Article taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 004. Order your copy here.
Morfydd Clark crushes crisis. Yes, she admits, “distress” could be her professional middle name (it’s actually Myfanwy).
“It upsets my dad,” the Swedish-born Welsh actor says, smiling ruefully, Zooming in from a place that’s both the end of the earth and Middle Earth – that is, New Zealand, where she’s filming the role of elvish queen Galadriel in Amazon’s billion-dollar reboot of The Lord of the Rings. “He’s like: ‘You’re always killed or assaulted!’”
Her dad’s not wrong: in each of her three films of 2020 Clark not only opens the drama but does so with screen-burning distress, anguish and/or terror.
Armando Iannucci’s pithy, perky The Personal History of David Copperfield begins with Clark mid-howling labour, giving birth to the title character (Dev Patel). She then reappears as the ditzy, handbag-dog-toting Dora Spenlow whom the adult Copperfield almost marries. The 30-year-old approved of the effect of playing two characters. “In your memories, things do drift into each other, so I liked that having one actor play two parts made it slightly dreamlike,” says Clark, who grew up in Cardiff and has almost a decade of heavyweight theatre behind her.
Then, in Eternal Beauty, a darkly funny, South-Wales-shot gem by 29-year-old actor/writer/director Craig Roberts (Submarine), Clark is another young bride, Jane, who’s jilted at the altar in a particularly brutal manner. These events precipitate an emotional and mental breakdown, and the grown-up Jane (Sally Hawkins) ends up a sad, lonely schizophrenic who finds love with a fellow sufferer of mental illness (David Thewlis).
“As a film it really made me want to be a better person,” Clark states intently, mindful that Jane is based on a member of Roberts’ family. “There’s a weight to playing this real person, and that was with me the whole time. I definitely will do stuff differently after that, because I think sometimes you can forget and see your characters as just a study.”
“Morfydd has the ability to ground a character but also transcend the moment,” says Roberts. “And she’s very relatable, weirdly, even though she can play characters that are more leftfield. She’s your eyes into the piece, and you’re totally onside, no matter how quirky the role might be.”
And then there’s Saint Maud. Like Eternal Beauty, it’s another brilliant British indie written and directed by a blazingly fresh filmmaking talent in 31-year-old Rose Glass. Clark is Maud, a prim and dedicated nurse caring for a dying dancer in a dark house in an unnamed British coastal town. But from the outset we know that Maud’s take on the Hippocratic oath might be, well, a little off.
The first thing we see is her slumped in an operating theatre, hospital scrubs covered in blood, next to a patient who has expired in clearly traumatic circumstances. Subsequently working as a palliative carer for boho “creative type” Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle), it’s soon apparent that Maud has undergone a religious conversion-turned-perversion.
Determined to “save” Köhl from her fag-smoking, party-hosting, lesbian-going ways, the lonely, forlorn Maud kneels on gravel to pray. She places beds of upturned nails into her battered Converse, then gingerly walks the desolate promenade arcades with a horrific, crunching squelch, a look of beatific reverie on her face as blood oozes out of her sneakers. As Maud tells a disabled homeless person with unsaintly feeling: “Never waste your pain.”
“The whole film doesn’t work unless you really love watching this person,” says Glass of her bracing psychological horror debut. “Maud does lots of incredibly morally questionable, terrible things and is fairly arrogant – and she’s in almost every shot. So we needed someone who had something magnetic about them, but who could also be a character who was overlooked and ignored a lot of the time.”
“I think the entry point for the character was loneliness, which is my biggest fear,” admits Clark. Her fear of being alone arises from being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when she was seven. “Having ADHD is not like this enormous cross to bear, but it does make you often humiliate yourself, by being impulsive or saying something that’s come into your head that you shouldn’t, or just grabbing something or being generally weird.” Her experiences gave her “a huge amount of empathy with Maud”.
In 2020, this daughter of a paediatrician mother and software designer father is breaking through in all the right ways: quietly, inventively and with no little variety. When we speak, the scheduled resumption of filming on Lord of the Rings is six weeks away, meaning Clark can resume her newly-learned skills: horse-riding, sword-fighting, arrow-firing, pointy ear-wearing and speaking in the language of the elves.
While sworn to secrecy, Clark confirms that her Galadriel is the hundreds-of-years-younger, more rebellious incarnation of Cate Blanchett’s film version of the queen. Beyond that, given they’d only managed two months’ filming on what might be a seven-year commitment, it’s all a bit abstract: the oncoming fame, the pressure of starring in a hugely expensive TV franchise-in-the-making.
“It all just seems so stupid to me, I can’t believe it,” Clark says, wonderingly. “When I got this job, I told my Welsh best friends who aren’t in acting and really don’t give a damn about it. I was like: ‘Guys, I’ve been cast as Galadriel in Lord of the Rings!’”
“And my friend Shannon was like: ‘Oh, I was really looking forward to that, Morfydd, and now it’s just gonna be you.’”
Morfydd Clark, down to earth at the bottom of the Earth, laughs delightedly. “I’m seeing it like that as well: it’s just me.”
Eternal Beauty is in UK cinemas from 2nd October, Saint Maud from 9th October. Lord of the Rings on Amazon Prime? Not soon enough…
Hair and make-up Kath Gould