Pollyanna McIntosh: Out of this world

Raised in Colombia and Portugal, amongst other places, Pollyanna McIntosh is a true child of the world – but she also resolutely Scottish and proud of it

Fri, Jul 4, 2014, 00:00

The fabulously named Pollyanna McIntosh is back in her hometown for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. We say hometown, but Pollyanna is, in fact, from a great many places. She spent years in Portugal and Colombia as a child. When she was just 16, she moved to London and became a model. She currently spends most of her time in Los Angeles. Yet she still sounds unmistakably Scottish. There is not a trace of up-speak or of softened consonants in her clipped voice. Well done, her.

“Oh, thank you,” she says. “I am glad that you said that. It depends whether I am in Edinburgh though. If you met me in London, you might be appalled at how English I sounded.”

There has been more globetrotting over the last year or so. This week, McIntosh turns up in Brendan Muldowney’s very impressive Love Eternal. Awarded best Irish film by the Dublin Film Critics Circle at this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, the picture follows a seriously depressed man as he seeks partners for suicide pact. He eventually ends up in the company of a young woman who has recently lost a child. Based on a Japanese novel by Kei Ôishi, the film is unsettling, moving and quite original.

A dark woman with firm, chiselled features, McIntosh owns the last third of the film. Somehow or other, despite the depths of her despair, her character becomes the eyes and ears of the audience.

“Yes. Despite the fact that she’s suicidal,” she says. “I must admit it was a bit of a grim business. But, at the same time, she is so outwardly positive. Carrying around that feeling was sometimes very saddening. You have to do your best impression of what it must be like to carry around that weight. That’s hard enough as a pretentious actress. It must be unimaginable in real life.”

Like quite a few recent Irish films, Love Eternal is an international co-production and, as a result, the film seems to take place in a spooky nowhere. Certain locations are recognisably Irish. Others seem distinctly continental (as we used to say). The effect adds to the dislocation at the movie’s heart.

“It was an Irish-Luxembourg production,” McIntosh explains. “So we shot in Cobh and we also shot in these lovely locations in Luxembourg. It’s funny. When I told people I was shooting in Luxembourg, they all said: ‘Oh great. You can go to France or Germany. ’ But I wanted to see Luxembourg.”

I think we’ve all said that at some point in our lives. Who doesn’t want to visit the country that gave us Jean-Claude Juncker?

“Actually, I did spend a weekend in Paris when I was there,” she says. “But Luxembourg was lovely. It was sort of an In Bruges experience: it’s beautiful, but small. Though there were fewer people falling off large towers than there were in In Bruges.”

McIntosh’s dad worked in international trade and, while she was a child, business took him to Portugal, South America and eventually back to Edinburgh. She is a child of the world, but she is happy to acknowledge Auld Reekie as her home city. This is where she passed through adolescence. It’s where she first caught the acting bug. She clearly developed a degree of self-confidence when quite young. Venturing down to London at the age of just 16 sounds like a brave move. Was she as psychologically robust as that suggests?

“I think so. Mind you, I was a bit of a naughty one when I was younger,” she says. “I was experimenting a bit. I am grateful to my parents because it was scarier for them. But I finished all my schooling; I had done all I needed to do. Unfortunately, I was entering into the world of modelling. So that has dangers. But I still had a great time.”

There must be something in the water over there. Just a few weeks, ago Karen Gillan, from far-off Inverness, was telling us the same story about venturing to London for modelling work before she had reached 18. The former Doctor Who companion didn’t remember any of the unpleasantness that trouble teenagers often encounter in that business. McIntosh’s comments suggest that she has a slightly different experience.

“Well, I never had anyone come on to me,” she says. “I never had any dangerous situations. But if you are young and want to work in the fashion industry and are not naturally skinny – which most girls are not – then you are forced to be unhealthy. That is what happened to me. I was forced to be anorexic. That made me very wary of doing anything that doesn’t allow me to celebrate my body. And that’s rare. I learnt how far you can go.”

In 2004, McIntosh made the move to Los Angeles. Jobs came her way on TV and in independent films. Somewhere along the way, she met and married Grant Show, also an actor. They divorced seven years later, and McIntosh remains impressively philosophical about the liaison.

“That was a learning experience,” she says. “Getting married and divorced really is a learning experience.”

Los Angeles can be an intimidating place for a young actress. On the one hand, you are at the centre of the industry. On the other, you are, well, at the centre of the industry. There is no escape from agents, insider gossip and desperate colleagues hungry for work. There are constant reminders that you are expected to hustle.

“Well, you pick your friends,” she says. “I have very supportive friends that are not mad or so ambitious. It is a mad house. It is all one industry. But it’s also where great artists gather. I don’t find it that pressurised. But it certainly is a culture shock when you arrive from Europe.”

McIntosh has been managing her career very cannily. Her appearance in Lucky McKee’s freaky The Woman, a hit at Sundance in 2011, announced her presence to the movers and shakers. Since then she’s had parts in Waterloo Road, Book Club and the recent, highly praised adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth. She will shortly be on her way to make an Argentinean film.

Meanwhile, always keen on writing and directing, she has been developing a film with Irish producers Fastnet Films. She can also be seen in Brian O’Malley’s buzzy suspense thriller Let Us Prey. The strange Irish film – set in a remote police station – premiered at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival where it picked up the Méliès d’Argent gong for best European Fantastic Film.

“I am off to the Galway Film Fleadh shortly to pitch my film for the first time,” she says. “And we shot Let Us Prey in Spiddal. So I am all about Galway these days.”

She really does belong to the world. OCH AYE, THE NEW: THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCOTTISH STARS Who is coming up behind the likes of Shirley Henderson and Kelly Macdonald to swell the next generation of Scottish actors? Well, as is the case in this country, Game of Thrones has proved a useful academy for up-and-coming Caledonian talent. Glaswegian Richard Madden, who starred as Robb Stark, will soon be playing Prince Charming in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Rose Leslie, who played the wild, untameable Ygritte in Thrones and also starred in Downton Abbey, was great in top weepie Now is Good and will shortly appear opposite Harry Treadaway in the promising Honeymoon. (Rose was in the Scottish papers last weekend after coming out in favour of the Union.) Kevin Guthrie, another Glaswegian, had great fun in jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith and will shortly start work on Terrence Davies’s much-anticipated adaption of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song.

Our spies also point us towards Edinburgh’s Chloe Pirrie, star of the BBC’s upcoming The Game. Another graduate of Sunshine on Leith, Freya Mavor has been seen in Skins, The White Queen and the eccentric indie film Not Another Happy Ending. Freya starred opposite Karen Gillan, former Doctor Who companion, and that Inverness girl might be the most promising of the bunch. This year, illan can be seen in horror flick Oculus and superhero ensemble piece Guardians of the Galaxy. ‘