Breakout star on her role in risque new comedy Pure: 'It felt weird looking at a group of naked people'

Charly Clive in 'Pure' (Photo: Showmax)
Charly Clive in 'Pure' (Photo: Showmax)

Cape Town - Marnie is not okay. She's had x-rated thoughts for the last 3 672 days and she doesn't know why, or what they mean. "It’s like The Sixth Sense," she says, "but I don’t see dead people, I see naked ones."

When she jumps on a coach to London, she doesn't know a soul, not even herself, but she hopes to find a name for what’s wrong with her self-sabotaging brain, and build a new life in the city.

Now, first on Showmax, Pure is a six-part British comedy drama adapted from the memoir of the same name by Rose Cartwright, about her experiences of a mental illness known as Pure O, which is characterised by intrusive thoughts – in this case, graphically sexual ones. 

Marnie is the first-ever TV role for newcomer and Screen International Star of Tomorrow Charly Clive, a stand-up comedian. "Clive’s performance is masterly; she captures the absolute normality of Marnie without ever losing the sense of equally absolute desperation as she wrestles with her mental monster," says The Guardian, while NME says, "Clive’s sensitive portrayal of Marnie is brilliant, juxtaposing moments of comedy, total heartbreak and emotional turmoil." 

We spoke to Clive about her breakthrough role...

Although Marnie’s mental health issues are harrowing, there’s also a lot of humour...

The ratio of comedy to drama is pretty evenly distributed. It helps to try and find the lightness in a dark situation. It’s just a way of making a subject more accessible.

I don’t think it’s ever making light of the subject, or making OCD the punchline. It’s just the circumstance within the comedy, rather than the subject of it.

You’re not from London. Could you relate to Marnie’s experience of discovering life in the big city? 

Absolutely! It was a really nice vantage point to be doing the show, because I was experiencing it with similar wide eyes; going into London and realising quite quickly that the streets aren’t paved with gold, and how brilliant it is, and how overwhelming it is, which is exactly what Marnie goes through.

One way people often deal with nerves is to picture everyone around them naked. Given the nature of the series, presumably you often didn’t have to use your imagination at all...

Yeah, I was surrounded by a lot of naked people. Some of that happened quite early in filming, and it was a bit like a band aid being ripped off. You never get desensitised to it, but weirdly it just becomes another day at the office. Real credit to the supporting artists, who were largely the ones having to be naked, because they were all super-friendly and lovely. It is strange having a conversation with someone who’s completely nude when you’re not, but that’s something you get used to.

When you’re in a room full of naked people, do you start to feel self-conscious having your clothes on?

Weirdly, yes! Also, I felt very strange when, in between takes, hair and makeup would come in and adjust things on me. It felt weird looking at a group of naked people having a really normal conversation and being the odd one out. It felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone. And then they’d call action and suddenly I’m a Scottish girl giving a speech, and everything felt rather strange. But that was just the nature of the filming. It did get quite normal quite quickly.

Do you feel that the series might help people who are having a hard time?

Definitely. Most people, if you say "OCD", will think of people washing their hands a lot, or counting, or not stepping on cracks on the pavement. I think the show will make discussions a lot more varied about it. 

Hopefully it will help anyone with Pure O to realise that other people have it and struggle with it and live with it, and live very normal lives with it. Marnie’s great fear is that she’s in some way a deviant or a pervert, so it’s really important to be able to shed light on this sort of thing. It’s not an easy conversation to have with friends or parents and hopefully the show will create other platforms for people to discuss it.


Watch Pure, first on Showmax.  

(Photo supplied: Showmax)