Anthony Welsh on ‘Pure’
An interview with the star of the new Channel 4 show 'Pure', about a sexual form of OCD. Here Anthony talks acting, giggling and his one killer acting tip.
Anthony Welsh is one of those actors who you just know is destined for big things – mainly because he’s been in them from the start. The former ‘Journeyman’, ‘Starred Up’, ‘Black Mirror’ man is now appearing in Channel 4’s hotly anticipated ‘Pure’, about a form of OCD called Pure O, which manifests itself through intrusive sexual thoughts in the female protagonist. As a look at mental health, as well as contemporary society, it is not to be missed. In this interview Anthony tells us about his approach to acting, the films that changed everything for him, and why lying to his mum about a lost piece of jewellery is his best performance to date…
What can we see you in next?
A brand new series called, Pure, on Channel 4. It’s about a young woman’s journey into discovering that she has a condition nicknamed Pure O, which is a form of OCD not widely known about. It’s based on the real-life memoirs of Rose Cartwright, although it’s not a direct adaption. I play Joe, the love interest of the main character, Marnie. They have a kind of will-they won’t-they type romance that’s quite sweet.
What was your first ever performance like?
The first time I ever performed was actually before acting. I used to rap back in the day and when I was about 17, I went to a hip-hop night with my Uncle at the Jazz Cafe in Camden. My Uncle knew the host and we were sat down with him before the show started. He said they had an open-mic section where anyone can jump up and perform before the main acts do their bit. He asked if I wanted to go up cause he’d call my name if I wanted. I’d only ever rapped in front of my friends so this would be a big leap, I hesitated ‘cause I was mad nervous. He could probably see the weight of pressure he dropped on me, so he said if he saw me put my hand up when he asked for people to come up onstage, he’d be sure to pull me up. I said cool. Later on in the night the place was packed and we were stood in the middle of the crowd just in front of the stage. The host, my Uncles mate, asks if anyone wants to come up and spit some bars. I remember sooo many hands going up, but I ended up just freezing and my hands stayed down, like, right down. Undeniably down! The host looked at me and pulled me up anyway! I went up in front of the packed-out audience and rapped one of the best verses I had. I was so shook I don’t even remember doing it. But I remember challenging any rapper to battle me! HA. It was all out of fear. I’m really grateful it happened. I got a picture of it somewhere. And big-up ‘Ty’ for doing that, he was the host, he’s a bit of a legend in the UK Hip-Hop scene.
What’s the best line you’ve ever delivered?
I did a reading of a new play once and had to say the line, “… well you know, swings and roundabouts”, as I was leaving the stage. I didn’t know what it meant. I’d never heard the phrase before and kept on forgetting to ask when we were rehearsing through. It was quite a rushed one-off, one day performance thing. Anyway, the audience came, I’d forgotten to ask again and we had started the reading. The line came, I said it and the audience burst out laughing! To the point where I had to ask myself if they were laughing cause I had delivered the line well or they could tell I didn’t know what I was saying! Not sure if it’s the best line I’ve ever delivered but it’s definitely one of the most memorable, cause I had no idea what it meant. I still don’t. But you know, swings and roundabouts…
What do you love about acting?
Learning new skills. Every role demands something different of you and hopefully, if you’re challenged enough, you get to learn more about yourself, about the world and your understanding of it.
Who’s the funniest person you’ve ever worked with?
It’s probably between Javone Prince and Abdul Salis. I had to ask Abdul one day in rehearsals not to talk to me for the day cause he’d given me a headache from laughing so much the day before! He honestly gave me a headache. Javone is one of those people that can make anything funny, anything. It’s a gift. Those kind of people really make rooms a joy to be in.
Do you learn your lines or tape them to furniture?
The line in the movie Tropic Thunder sums it up nicely. “I don’t read the script, the script reads me”.
How well behaved are you behind the scenes?
If another actor or actress gets the giggles and can’t stop, it’s usually down to someone to step-in in a very serious tone and remind them of the importance of getting the next take right. But that person isn’t me. It’s not me. They. Can. Not. Rely. On. Me. They just can’t. I’m not the guy. I’m right there with you losing it as well. I’m a liability in that sense. Other than that. I’m pretty well behaved to be fair.
What are you reading at the moment?
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala. And Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. They were both gifts.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I honestly didn’t know what I really wanted to do or be until I started acting in my twenties. Whenever I was asked I didn’t know what to say, so I would say whatever I thought sounded noble, or admirable like a Lawyer or a Doctor or something. But I had no interest in it. I think I had too many hobbies to think about a career in anything.
How did you get to where you are today?
Quite simply, my family. Every choice they made granted me the opportunities to follow my passions and fail early, which I think is essential for any kind of real success. They never put any pressure on me to do any one thing, which led me to doing whatever I enjoyed doing the most. My mum didn’t work for a few years after I was born and taught me how to read. My Dad made sure my brother and I were busy with different activities after school. My Uncle inspired a lot of my ambition, he’s actually the one who suggested I tried my first acting class when I got older. Without my family I wouldn’t be here.
Was there a film or TV show that changed everything for you?
When I think back, these shows didn’t make me realise I wanted to start acting, but they were definitely an early inspiration, I was imitating them for years. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Real McCoy and anything Wesley Snipes was in, during the 90’s.
Who do you think is the future of acting?
I think there are artists that come along once in a while and really change the game. They make us see another dimension to an already well explored world, artistically. Marlon Brando was one. He came along and the whole style of acting changed after him. But he also had a great teacher, Stella Adler. Maybe the future of acting is in our teachers and mentors, I don’t know.
What’s your best acting performance so far?
Convincing my mum I hadn’t lost the ring she bought me for my 16th birthday. I was able to confess years later when she found it down the side of the couch!
Last meal you had?
I don’t cook as often as I’d like to but I just made a potato, chickpea and spinach curry with brown rice, avocado and broccoli. It bangs. If I do say so myself.
Drink of choice?
I bought a water distiller a couple of years ago cause the water in London is so hard. But once you distil it, it’s pure H20, so it’s much softer. I love it. But sometimes an Appletiser, if I’m feeling really naughty.
Favourite place to relax?
Might sound a bit weird, but after a drive, when I park up, I really enjoy just sitting in the car for awhile. I find it really chilled. I might catch up with someone on the phone and just stay there for a bit, even when I could just go inside my own place and do the same.
Who would you like to act with?
There’s quite a few, but two would be Olivia Colman and Regina King. They’re queens in this acting thing. Absolute masters.
Hero growing up?
I wanted to be just like my Uncle D growing up. He played basketball and was a DJ. He collected comics and I would spend hours trying to draw them. He was the coolest person I knew. Now I know much better obviously! Just kidding Uncle D.
What are the three greatest films of all time?
Of all-time means you would had to have seen every single film ever made right? I can’t do all time, I don’t know who could. But I’ll do my favourites. The Five Heartbeats, White Men Can’t Jump, Hook, I’m gonna cheat and do notable mentions: The Shawshank Redemption, Boys N The Hood and Mo’ Better Blues.
Where would you hold your 100th birthday party?
I’d hire a basketball court and have the celebration there so I could twist up all my grandchildren after the speeches were done. Let the whole family know I still got it!
Are you in love?
It is what it is.
What is your worst habit?
I click my knuckles. I stay up too late. I work out for two months and take six months off.
What was the last thing you really regretted?
I went to Thailand and ate some food I shouldn’t have. I’ll leave it there.
Who is your role model?
I don’t think I have a singular role model. The people I’ve aspired to be like throughout my life so far have been the people I’ve had around me. I’ve been influenced by them so much, which is probably true for most people. They say look at six of your closest friends and you’ll see yourself, or something along those lines. I think I’m doing well when I look at it that way. Of course, there are actors and actresses or people in general whose work I’ve admired so much I’ve wanted to emulate them, but in terms of a role model I don’t think that’s how it’s been for me.
Are you nice?
I mean, I’d say so. Who would say they’re not nice? You’d probably have to ask other people about me. If they say no they’re lying though!
Name one thing you do that annoys other people and you can’t understand why.
I smell my food before I eat it.
Do you think masculinity is changing?
I don’t know if masculinity is changing. I don’t think I know what masculinity really is. I think the way we think about masculinity is changing and what we understand it to be. And that’s pretty cool.
Give us one killer acting tip.
A friend of mine, Abram Wilson, was an incredible trumpet player. He passed away a few years ago. He was teaching me how to play the trumpet for a job we were both on. He was from New Orleans in the U.S. and he spoke with this light, smooth southern cadence. In our first session when talking about playing, he told me “Ninety percent of this thing is relaxation”. Even the way he said it relaxed me. Ninety percent. I’ve tried to apply his quote to everything I do and I think acting in particular really benefits from it. Focused, engaged and even energetic, but still relaxed.
Anthony Welsh is in PURE on Channel 4 weekly from Wednesday 30th January at 10pm.
Full series will be available, free to view or download, on All 4 after the first episode
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