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I TALK TO Charly Clive

"I really hope this is the sort of show that will make people want to watch a bit more sci-fi."

When Channel 4 launched Pure at the start of 2019, a drama written by Kirstie Swain about 24-year-old Marnie, who has a form of OCD called Pure O, it was clear that the actor playing that role, then newcomer Charly Clive would be one to watch.

Since then, Charly's comedy sketch duo Britney - made up of herself and best friend Ellen Robertson - have turned their brilliant stage show into a BBC Three pilot which I'm hoping will return for a full series and they'll be taking their latest show Friends and Nothing More to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.

And Charly can currently be seen in cinemas nationwide alongside Tom Stourton and Georgina Campbell in the hit British film All My Friends Hate Me.

Her latest role sees Charly Clive playing Sarah opposite Paapa Essiedu as George in Joe Barton's brilliant new eight-part thriller The Lazarus Project which has just launched on Sky Max.

It follows George who one day wakes up and finds himself reliving a day from months ago and thinking he's lost his mind. It's a timely and affecting exploration of the desire to take charge of your own fate.

All of his recent milestones have been undone, including his success at work and his marriage to the love of his life Sarah. Worst of all, he seems to be the only one who has noticed what’s happened.

That is, until he meets Archie played by Anjli Mohindra, who recruits George for the Lazarus Project - a secret organisation that has harnessed the ability to turn back time every time the world is at threat of extinction. Like George, those who work at Lazarus are the few people on earth with the ability to remember the events that are undone when time goes back.

I recently caught up with Charly Clive to talk about working with Paapa Essiedu, the challenges she faced playing Sarah, her thoughts on time travel and what she really thought about Pure never returning for a second series.

Tell us about The Lazarus Project and who you play.

The Lazarus Project is a sort of sci-fi, high-octane, thrilling, Groundhog Day but with less groundhogs and more international espionage and world saving.

Paapa Essiedu plays our leading man, George. He is part of this group, The Lazarus Project who has the extraordinary ability and responsibility to go back in time to checkpoints to save the world from extinction-level events.

I play a character called Sarah who is George's girlfriend and does not follow the same insane path that he does. I'm his other world and I guess the home base that he returns to from his insane journey around the fabric of time.

Watching it, it feels as though you're in a completely different show to Paapa at time. Is that how it felt for you?

Yeah, it was really funny being on set because I would put on a nice outfit for a nice date scene, get my hair and make-up done and then I'd look over and Lorn (Macdonald) would be having a huge scar put on his face or somebody would be getting covered in blood and it really did feel like I was on the wrong set sometimes.

Everyone would be going for gun training and I'd be learning my lines for quite a nice domestic scene. Having said that, because of everything that happens with George and him hiding and protecting Sarah from that, I did have the really nice job of reacting to someone's hidden madness and Sarah's world flipping upside down in a much smaller, but relatable way than George's.

They sort of mirror each other. But Sarah is living this meltdown in a really private and heartfelt way and George is literally trying to save the world.

What was it from the script that made you really keen to play Sarah?

I love Joe's (Barton) writing so much. I was a big fan of Giri/Haji and I think he's a seriously great writer. I'd actually said to my agent when I watched Giri/Haji that if anything Joe Barton comes up, if there's any way I can sort of swing it - or if he ever runs a writer's room or whatever - I really wanted to get in contact with him.

Then a while later The Lazarus Project came up and I wanted it so badly. The reason I really liked the role of Sarah was that she's written very realistically, she's definitely somebody I knew I could play. I knew that I could hopefully make her quite funny and wry. I definitely felt like she uses humour as a defence mechanism.

She works with kids. She's a teacher. And I think anybody who has the patience to work with kids is somebody that actually has a pretty extraordinary skillset that is often undervalued. So in a way, she's the perfect candidate for the extraordinary things that end up happening in her partner's life.

When you did get to work with Joe Barton. What was that like?

Because of lockdown, Joe was only able to come on set once or twice which was obviously a sadness because he's the great oracle of Lazarus, but I was very lucky that he was on set one of the days that I was there. So I got to bombard him with all of the questions that I had and he was very very open with all of us that if we ever wanted to call him or text him or chat to him about something we didn't quite understand, we could.

He and Marco (Kreuzpaintner), the director of the first four episodes had a very strong relationship, like he did with all the directors of course, but Marco set the tone of the first four episodes. Marco and Joe had a direct line to each other so if we ever had a question for Marco, we knew that we were sort of asking Joe as well.

Joe had written such a complex world for all of us to be in, but so specific that it was actually very rare that something would happen which felt a bit jarring. That almost never happened. Certainly, with me, I felt very well taken care of. Any questions I ever had would be more as an actor rather than questions about not understanding a certain part of the story.

Which is no easy feat, considering it's an eight-part series about modern time travel!

I'll admit, I'm not a huge sci-fi fan ordinarily, but The Lazarus Project feels different, it has real heart, the characters are more relatable and dare I say it's more believable. Do you think that's fair to say?

Terrifyingly, I think you're absolutely right. I think it does feel more believable. I feel like we're at a point now in human history where anything can happen and we'd be a bit complacent about it - "Yeah, OK. That scans." Everything is possible.

I really like sci-fi, as a kid, it was one of the first genres of film and TV that I really engaged with because going into those extraordinary worlds was so exciting. As an adult, I'm a little bit put off by sci-fi, just because I think "Is it going to be aliens in space?" - and I think that's great but it's you have to be in the right mood for it.

I also come from a family where my mum loves sci-fi, loves fantasy, she's all in with that sort of thing and my dad is the opposite. My dad can't really handle anything remotely fantastical but I'm very happy that The Lazarus Project is a very approachable way into sci-fi. It's like a low-fi sci-fi that still gives you all the thrills, spills and excitement of sci-fi but also with a really domestic and heartfelt look.

Some of the storylines that Joe has written, if you were to watch them in isolation, you'd have no idea that you were watching sci-fi. But within the context, they're so rich so I really hope this is the sort of show that will make people want to watch a bit more sci-fi.

Paapa Essiedu. What an actor. What was it like working with him?

Great. It really was great. I had met him a couple of times before we did the chemistry read, but I didn't find out who was playing George until the day or two before and I was so relieved that it was him. Partly because he's a phenomenal actor - on stage and screen - you just know this guy frustratingly, can do it all. But also, he's a very very lovely person. He's funny and warm and just a really good guy.

I thought potentially, someone playing the part of George could be very tense and intimidating and going into an audition like that might make me feel like I was on the back foot, but as soon as he entered the room, I just thought he was going to be a really exciting scene partner to play opposite and he was.

I've said this a few times and I am very happy to say it many times because I really stand by it, Paapa had a very difficult job of being the number one on set. Every day that he comes in, everybody understandably is wondering where Paapa is at and how they can best cater for the guy that is basically going to lead us for the day, who has been working non-stop for months on this.

Every day, without fail he came in with a really great attitude of "Here we go, guys! Another day doing an extraordinary job." - he really led us with such joy and heart and took the project incredibly seriously. He's very a passionate, brilliant and smart actor who works in a very intelligent way but he's also led by this intrinsic good guy thing.

If I ever had questions or wanted to try something different, he was very collaborative, funny and nice and it was just a joy to work with him. Particularly in lockdown when people had an excuse to be a bit grumpy, he never was.

But he did get to go to Barcelona...

I know! I was told that I would go to Paris and I went to Bristol. I love Bristol, but it's not the same!

What were some of your favourite scenes to shoot?

This is tough because I don't want to give anything away but one of my favourite things to shoot, just because of the context of where we were in the world during the second lockdown, and filming in Wales which had a slightly stricter lockdown than London, was a big party scene.

We filmed over about six days and it was the first time in a really long time any of us had been around more than six people and it was really fun having to rehearse dancing and talking and not being scared that someone might cough or touch you or be near you. We all had to reacclimatise to that.

It became a really giggly and giddy experience. It was a lot of fun and felt like such a special treat almost. But then I would also feel guilty facetiming my roommate back in London and her being like "Oh, you were at a party. Cool. I've been sitting in my room staring at the same walls all day."

What was the most challenging part for you?

One of the reasons I was so excited to get the role, was playing a character who doesn't really know what is happening in their life. But feels like they have complete control over it. There's something relatable to what Sarah is going through. I think we can all relate to thinking that we are absolutely in control of our lives and it's the decisions that we make that point us in the directions that we're going and actually sometimes, a pandemic, or whatever will swoop in and knock you for six.

Sarah is dealing with that, with the person she loves most in the world. The person that she feels she's on the same page with and also the person that really obviously loves her so much. They're a really beautiful love story, so for that to then get put in this extraordinary place that only one of them is capable of knowing entirely, you create within a safe space, absolute fracture.

That was a really challenging thing to do without it becoming two people nagging each other. Having to play the love within the confusion was really fun - fun in that it was a great challenge as an actor, but actually doing it was jarring and hard. But really good and I hope that's something people look at as one of those moments in a sci-fi that you don't expect.

Time travel, as we learn in The Lazarus Project isn't always a good thing. Where do you stand on time travel? Would you try it?

Yeah. I think I'd have to. I'm far too curious and it'd be selfish honestly, not to. If someone was to dangle that carrot, I would have to. I think that I would want to go as an observer. I'd want to treat the past a bit like a theme park. I'll try the snacks, I'll ride the train but I'm not going to go and try and change the course of history.

I'd also like to go there and tell them a few things. I'd like to go and tell particularly women, "You know you don't have to do that, right?" - I'd go back as a wise, cool friend from the future. But I definitely wouldn't want to mess with anything. I'd be terrified to do that.

What have you been enjoying on television recently?

It's been such an interesting time watching TV because, since the pandemic, I feel like I really fluctuate with watching brand new stuff as soon as it comes out, I can't wait to watch it, and also finally going back and watching things I didn't watch when they first came out.

I watched The Wire during the pandemic and was floored by it, and jealous that I wasn't watching it at the time because it's bingeable but so hard to watch at times. I felt like - Is this masochism to be binging The Wire?

Obviously Succession, like everyone else, I can't get over how good that show is. But most recently, there's a great show called Newark, Newark on UKTV Gold, written by Nathan Foad and it is brilliant, hilarious and regional in a way we haven't seen on TV before because it's not patronising. It's really funny. It's got fantastic performances. Particularly Morgana Robinson who is so good.

I have known Nathan since I was 14, so he's one of my best friends. I'm actually looking at a picture of him now. For my birthday he gave me his headshot! He's the best guy ever. So for me, that is one of the most exciting comedies to come out of England itself for a very long time. I devoured that show. I thought it was so funny.

And on Sky, another great comedy is Brassic which is a huge favourite of mine.

You know how much I loved Pure. Sadly that never did return for a second series. Were you disappointed?

At the time, I was heartbroken by it because you sort of can't help but take it personally. We had so many great ideas. But also - it's not a blessing in disguise, we would have done an amazing job with a second series and I know that Kirstie (Swain) is such a talent that she would have written something really special.

It was a real privilege to play Marnie, a role that we haven't really seen before. That's something I'm really proud of.

However, I'm a great believer in leaving them wanting more. There's always a danger with something like Pure that it goes slightly too far into romantic territory and you lose the point of the show - which is of a young woman finding herself in a new circumstance and deciding the adult she's going to be with the obstacle of having this kind of OCD. And not letting her mental health determine the course of her life.

One of the reasons I'm really proud of the way the series ends is that you do get this feeling that whether or not Marnie does end up with Charlie or Joe - or goes it alone - actually, she sort of has the tools now to make that work. So I'm really glad that we didn't leave it on some big cliffhanger that would make people question what was going to happen.

I'm also glad that it didn't (return) in a way because so many of us as a result of not having done that have been able to pursue really different things.

That's a really lovely way of looking at it. Niamh Algar for example appears to be in everything. And brilliant in everything she is too.

She's taking over the world and she's also moved five houses away from me so I really cannot escape her! It's been so exciting to see what everyone's doing. Everyone is very supportive of each other.

When we were able to all see each other before the pandemic, we would try and make a habit of it. I always know that if Ellen (Robertson) and I are doing a new Britney show, the Pure contingency is going to show up.

It was my first job and I can't really imagine a better way to get into this absolutely insane industry than with all those people. So I feel very very lucky.

You mention Britney there. I've seen the live show. Loved it. Watched the pilot. Loved it. Please tell me there's a series on the way?

Thank you. We can't really say anything.

But you are taking Britney to Edinburgh. That you can say!

We are going to Edinburgh! We're so excited. We've missed it for two years now because of the pandemic so this year is going to be crazy. I think it's going to be our best show yet. We're really excited.

And finally, you're also in All My Friends Hate Me, which is getting rave reviews at the moment. What was it like shooting that film?

That was extraordinary. I can't tell you how insane it is, the way everything is happening. The budget that the guys made it on was so small. I mean, it's not that dissimilar to the budget we had for the pilot and the work that they did was extraordinary.

It was a feature debut from Andrew Gaynord and that speaks for itself that his first film is doing so well and getting these kinds of reviews. We were told when we made it that maybe it will get released on Amazon, but we just don't know. And now it's in cinemas and there's a poster of it at Oxford Circus.

Filming it was so much fun. We filmed it for three weeks in this enormous house in Devon and it felt like being at Summer Camp. There were moments when you'd forget that you were making a film. Thankfully we all like each other, despite the title.

The Lazarus Project is available now on Sky Max


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