here! I was only talking about this to my friend Nicole Slattery, she’s a writer. Mullingar is known as quite an arts town.We’ve got the Mullingar Arts Centre and Seán Lynch is the head of it.
“We’d go there every weekend and do theatre. It was just always really well run, and parents loved it because you’d be in there every weekend from 9 in the morning.
"It’s a great place to bring the kids — you’re occupied and you’re learning stuff, dancing and music. We’d always put on things like Amazed or West Side Story. Really good plays, and the production values on them were brilliant.”
She has just returned to her hometown for the first time in 11 months, and is excited at the prospect of spending the festive season with her family and friends. Then it’s time to plan ahead.
“There’s a couple of lovely scripts that have come in that I’m reading. It’s nice to get a bit of time to figure out what I want to do in 2020 because it’s been a busy three years.”