LONDON – It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for the young Scottish actress Marli Siu, who first came to our attention in the excellent zombie flick Anna and the Apocalypse. She can now be seen in Run, directed by Scott Graham and starring Mark Stanley, as well as Our Ladies which arrives in cinemas soon. We spoke to the performer about shooting in a car, collaborating with Stanley, and how thrilled she is to keep finding such great roles in her home nation of Scotland. She also comments on her future in the industry, and why she’s only just getting used to the idea that being an actor is actually her job.
So what initially attracted you to getting involved in Run?
I had seen Shell, Scott Graham’s first film, so when I saw his name I was really excited. Because he was genuinely on my list of people I dreamed to work with. Then when I read the script, he writes characters all from his voice, regardless of their gender or age or anything, so they all feel very real and so as soon as I read it I felt like I knew who Kelly was. Also where he grew up is really near where I grew up, so I genuinely had gone to school with girls like Kelly, so I really related to the script when I read it, I knew these people and I knew the setting, and I just felt very connected to Run straight away.
So many of the scenes are shot in a car, logistically how was Run to shoot?
At first I was a little bit worried about how much movement we’d be able to do, but they just told us to forget about the cameras and that’s another reason why Scott is a dream for actors, because you do whatever you want to do and whatever feels natural and he’ll catch it. That’s a real luxury on a set. They set the camera up for a lot of the shots in the back of the car, so it was like doing theatre because we couldn’t even see the camera so it didn’t feel like we being filmed at all. Then there were shots where the camera were attached to the front of the car and outside of it, but it never felt claustrophobic because we were never that aware of the camera. When out in a big space but the camera is right next to you, I actually find that more claustrophobic, but in the car it just felt like we were driving as normal, it never felt in the way. In being in a small space it also added a level of intimacy that added to the atmosphere and it helped.
You worked so closely with Mark Stanley, and he’s such a good actor. Does it help raise your game when collaborating with someone who takes their craft so seriously?
He is one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. It was only my second film job ever so I just drank up everything he did and said. I hadn’t seen him in anything when I first met him, Dark River had just come out but I didn’t want to watch it because I didn’t want to be intimidated as I’d heard he was amazing. He takes it so seriously and he’s so good at what he does and he’s so generous, but at the same time, in between takes he’s not serious at all. Most of the time he would just be hanging out with the crew, having a cup of tea and going to different departments and having chats, he’s so approachable and friendly and relaxed, and such a team player. I’ve been asked if he’s really intense to work with, but he’s not intense at all. I’m glad I watched his work after I worked with him so I didn’t go in really nervous. I didn’t think about it, I just knew that he was brilliant. He taught me a lot.
One of the themes in Run is wanting to sort of get away from the small town. Is that something you could resonate with?
Oh, 100%. I was dying to move to the city, and I could completely get that frustration. When you grow up in somewhere like London, or Edinburgh there are so many opportunities you just don’t get in small towns. There’s so much in the city, if you grow up there you take it for granted. But I didn’t feel that for Kelly at all, we’re very different in that sense, I don’t think that she has that frustration, which is why I saw more of my friends in her that I’ve had from school who were similar to that. In a small town you know everyone, and there are drawbacks of less opportunities but there’s also the familiarity of your friends and your family and wanting to build a life there and happy there, and that’s also important, not to judge Kelly for wanting that. She is someone I completely respect. Having a baby and a family is one of the best things you can do with your life, and that should be respected if people choose to do that.
What do you miss about home, despite being happy you made the move?
I was so dying to move to the city, and me and my family moved a lot so maybe if you were brought up in a small town you have more roots there, and you feel the familiarity of that more. But because I moved around a lot I just find city life more appealing because you have a lot more people who have come from all over the place, and I actually feel more at home in a city than I ever did in a small town. I guess I do miss the idea of knowing everyone, going to the shop and bumping into someone you knew, it feels like there’s more of a community, but I am such a city person.
I think the idea of knowing everyone would be fun until I was a teenager. Then I’d go out on a Friday night and I wouldn’t wanna know anyone on a Saturday.
Oh totally. Also as soon as I moved to the city I was like, I could nip out to Tesco in my coat and my pyjamas and nobody is going to care, nobody would see me again. In a small town everyone would see that and talk about that.
Anna and the Apocalypse and now Run and Our Ladies, are great films, so is it a myth that you have to move to London to find good work? Because you’re proving that there are great stories and interesting roles for you in Scotland. How important is that for you?
I’ve been so lucky timing wise, when I graduated and started to work, there have been such good roles here in Scotland for young girls. I always thought I’d have to move to London but I am very excited by the Scottish film industry and what it’s producing, and the variety of the work its producing and the talent up there. I think Scotland has so many stories, and not just things set in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I feel very lucky that I got to be part of these stories, and it’s been very good timing wise. I hope to keep making films in Scotland.
So on Our Ladies – it’s been so well-received, how has it been travelling around with that film? It must be one you’re very proud of?
It’s been so fun! I made some great friends out of the job. Our Ladies has appealed to a lot of people, at the London Film Festival I had a lot of people, mostly those who had been to Catholic all-girls school, telling me they related to it. It’s just good fun, a funny premise and people really enjoy it.
On Anna and the Apocalypse, I loved that film. It’s inventive and unlike anything else I’ve seen. As an entry point for you in this industry as it was your first movie, did it take a little while after making it to realise that not every film was going to be as unique as this? It feels like the sort of movie that may only come round once in a career, and it happened to be your first.
Because it was such a small budget, we filmed in this school and we all had one room, that was like a changing room, one for the girls and one for the boys, and it’s where we’d get into costume, and then one big room we basically turned into a playroom. We all ate in there and just hung out together. Along the corridor in another classroom was make-up and hair, and then next to that was the office, and because we were all in this one corridor together I thought every film was like that, you’d all just hang out together, and it was so fun. I was a bit sad that my next experience was for TV and you go away and sit in a trailer, not near anyone which was felt so weird, you didn’t get to hang out with the crew. Run was the next film I did though and it was similar because it was an indie so you got to really know the crew in a nice way, so that was lovely. Or maybe that’s just a Scottish thing, I don’t know, we all just hang out together!
You must be so thrilled they took that gamble on you for Anna? Because there are so many young talented actors out there, but you just need that someone to take that punt.
I am so grateful, so grateful. I should probably message them more and say thank you everyday. They saw me in a play and I got an audition for Anna on the back of that, and I’m just very, very lucky that they let me in that room. And I was also very lucky that I had such a lovely first experience.
Do you remember when you were first able to answer with the word ‘actress’ when somebody asked what do you do? When it went from being a dream, or a hobby, to being your actual profession?
To be honest, I still find it so weird to say I’m an actor! I always say, ‘oh I do acting’. I don’t know why I say it like that. I’m still struggling to say it.
So what’s next for you now? Do you have any aspirations to do the whole America thing?
Honestly, regardless of where it is, when you get a good script I just want to do that, wherever it is. I went to Tribeca with Run and had a tiny little insight into New York and I have some friends over there and I’d love to do work in the US, but at the same time I had another project come up in Scotland and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read, so I would just as happily keep working in Scotland. But wherever in the world good writing comes up, I’m just happy to follow the work to be honest.
It’s such an exciting time for you, have you had the chance yet to take a step back and appreciate it, or it is all happening quite fast?
When you’re doing jobs you kind of just do them. I guess when things come out you have a moment of ‘wow we made this and people like it’. London Film Festival was quite a big one because I had Run and Our Ladies screening and people were really responding to them, so that was a cool moment, that I was making work that people were enjoying. But specifically Run when I made it was a big turning point, because I thought, if I can do this kind of work in this sort of creative space, while it’s amazing when people watch and enjoy it, the actual experience of making it was so fulfilling that it was a real moment where I realised that I loved this job and I love getting to do this. That’s all you can do, to enjoy making it, and do all you can to do a good job, then if people enjoy it, it’s the secondary enjoyment of the job.
Was acting something you always wanted to do from a young age?
To be honest I don’t have any family, or know anyone who did acting, I didn’t even know it was a job. There weren’t any theatres where I grew up so it wasn’t even like I grew up watching plays. There was a video store and we’d rent a film every Friday, so I grew up watching films, and I got very excited having to go and pick one. But I did dancing when I was four, so I liked to go on stage, I knew that, and I really liked art and I thought I’d go to art school and I went to an open day at college and I was doing youth drama at the same time, and I ended up going to the film department and asking if they needed actors, and I came out and said to my mum, ‘I think I want to be an actor’. I looked at every other avenue and yet I just wanted to be on sets and be a part of a team. Other art forms can be quite lonely, but the process of theatre and film is so much about being in a team and all working together, and I was naturally drawn to that, even before I knew what it was.