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Vicky McClure on tough TV drama I Am Nicola: 'it might give somebody a bit of strength'

Channel 4's I Am Nicola is the first in a trilogy of TV dramas examining emotive themes – relationships, identity and empowerment. Stars Vicky McClure and Perry Fitzpatrick discuss their relatable characters and what they hope viewers will take from the intense storyline they play out

Vicky McClure as Nicola in new Channel 4 drama I Am Nicola
Georgia Humphreys

VIEWERS are in for an emotional ride watching the I Am series. The exciting Channel 4 project consists of three one-off dramas, with each one co-created by the stellar actors leading them.

They each explore a different thought-provoking theme. The first one to air, I Am Nicola, starring 36-year-old Vicky McClure as the title character, is a deeply moving story of a couple who find themselves stuck in a tumultuous and dysfunctional relationship.

The claustrophobic way it is filmed – set mainly inside just one house - means the audience is given a sometimes uncomfortable fly on the wall view into the ups and downs of Nicola's life with her partner Adam, witnessing how issues of jealousy, control and trust affect them both.

"There were elements in there that I could relate to," reflects Nottingham-born McClure, known for BBC One hit Line of Duty and the This is England series.

"I was really keen on telling a story that wasn't necessarily a massive, dramatic 'there's been a murder'.

"It wasn't physical, it was all very internal – quite mundane, in some ways.

"You know, getting pissed off because she does all the housework or getting pissed off because she's wearing some tight leggings.

"They're just tiny little things that can explode and all of a sudden you find yourself in a much darker place."

McClure had worked with Bafta-winning writer/director Dominic Savage a couple of times before.

He got in touch to tell her about his idea to make different films with different actors and said he wanted each story to have some sort of relevance to the star or be about a subject they would want to touch on.

Over the next year, they drafted I Am Nicola together, "constantly developing it and changing it".

When it came to casting, the wonderfully frank and chatty McClure knew exactly who she wanted to play the part of Adam – Perry Fitzpatrick, a childhood friend from Nottingham.

"Perry has got an amazing CV but is yet to sort of be known in his own right as a well-known actor," she says.

"I know he's bloody brilliant, because I've worked with him since I was 11.

"So, I'm like: 'Why are you not working more? Why aren't you getting bigger roles?'

"And it's a privilege to be able to at least ask if I can have some sort of say in who played that part. They trusted me."

Asked what it's like to hear McClure say that, Fitzpatrick gushes: "It's amazing that one of my good friends is practically a national treasure these days, putting names forward.

"It was a real treat and I'm very grateful."

Although they had the bare bones of a script to work with, the piece is an improvised drama.

This "liberating" filming experience made for a fascinating – and very different – filming experience for the cast.

"The dialogue we just organically found on the day," Fitzpatrick says.

"We would shoot 40-minute scenes a lot of the time so the bits you actually see might be the 25th minute of that scene and how we got there."

"We also had a house that was completely lived in," McClure adds.

"Sometimes, the houses (you film in), you'll strip it and then we'll refill it with what we feel the character needs. And it was just their house, wasn't it?

"So, you go into a drawer and it's fully loaded with what would be in that drawer.

"You know, like the kitchen drawer that's full of crap? There was one of them."

It is notable that while this is a rather difficult drama to watch at times – it's very intense viewing seeing the couple fall apart – in terms of the characters, there's no one "baddie".

"Yeah, that's the point," McClure says.

"It's not like there's a resolution at the end of it – it's just peering into somebody's world for an hour, maybe being able to relate to it.

"I like the idea of there always being some sort of purpose to what it is you're watching – and it might give somebody a bit of strength.

"There might be somebody that's watching it and thinking, 'I'm not happy and I just can't find it within me to admit that to that person'. Because it's so hard because you do love them.

"Whether or not that love is the right love, it's still tough. And with this, I hope that's what we will create, really."

Nicola and Adam's relationship is very believable – perhaps helped by the fact the actors are such good friends in real life.

It definitely allowed for them to push each other in scenes more.

McClure explains: "Sometimes, you'll do scenes with people and the minute you cut you go, 'Oh I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry'.

"You're apologising straight away because you think, 'Did I offend them?' And you don't really know them that well.

"We'd cut and go, 'Oh my God, that line, it was great' or whatever the case is. It was nice to just be able to go for it."

"Some of it was genuinely awkward and genuinely difficult and we'd come back to each other afterwards and be like, 'Oh my God, this is insane'," follows Fitzpatrick.

"But yeah, having that relationship made that so much easier because you could just snap straight back out of it and then straight back into character."

The next two films in the series promise to be just as raw – Samantha Morton stars in I Am Kirsty and Gemma Chan in I Am Hannah – and the trilogy feels like a refreshing thing to see on our screens.

For McClure, it was certainly a project she really embraced and threw herself into.

"It took 10 days to shoot and that I like," she elaborates, smiling.

"For 10 days, it was really intense. It was a solid 10 days we were in every day, every scene, and you just immersed yourself in it.

"Whereas sometimes with long series, you get tired, life gets in the way, things happen.

"It just becomes your day job, 9-to-5, and it's the best 9-to-5 to have."

:: I Am Nicola airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday July 23.

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