Irish actress Niamh Algar is having a breakthrough career moment. The European-based actress stars in Ridley Scott’s new HBO Max sci-fi series Raised By Wolves, which premiered on Thursday, September 3. It’s about two androids raising human children as atheists on a distant planet after a religious war decimates Earth. Algar plays a woman who, along with her husband (Travis Fimmel), are part of a religious army whose ship crash lands on the mysterious planet, and the conflict ignites once again, this time with the children in the middle.
In an interview with Casting Networks, Algar — whose first name is pronounced “Neev” — said she first met with the show’s casting director, London-based Kate Rhodes James, who explained to her what the series was about. However, there was a time crunch for the audition. “I was due to fly to Ireland that night because I was starting a film the next day,” explained Algar, “so I had to get home really quickly, read the script, read the sides, and do a tape.”
After she sent in the tape, Algar decided to go one step further with another self-tape showing her character’s physicality. “I do a lot of boxing, so I went down to the gym, got my mates to spar with me, and sent the tape over so they could see a more physical embodiment of the character.”
It paid off, and now the actress is showcasing both her acting and physical chops on her widest stage yet with Wolves. Not bad for someone who once had a bit part as “Second Woman” in a 2015 episode of Vikings, a period piece that coincidentally starred her current on-screen Wolves husband, Fimmel.
Even back then, Algar never stopped working on her craft. As she slowly continued to build her career, taking on more prominent roles, the European industry began to notice. After her starring role in Shane Meadows’ British series The Virtues, Screen International named Algar “Star of Tomorrow” in 2018. The actress recalls the Virtues audition as one of her most memorable ones to date.
“It wasn’t like an audition,” Algar said. “Shane works through improv, so it was a 45-minute improv with an actor called Johnny Harris, who I look up to. I got completely lost in the character, and by the end of it, I was offered the role.”
Algar went on to win the BAFTA Breakthrough Brit Award in 2019, and now, one year later, with Wolves, she is making her grand entrance stateside. While being associated with a high-profile series does not make her nervous, if there are nerves to be had, Algar says it would be more on the set. But that is something she finds reassuring to a certain extent.
“It reminds me that I care about the job that I’m doing. It’s more of an excitement-nervousness. There is no chemical difference between nerves and excitement; it’s just where your head is at. With nerves. you’re worrying about doing it wrong; with excitement, you’re anticipating how cool or how fun it’s going be. For me, I want to make sure that when I’m doing a scene over and over, I can maintain that same energy and that same originality and authenticity.”
These days, with an entertainment industry that shut down due to COVID earlier this year, and is only now taking baby steps toward reopening, the world is decidedly in a different place than when Algar first landed her job on Wolves. As far as auditioning is concerned, Algar has noticed some changes to the casting process as a result. “Casting during lockdown has given more accessibility for actors to do self tapes because you can’t just fly to the United States anymore and get in the room with people.”
While the limitations presented by the pandemic has been a plus for actors who feel more comfortable filming their auditions at home, others thrive on in-person readings with casting directors. Luckily, Algar says she feels comfortable with both formats.
“I started in TV, and the first audition I landed was through a workshop,” recalled Algar. “It was exploring the character with other actors so the director could build up the dialogue with you in the room, see who you are, and what you’re going to bring to that role. I don’t mind taped auditions, but I do like being in the room.”
Whereas some actors find casting directors to be intimidating, Algar sees it differently. She credits London casting director Shaheen Baig, who cast her in her first TV series, as someone who set the tone on how she views them.
“To me, casting directors are not intimidating because they want you to be the character when you come in. They want you to get the role. A good casting director will always make you feel safe in that space.”