PURE’s Charly Clive on the sexist realities of being a woman in comedy

Scenes of the show’s star, Charly Clive, strolling onto a bus of naked strangers will have your sides splitting, but within the flick of a scene, your hearts will break.

Based on the memoir of real life Pure 0 sufferer, Rose Bretécher, the beating heart of this emotional rollercoaster of a drama is Charly, who plays the central character, Marnie. Charly finds herself landing her first TV role straight off the comedy circuit; PURE was her first TV audition.

PURE, Channel 4’s dark comedy drama about a young woman who has extreme sexual OCD – otherwise known as Pure O – is something we all need in our lives right now.

Here, Charly talks to GLAMOUR about destroying the stereotypes that surround OCD and why being a woman in comedy STILL comes with a heavy helping of misogyny…

PURE destroyed my inaccurate stereotypical idea of OCD…

I’d never read anything like PURE. I was on stage with my comedy partner and then I was approached for the role, auditioned and the next thing I knew I was in the production office being given a quick film school 101 in a few days, including costuming and dialect coaching. I’d never heard of Pure O and I don’t have OCD so I had a really stereotypical cartoon of it in my head which obviously I know now isn’t accurate. I couldn’t picture the intrusive thoughts at first that come with this level of OCD.

My first day of filming I shot with Joe Cole, the second my first heavy crying scene and the third… a sex scene!

My very first scene was with Joe Cole and I was really nervous to meet him because I was experiencing imposter syndrome. I kept thinking, ‘oh god, he’s going to smell me out as a fraud and someone’s going to ring an alarm and I’ll be booted out the building!’ But he was super chill, and I told him how I got the part and he was like, ‘woooah!’ It was great because I had someone I could eat lunch with! The second day of filming was my first really emotional, heavy crying scene, and the third day was a sex scene – so it was the baptism of fire!

Before filming PURE I had never been seen in a sexual way at all…

In my comedy arena I’ve never done anything provocative in any way or even been seen in a sexual way at all. I’ve never even had the roles where I’ve ever had to particularly think about what I look like naked so that was really weird thinking, ‘I’m going to have to take my top off, what’s that going to be like?’ But in reality, for the character in that scene, she wouldn’t be thinking, ‘oh my cellulite! What if I look weird in this bra?’ If I had’ve been thinking that, it would have been really inauthentic. All of my scene partners have either done a scene like that before or we would have really open dialogues about it so there wasn’t any weirdness. I was never blindsided by any of the nudity.

I turned being naked on screen into a form of empowerment…

I was really self-conscious as a teenager but my motivation going into the scenes was: if a 15-year-old watches it and they can identify, then that’s my job done! You can’t avoid someone watching and saying, ‘urghh that girl’s body is weird,’ but that’s also not my audience. I want to appeal to the people who say, ‘this show is really interesting and cool, nice bra!’ But ultimately, I can’t help people commenting on my body. Marnie is not a typical leading lady either and that’s refreshing in itself.

The naked bus scene was the hardest to film…

There is a scene where I walk onto a bus full of naked people. It was super cold and they overheated the bus because everyone was naked. With that many naked bodies on leather seats, there is a certain smell that develops after the 8th take!

The show taught me that there is a difference between thought and action. You are not your thoughts…

Everyone has intrusive thoughts at least a couple of times a day. I could really get my head around that. But I know the difference between my thoughts and actions and that I’m not my thoughts. You can look into your thoughts and you can get very philosophical about it but they don’t define you – they don’t have to! It’s your actions and your words that do. OCD is when the thoughts become increasingly frequent.

I had a real insight into how extreme the thoughts can be and how unless you have the right diagnosis or the right help with it how debilitating it could be. The show has ultimately given me a better vocabulary when talking about mental health. Mental health is rightly being discussed in the public eye now and most people have general idea of it but the nuance of it is harder to discuss – the spectrum is so large.

Why we should never make mental health the punchline…

You own the dramatic moments so much more if you have some type of comedy alongside it. The important thing about the show is tonally OCD is never the punchline, it is part of situations that are potentially funny but no one is making fun of. If Marnie’s the butt of the joke it’s not because she’s got OCD it’s because she’s done something odd or because she’s just a funny person – she’s never seen as hysterical.

Having Marnie’s character be female is so important for the comedy side of it because it’s nice to have a leading lady whose funny and not just funny because she’s kind of quirky and in the sky.

She funny, she knows she’s funny, she says funny things, she wants to get a laugh but she also makes crazy decisions as well. It also helps promote the discussion about sexuality by having a woman talking about sexual stuff so openly. We all still think if a woman talks about sex then everyone will stare at you, judge you and be shocked and appalled. But that isn’t the reality – there is so much power in talking about sexuality and mental health.

Having a funny female at the centre of this story breaks down the patriarchy and stereotypes around men and women…

For me, sometimes it feels like the norm is for people to think women don’t like sex and that they don’t enjoy sex as much as men. Previously, if you have seen a particularly sexually liberated woman, she’s been a slut and that’s such dangerous terminology. Going to a bar and having a one-night stand should be normalised – we show that as normal in PURE. I think you need to see people you would have in your friendship group doing things on TV.

The Hollywood version of what people should look like is really dangerous. I’m all for body positivity. I didn’t feel pressure to be any different and none of us were slathered in loads of makeup or uplift, so we didn’t have double chins.

Every woman is strong in her own right – we all go through periods – that’s a strength in itself!

People say the term ‘strong woman’ a lot in relation to female characters in entertainment right now. But I feel like I’ve got so many women in my family or people around me who, if you put them on paper, you wouldn’t stamp them with the strong woman label because we think of CEOs or fighter pilots as a woman doing something extraordinary.

But that’s absolutely not the case. Just to be frank, from a young age women have periods every month and every woman who goes through that is incredibly strong! It blows my mind that every woman goes through it and no one gets a day off work for it.

Or, all of a sudden, the world wakes up and thinks, ‘wow it’s amazing a woman is doing something impactful.’ But we have been doing it the whole time and not getting the credit for it. The more relatable, exciting and autonomous woman living in the present day we can get on TV the better!

As a female comic I have also seen a man do a whole set about how they’re a feminist and then they put their hand on my thigh at the bar!

The amount of times I’ve been at a comedy night and we’ve been introduced as like the prettiest thing on the bill is ridiculous. One time I had a male comic do a part of his set about me and he just talked about how I hadn’t really made any effort. He was saying, ‘I guess with all this feminism you don’t have to make any effort, she’s come here as one of the blokes with trainers and no makeup!’ What he did was totally undermine me before my set. I have also seen a man do a whole set about how they’re a feminist and then put their hand on your thigh at the bar!

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