An Irish film of immense scariness, it showcased the abundant talents of Niamh Algar who talked horror, naked sprints through the Garden County & Scarlett Johansson with Stuart Clark.
“I’m in Sheffield rehearsing a show for a major TV channel, but other than that I’m sworn to secrecy!”
Niamh Algar is having to keep schtum about why she’s in the city that’s given us Joe Cocker, ABC, Jarvis, Def Leppard, Sean Bean, Arctic Monkeys, The Human League and The Full Monty, but is bracing at the bit to talk about Without Name, the independent Irish horror flick, which wowed ‘em recently at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival.
“Toronto was incredible,” the Mullingar actress enthuses. “It’s one of the world’s biggest film festivals, with screenings of blockbusters like Nocturnal Animals and La La Land whose hairdressing budget was probably bigger than the entire Without Name one! You’ll be on your way to a meeting and see Scarlett Johansson walking the red carpet or go to a party and find yourself standing next to some other Hollywood superstar.
Then you go back to the hotel, switch on the telly to relax a bit and it’s, ‘Here we are live at the Toronto Film Festival with Ryan Gosling!’ It was an amazing glimpse into that world, which is so far removed from the life of your average Irish actor.”
The IFTA-nominated likes of Young Offenders, Sing Street and A Date For Mad Mary have proved that, if the subject matter, writing and acting are of a high enough level, Irish cinema-goers will lavish their money and popcorn on homegrown movies.
“In the last couple of years, Ireland’s really gotten behind its own talent,” Niamh agrees. “To have Caoilfhionn Dunne, Seána Kerslake, Aisling Loftus, Ruth Negga and Catherine Walker on the same Best Film Actress shortlist, for instance, was just incredible. Any of them would have been worthy winners. It helps when movies like Lenny Abrahamson’s Room are, as international hits, in contention for the Oscars. Why shouldn’t you have independent Irish films that are well made, well acted, well told and well received? Going back centuries, we’ve always had a storytelling tradition – so let’s tell those stories here and in Hollywood.”
Niamh also points to Bow Street, the creative hub for Irish filmmakers and actors, as a reason for the industry here being super-saturated with talent.
“It’s an intensive year-long course focusing solely on screen acting, which was great for me because before that I’d mainly done stage,” she explains. “They tell you, ‘Different directors are looking for different things, so be open to change. Figure out who you are and what you bring to the characters.’ You’re nurtured in a very – I know this is a naff word! - organic way rather than being moulded into a certain type of actor.
“I was there in 2014, which was only the second year of the course, with Seána Kerslake, her A Date For Mad Mary co-star, Charleigh Bailey, who won the IFTA for Best Supporting Actress, Kelly Byrne who’s also in ... Mad Mary and loads more talented people.”
With other alumni also including Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’s Nika McGuigan, Rebellion’s Lydia McGuinness and Charlie Kelly who bagged a role in that other IFTA favourite, The Siege Of Jadotville, Bow Street has definitely been making Irish casting directors’ lives easier of late.
Billed as “a verdant nightmare steeped in dread”, Without Name finds Algar playing a research assistant, Olivia, who soon realises that there are better jobs than working with Alan McKenna’s increasingly disturbed and delusional land surveyor, Eric, in a remote Wicklow forest where dark secrets abound.
“In the same way that you don’t always know how funny a comedy’s going to be until you see it edited together, I didn’t realise just how scary and eerie Without Name is until the premiere,” Niamh reflects. “If you were to go to set every day for three months petrified that something’s going to jump out at you, you’d probably have a mental breakdown! I’d worked with (director and writer) Lorcan Finnegan before, so I knew that he was capable of psychologically terrorising an audience! What I loved about making Without Name is that it was so collaborative. Lorcan, within certain parameters of course, lets you do your own thing, which means you’re 100% engaged with what’s going on. He just knows how to get the best performance possible out of you.”
Asked which films have scared the bejayus out of her down through the years, Niamh shudders before answering: “As a kid, I thought Jaws was the most terrifying thing ever. They’re obvious ones, but The Exorcist and The Shining never fail to disturb. One that’s really weird and more or less created its own genre is The Ring, which is that Japanese/Korean approach to horror.”
While not quite the billion-yen/won industry it is in Southeast Asia, Irish horror is now firmly established as a genre in its own right with Liam Gavin’s soon to be released occult yarn, A Dark Song, also receiving rave festival reviews.
“It’s sort of a modern take on those old Irish folklore tales populated by banshees and witches... seanchaí with cameras!” she laughs.
The Without Name shoot took place in early 2016 during what, even by sub-zero Wicklow standards, was a vicious cold snap.
“It was crisp, to say the least! Luckily, I didn’t have to flee scantily clad through the forest or across streams. I kept my clothes on whereas Alan spent a lot of his time exposed to the natural elements, and turned blue on several occasions. But, hey, that’s showbiz for you!”
With the likes of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter loudly singing its praises, it wasn’t too much of a shock when Element Pictures, the company that worked the likes of Room, Frank, The Lobster, The Guard and The Wind That Shook The Barley, acquired the Irish and UK rights to Without Name.
“Yeah, it’s had some great write-ups in the big trade magazines,” nods Niamh. “It’s nice knowing that something you’re in is going to get a major push, which hasn’t always been the case with Irish films. I’m shooting this series for the whole of the summer, but I’ll be flying here and there whenever I can to help publicise Without Name.”
Niamh’s previous Garden County gig was as a bit-part player in Vikings, the epic History Channel series, which, like La La Land, probably spends more money on the teasing of its stars’ tresses than Lorcan Finnegan had at his entire disposal.
“It was a multi-camera shoot with hundreds of extras walking around a massive village set, which had been painstakingly recreated from historic records,” she recalls. “To immerse yourself in something like that is really great fun, but I’m just as happy doing low-budget stuff.”
The winner in February of the 2017 Audi Dublin International Film Festival Discovery Award – no offence guys, but what took you so long? – Niamh also stars alongside Love/Hate’s Peter Coonan and Aoibhinn McGinnity in The Drummer And The Keeper, the football-flavoured full-length debut from former Fat Lady Sings man, Nick Kelly.
“There’s probably never been a better time to be an actor in Ireland,” Niamh concludes. “I’ve no idea whether I’m going to be offered an Irish film, an international film or a TV series next, which is a great way to have it.”