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Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Pure: Interview with director Aneil Karia

What was it that attracted you to the idea of working on Pure?

When I read the Pure script, it was immediately apparent the show wanted to do something bold and different - but crucially, not just for the sake of being different. Its difference was an intrinsic part of it, much like Marnie’s difference is a difficult but immovable part of her. Its blend of humour and pathos, and its ability to handle mental illness with both a deep respect and brilliant irreverence, was a pretty rare and impressive blend. Beyond its portrayal of mental illness it was, more broadly, exploring something more universal - the process of moving to a new city and having to figure out who you are versus who you think you’re supposed to be. There was a lot to like.

It’s quite unusual to give the lead role to someone making their screen debut. Why was Charly given the opportunity?

Finding the lead for a new show like this was a challenge for various obvious reasons - it’s kind of like you don’t know 100% what they’re supposed to look or sound like until you see or hear them. And that was the case with Charly….we’d seen a lot of really talented actors who read brilliantly for the role but I suppose just didn’t quite feel right. Then we saw Charly and that slightly corny click-moment happened….she seemed to have this blend of youth, wisdom, optimism and dryness that suddenly took the character off the page and made her three dimensional, human and very very watchable. The fact it was Charly’s screen debut was more exciting rather than concerning. We just spoke a lot and did a lot of work before we started; on the process of shooting; blocking, light, multiple takes, the good stuff, the tedious stuff…we chatted a lot about all that.

The cast as a whole is pretty youthful. Do you like working with young actors?

Yeah I do. Young actors on the whole are excited to be working. They’re keen to discuss things, try different approaches… I was really lucky to work with this cast. They’re extremely talented and are either already going or about to go on to big things.

One of the challenges you had to face was to visually recreate what it’s like to experience an intrusive sexual thought. How did you go about that, and who did you take advice from?

I was very keen from the get-go that the intrusive thoughts were grounded in reality, and resisted the temptation for them to become too heightened visually speaking. When we have these thoughts (while I’m lucky enough not to suffer from Pure O I was very familiar with the concept of intrusive thoughts and had a lot as a teenager) there is nothing stylised about them, aesthetics-wise. The distressing image we imagine looks a lot like the reality would like; that’s why it’s disturbing. The thoughts are little bursts of another reality for the sufferer, so to then shoot it in a way that was ‘cinematic’ to the point of artificiality would really defeat the point. We obviously consulted with Rose a lot - and also the charities we worked alongside (MIND and OCD Action). In post-production we ended up giving the intrusive thoughts a slightly different grade, more for clarity than anything. We also played with focus a little, as a way of honing in on the distressing part of the scene - the mind’s eye is not 16:9 widescreen, so it was a good way of isolating the thought.

A lot of your scenes involve mass nudity – that must be interesting to direct!

Yeah it was quite nuts, so to speak. Having fifty naked SAs crammed into a tube carriage and trying to retain some kind of order is a challenge though it’s amazing how quickly the nudity and graphic acts became very normal - especially as the SAs were people who were very comfortable with nudity. The nature of shooting, whatever you’re on, tends to be that you’ve got a shit ton to do in not-enough-time so you just get on with choreographing the scene as you would with 50 clothed folk at the end of the day. While it’s a slightly absurd scenario you’re in, these mass nudity scenes are the intrusive thoughts, which are so integral to the portrayal of the illness (and so tragically un-absurd to Marnie) that you quickly just put aside the madness and concentrate on getting the shot as best you can.

In a comedy drama about mental illness, how do you ensure you don’t cross a line into mockery and bad taste?

I think the comedy in Pure is never at the expense of the illness. The comedy is used as a coping strategy; as a way of laughing through the pain it brings and the perceived isolation it causes Marnie. Pure hopefully allows us to laugh at the surface-absurdity of an illness while appreciating the deeper torment it brings. 

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