Irish actress Niamh Algar has arrived. Star of the just-released psychological horror Censor, she's still best known for her turns in director Ridley Scott's Raised By Wolves and Guy Ritchie's Wrath Of Man.
This week, she's in South Africa working on the sequel to Scott's HBO Max hit, where she sits down with IrishCentral to talk about acting in the pandemic and her unusually wide-ranging roles.
With her name all over some of the biggest box office (and critically acclaimed) hits of summer 2021, it's undeniably Algar's moment. Able to jump between sci-fi, horror, drama, and comedy with rare skill, she's another new Irish screen star in the making.
It's heady times for the young Mullingar-raised actress, 28, who studied film acting at the famous Bow Street Academy in Dublin (whose notable graduates include Ann Skelly and Seana Kerslake). But what made her decide to take a deter into the horror genre in Censor, I ask?
“I didn't read it as a horror,” she tells IrishCentral. “I read it as a psychological thriller. I think there's like a pressure as an actor when you do something like comedy or horror that you have to make sure you scare the audience or make sure that they laugh. And so when I read this, I just read it as a character piece, the idea of this censor who goes on this insane journey from beginning to end.
“When I read Censor the first time, as you probably felt, about halfway through I asked myself what the heck had just happened? Because when I read the first 20 pages I felt that I knew what it was. But then by the end of it, I was like, Oh good God, I did not see that coming.”
That uncertainty, having the rug pulled under you like that, is really exciting to play Algar says and the critics agree. Censor enjoys an 85 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and most critics have been unmistakably impressed by the film and its young Irish star.
“What's really exciting is that we don't always have all the answers and the film leave the audience to decide a lot for themselves. By doing that, you as an actor have to work twice as hard and as I've said, I love challenges.”
As the person trusted to make hard decisions about what the public is allowed and not allowed to see, Algar's character Enid is a cultural gatekeeper, but who appointed her, and can you really trust her to really be looking after your best interests? Has she actually done that? Those questions open trap doors for the audience and that's part of what makes Censor so weirdly unsettling. Who, to paraphrase Elvis Costello, is watching the detectives?
“My character Enid's not really phased by all these horror films that she's watching because I feel like her own life is probably a horror film,” says Algar. “There was something just so interesting about this profession that she chooses. Is she choosing to censor the public from viewing something that she feels they shouldn't witness or has she witnessed something that she can't explore that is more terrifying than the day-to-day violence she witnesses onscreen? I just love films where you go away with so many thoughts.”
When she begins her character research, a question Algar likes to ask is what is their biggest fear? “For Enid, her biggest fear is not being able to remember the full events surrounding her sister's disappearance.
"As an actor, you're constantly digging and digging, trying to make it as complex as you can because we don't always in just black and white. We mostly live in the gray.”
“I got to work with one of my all-time heroes, Ridley Scott. I'm currently in South Africa this week filming the season two of Raised By Wolves."
What's the challenge of actually filming in the pandemic now that the cast is vaccinated up, has it changed what's happening on set?
“We've just had to take extra time because the rules only allow so many people on set. Therefore each department is out at different times. Not everyone can be on set at the same time. As actors, we communicate with our faces. So if you're the only one who's not wearing a mask during a scene and you're looking at as a sea of people in masks you can't read what they feel and this is a new norm. We get tested for coronavirus three times a week. I've lost count of how many cotton buds I've had up my nose. But I'm pleased that we can all work safely, it's a small sacrifice so that we can continue making stories.”
And how was working with Guy Ritchie? “I think there's a pacing to his films and you have that same tight pacing onset. To work with actors like Jason Statham who's so experienced in the action genre, to just to sit back and watch him is really inspiring.”
“I would love to do an Irish Western, I mean a Western set in Ireland. I think the epic coastline of Ireland is just made for a Western, all those amazing landscape.”
Does she feel strongly connected to Ireland still? With more and more Irish A-list actors working, for such a small country, does she feel connected to that wider achievement?
“I think, you know, we're always been as an island of storytellers. And so there is this, this idea that wherever we go, we tell stories and we've always done that for generations. So yeah, for a small island and we've produced some really incredible talent.”
Does she miss the physical experience of watching a film in a cinema with an audience? “Well, I know that A Quiet Place, Part II has really kind of opened up the cinemas again and Guy's film is also doing quite well still. I love cinema. I hope more audiences will be able to watch Censor in a cinema because I watched this like everyone else on my laptop, but I can't wait to get back in the cinema, you know, with that surround sound and just being with audiences and just experiencing it as it was intended.”
My last question is what do you want people to know about Censor? Like if you actually pitched it to them, what would you say? “It's a Prano Bailey-Bond film and if you don't know what that means yet, you will soon,” Algar says with a confident smile.