Vicky McClure: This can be a 9-5 job... but it's the best 9-5 job I know of!
I Am Nicola, the first in a trilogy of dramas exploring emotive themes, stars Vicky McClure and Perry Fitzpatrick. Georgia Humphreys reports
You 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 film and TV 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 annoyed because she does all the housework or getting annoyed 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. Over the course of a 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.
"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 brilliant, because I've worked with him since I was 11."
Although they had the bare bones of a script to work with, the piece is an improvised drama. "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," says Fitzpatrick.
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.
"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."
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."
Fitzpatrick adds: "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'.
"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 that she really embraced and completely 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, so metimes, with long series, you get tired, life gets in the way, things happen.
"It just becomes your day job, 9-5pm, and it's the best 9-5pm I know of!"
I Am Nicola, Channel 4, Tuesday, 10pm