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Island mentality

Peter Coonan with his screen brother Moe Dunford in a scene from the film.

David Hennessy talks to Peter Coonan about the forgotten Ireland depicted in Dark Lies the Island, getting away from his Love/Hate character Fran and getting the call from Ed Sheeran to be in his Galway Girl video

“It’s a unique untold story in my opinion,” Peter Coonan says of Dark Lies the Island. “It’s something that’s very true to Kevin’s style of writing. It is tackling the forgotten people in rural Ireland and it can turn into a darker, grimmer, bleaker kind of life: The stories of life that we try to kind of shelter away and sweep under the carpet, especially in Ireland. It’s more interesting to see the darker and greyer sides of life.

“It’s really a story about a family in a rural town where the patriarch is a greedy bloodthirsty businessman who is out for his own personal gain. He has taken control of most of the businesses in town. He’s taken everything that he wants, he’s left scraps for his kids.

“The father’s wife is in fact my long lost love since we were teens. That’s a bone of contention.

“I suppose he’s a representation of the greed of the country.”

Pat Shortt plays the greedy patriarch while Moe Dunford plays Peter’s brother.

“Due to his own personal ventures, his kids have been left behind. Through his own greed and stuff, he has neglected his children’s emotional needs and I think that’s why the two brothers have been through some turmoil within themselves and are at a crossroads.

“They have been living within a crossroads their whole life and now they’re stuck as well for various reasons and they’re both dealing with emotional and mental illnesses.”

The actor best known for playing Fran in Love/Hate believes a different Ireland came to light to many only after the end of the Celtic Tiger which was roughly when Kevin Barry’s book was written: “It was only then that people started to realise there’s a part of this country that we’ve left behind during all this boom, this prosperity and everything else.

“There were people who hadn’t even been touched by it so I think that’s where his stories came from. That’s quite bleak but in the darkness comes the shiniest of lights, the funniest of lights. Like Beckett says, there’s nothing funnier than unhappiness. I think he(Barry)’s well able to handle that dry sharp sense of humour that ordinary Irish people have when it comes to tragedies and mortality.”

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Peter laughs realising how he sounds and that he may not be making the film sound like a comedy: “It’s a very bleak picture I’m painting.”

Peter believes the storytelling, acting and cinematography all mould together really well. It has been said the film has almost a Coen brothers feel to it. Although he hasn’t heard this before, he sees where it comes from: “That’s the talent of Kevin as well, that he created a world that could be anywhere. It could be any forgotten place in middle America, it could be a place in the UK. It’s a uniquely Irish story but I think people can relate to it from any part of the world really.”

Many first got to known Peter from Love/Hate where he played ruthless thug Fran. Peter found himself staying away from such roles after the show came to a close: “This was the incredible thing about the show. It was zeitgeist in society and everyone was affected by it so I think in people’s subconscious people started wanting to make films reflecting the quality of Love/hate. Everyone wanted to make a crime thing. I’m sure it happened in America after Goodfellas.

“I was very conscious about certainly not diluting the hard work that went into Fran by taking on various roles like that. I’m not sure I would have been able to give 100 % into a character in the same ilk. I did a short film that wasn’t even connected to that world. During shooting it, someone said, ‘Can you just give us that Fran smile?’ And you’re just like, ‘Ah man, we’re not really doing that…’

Along with his Dark Lies the Island co-star Tommy Tiernan, Peter appeared in Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl video, playing the angry local hit by the Lowestoft singer-songwriter’s dart. How did he get the call for that? “I think it might be thanks to Fran. He was a big fan of the show, himself and Taylor Swift had been watching it on tour or something so he invited me through Twitter along to a concert. Then we kept in correspondence. Myself and Laurence Kinlan went up and it was great, met Ed again and hung out with him for a day or two, went to his concert in Dublin and had a sing song after one of the gigs so it was great.

“He’s a very nice guy. Very grounded, down to earth.”

Irish Film Festival London runs 20-24 November at Regent Street Cinema .

Dark Lies the Island plays  on Friday 22 November.

To win tickets to two films of your choice, email your details to [email protected].

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