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“Actors are kind of like crap psychologists”: Irish actress Niamh Algar talks about her latest film

by Meg Walker
27th Apr 2020

Irish actress Niamh Algar talks about her latest film, Calm with Horses, which is now available on digital, plus working with Ridley Scott, the new landscape for women in film, staying grounded, and keeping in close contact with family.

Irish actress Niamh Algar’s latest film, Calm with Horses, was released at the start of the lockdown, yet it still received massive support from audiences. If you didn’t get the chance to catch it before the cinemas closed, don’t fret – it’s now available on digital so you can view it from your sofa (and we can attest, it’s an incredibly moving film). In it, Niamh plays Ursula, mum to five-year-old Jack, who has autism and is the son of Arm (played by Cosmo Jarvis). Barry Keoghan also stars as a member of the drug-dealing Devers family, which Arm reluctantly works for.

When I read the script, Ursula jumped off the page as someone I might have met or known. I grew up in Mullingar. You know people who are struggling, trying to get out of a town and do better for themselves. Ursula’s got a lot of the odds stacked against her and she’s just trying to do the best for her son, Jack. She’s someone who, in the past, has made a lot of mistakes, but now she has to be responsible. And she wants to take people under her wing, and that’s what I found so interesting, was this dynamic between herself and Arm – he’s so guarded and has this massive shell and she’s the only one who can get through that, and she brings out the best in him. She’s the focus of stability in the story, and her and Jack maintain that emotional heartbeat in the film.

Niamh Algar and Kiljan Moroney in Calm with Horses


We went to Loughrea for rehearsals, and Cosmo, Kiljan [Moroney, who plays Jack] and I played football and spent time together building this backstory of these three characters, which I think is really important, especially when you’re working with young kids. [The director, Nick Rowland] and the crew were great with Kiljan. It was a lovely set to be on, and great to be filming in Ireland.

I think there’s added pressure on first-time directors because it’s their showcase; but you get a sense that people are involved because they want to be there. Nick has been trying to get this film made for the last four years, so we all wanted to give everything to it. And Cosmo gave every inch of himself to the role of Arm. In the final scene, you could hear a pin drop.


Niamh with Cosmo Jarvis, who plays Arm


When I’m choosing to take on a role, it all comes down to the story and the character, and the people around it. Researching in advance of a role – trying to get into the mindset of a character – is the most intriguing part. It’s quite therapeutic. Actors are kind of like crap psychologists – you’re always trying to think, why would a character do a particular thing? Again, it also comes down to the story… I think if audiences can come away having been transported to another world, that’s a wonderful thing.

London is my home now – I love the city, my friends are here and work is here, and it is only an hour away from my family home. I do miss my family, though. Last year, I was filming for eight months in Cape Town, which was tough, but thankfully, we have things like Skype and FaceTime. It’s just acknowledging that this is the career that I’m in and there will be times when I’ll be further away. My family have been hugely supportive.

It’s really important to look after yourself both physically and mentally and surround yourself with people who won’t suck the energy out of you. [My co-star in The Virtues] Stephen Graham’s invaluable advice to me was, remind yourself who you are between jobs because, when you’re acting, you have to find the stability, and the motivation and the energy between the jobs, and if you maintain that, when it gets really busy, you’re ready to go. I enjoy cooking and boxing, and I go home to see my nieces and nephews; the great thing about kids is that they don’t care about your work, they just want to spend time with you and that in itself gives you so much energy.

Next up for Algar is a role in Ridley Scott’s TV directorial debut Raised by Wolves, written by Aaron Guzikowski (“It’s something we haven’t really seen, especially on TV, before and I think it’s going to be really great”); Guy Ritchie’s Cash Truck; and Prano Bailey-Bond’s debut feature, Censor. “It’s about censorship in film in the 1980s in London. She’s one of a few female directors I’ve worked with [others include Aoife Crehan for her debut, The Last Right, and Alicia MacDonald for Channel 4’s Pure]. Female directors seem to be sought after at the moment, which is brilliant. I think it’s a really positive time in the film industry for women. Luckily, people ahead of me have paved the way.”


Calm with Horses is now available on digital


Calm with Horses opened in cinemas on March 13 – the very beginning of the lockdown, when schools first closed. For that reason, and to allow audiences the opportunity to view the film at home, the on-demand release has been brought forward to April 27. Calm with Horses is now available on a broad range of VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Sky Store, Virgin Media, Talk Talk, BT TV, Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player, Rakuten TV and Volta.

Watch the trailer here.


Portrait by Hugh O’Conor.