It’s not always easy to feel sympathy for film stars – the fame, the fortune, the fancy foreign travel. But it would be a particularly hard heart that couldn’t empathise with Morfydd Clark, just a little bit. Sequestered 12,000 miles home, in a foreign country, in a pandemic, in a role that requires her to exist in an imaginary period in Earth’s past. Her head must be all over the place. The last time Clark was home it was October 2019.
“My biggest desire is to be reunited with my family and friends,” she says.
Also: “I really miss strong tea.”
That’s apparently in short supply in New Zealand because that is where Clark, 32, is and where she will be for… who knows?
“I hope to be home in a few months, maybe more,” she says. “We’re all at the mercy of something so huge, it’s kind of just ‘take each week as it comes’”.
The huge thing, and the imaginary Earth thing – and indeed the New Zealand thing – is Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings, the latest battlecruiser to join the inexorably escalating streaming wars, a $1bn+ investment already groaning under the moniker of The Most Expensive TV Series Ever Made. Expectations are high, but not as high as the level of secrecy. Which is odd, you might think, given that we know what happens in Lord of the Rings. Except, not this Lord of the Rings! Amazon’s show is a prequel, set 3,441 years before The Fellowship of the Ring, in the “Second Age” of Middle-Earth – the time when the Rings of Power come into existence. (Yes, they’re rebooting JRR Tolkien.) Clark’s publicity team is at some pains to point out that she will not – cannot! – say anything about the production, or even which character she’s playing. Perhaps she’s said too much already. Last year she told The Face that she’d been cast as elvish queen Galadriel, a younger “more rebellious” incarnation of Cate Blanchett’s version of the character in Peter Jackson’s Noughties’ films. (A total of 30 Oscar nods for those.)
Still, it’s the interviewer’s job to start digging and the interviewee’s job to take the spade out of their hands. So, what can she tell us about The Lord of the Rings?
“I can tell you I’m having a mind-blowing time,” she says, carefully. “I have escaped into fantasy since I had Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter read to me when I was five. So, it feels amazing to be part of something that I hope will bring people that same escapism and comfort.”
Does it feel like she’s making The Most Expensive TV Show Ever?
“Well, yes. It is very expensive. There’s a lot going on. And you do feel the pressure of that. But also: I’m a thread in this tapestry. I’ll be all worried about my performance and then I get on set and I’m, like, “Well, look at this!” and “Look at this – my costume!” and you realise that there’s just so many arms, just holding you up, to get this story made. So that’s quite amazing.”
There’s going to be five series. Does that mean she’s locked in until 2026?
“Yeah,” she says. “Who knows? Yeah. Yes. I’m not sure...”
The longest job Clark had before this was six weeks. A timescale she says suited her perfectly because you could think “this will be done… and it will be gone”.
“It’s quite a life-shift,” she says, of LOTR. “It is a very different experience, logistically, just figuring it all out. It’s been really challenging in my head. I didn’t appreciate the difference. Theatre and film is a whole other beast. But it’s lovely, though! It’s lovely to be part of something with such a big cast.”
Clark is best-known for a far smaller film, the psychological indie horror Saint Maud, released by the hipster studio A24 (Uncut Gems; Moonlight; The Lighthouse). Clark played “Maud”, a nurse assigned to care for Amanda, a terminally ill American dancer, confined to a wheelchair and an unnamed English seaside town. “Maud” comes to believe she has been tasked with saving Amanda’s soul. Demonic japes and the cinematic look-away! scene of the day – involving nails and bare feet – ensue. One of the must-see films of 2019 eventually became one of the must-see films of 2021 (because pandemic). Clark is mesmeric in it. Also horrible, in the best possible way (because acting). Have people been crossing the street to avoid her ever since?
“My sister sent me Nish Kumar’s podcast where he was, like, ‘I’m sure she’s a very nice lady… but she scared the shit out of me’,” Clark chuckles. “I find it quite funny that people find me frightening. I’m blond now, so maybe that will help.”
It’s no spoiler to say that “Maud” is quite possibly mentally unwell. Clark, who is on-screen for virtually the whole film, plays her with steel. “Maud” never doubts her motives.
“Anybody striving with conviction, I find it really moving,” Clark says. “And the risk that that holds I think is so vulnerable and terrifying, that not many of us do it. The tragedy of that. We’re always told ‘Just go for it!’ ‘Just do it!’ and Maud does that and… I doesn’t go very well. When I was filming I felt terribly sad for her.”
There’s a world of films between Saint Maud and The Lord of The Rings, and despite being shortlisted as an EE Rising Star for 2021, Clark’s already covered a load of ground. Broad period comedy in Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. Entertainingly schlocky in alligators-on-the-loose hit Crawl. Arthouse indie in The Falling, about a fainting epidemic in a Catholic girls’ school. On TV: parts in Patrick Melrose, His Dark Materials and Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s Dracula. On stage: with Freddie Fox in Romeo and Juliet, alongside Glenda Jackson in King Lear at the Old Vic and opposite Dominic West in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
“I feel like all of it has been a lucky accident, although my agent would say it hasn’t” she says. “I ended up doing a lot of things that really interested me and I was really passionate about.”
Bilingual in English and Welsh, Clark was born in Sweden, to a paediatrician mother and a software designer father. She moved to Penarth, Wales when she was two and enrolled in a Welsh-language school. She crashed out of formal education after her GCSEs not knowing what to do. Figuring she might as well try what she enjoyed, she auditioned for the National Youth Theatres of Wales and Great Britain, also the Welsh National Youth Opera – and got into all three. Clark is dyslexic and has ADHD, so school was hard.
“I really struggled at school because of the intense structure,” she says. “But my parents didn’t pressure me. There was much more of a push for me to be happy.”
She says acting is one profession where ADHD can be helpful.
“Because there’s lots of extreme personalities who go into acting, and we’re allowed to be eccentric,” she smiles. “There’s a lot of flexibility within the worlds that makes my life much easier. My kind of disorganisation and scattiness and impulsivity is seen as a positive.”
One connection with reality, as she navigates the Misty Mountains and Great Sea of Middle-Earth, dreaming of strong tea and Wales, has been TikTok.
“People are getting access to such interesting things,” she enthuses. “Things they might not have thought of before. I feel like there’s a really amazing time coming up for the arts. You have so many 13-year-old filmmakers now. People are so funny in it. For an ADHD person… thank God I’m not in the 17th Century where you could have only had a book. That would have been terrible.
“I find people, and myself, hilarious and tragic, constantly, in a big pendulum swing. Sometimes within 30 seconds,” she says.
“The thing I’m really fascinated by is people.”
The winner of the EE Rising Star 2021 Award is announced on 11 April
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