Signs of the times

Con won an Olivier Award for his work on Blood Brothers

By David Hennessy

Haywell Atwell has been starring in ITV’s gripping drama filmed in Dublin, Life of Crime. The tale unfolds over three decades with the first episode finding Hayley’s character Denise Woods as an idealistic WPC. When Woods and Detective Ray Deans, played by Richard Coyle, discover the body of a 15 year old girl, Woods becomes single minded in her pursuit of the culprit, even going against the orders of her superior, DI Ferguson.

Ferguson is played by Con O’Neill who won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 1988 for his work as Mickey in Blood Brothers, a role he was also nominated for a Tony Award for. Con was also nominated for an Olivier for his portrayal of Joe Meek in Telstar, a role he reprised for the screen adaptation. His screen credits include Criminal Justice and the mini-series, The Bible. In 2006, Con was presented for the Irish World Award for Best Actor.

Con told The Irish World how much he liked shooting the series in Dublin: “I did (enjoy it). I know Dublin very well because my mum and dad are from Dundalk so I’ve been to Dublin a lot but I  haven’t worked there for about twenty years. Lovely (to return), it’s changed a lot and I did have a lot of downtime so I spent a lot of time walking around.”

His co-stars Atwell and Coyle are no strangers to filming in Ireland with Atwell working there on Jimi Hendrix film, All is by My Side while Coyle has shot Grabbers and The Food Guide to Love there. Who was showing who around? “We never had downtime together really. I think me and Richard went out once or twice for a couple of jars but that was it really. The long hours are kind of a downer on long nights out. I had a great time. I had never worked with either of them before but I am a big fan of them both. The main draw of this was working with Hayley because I think she’s exceptional really and all my scenes are with her so it was a no brainer. When they asked me to do it and I found out she was playing the part, it was a ‘where do I sign?’ kind of thing.”

This feeling appears to be mutual as the Golden Globe nominated Atwell has spoken of her delight to be working with Con, an actor she met when she was seven years old and had a crush on: “I bumped into her a couple of years ago at an awards do and she told me the story then which is very flattering but I can’t remember, it’s so long ago. Blood Brothers was such a whirlwind of a time because it was really my first gig. I had done a couple of plays before that in regional theatre and Blood Brothers was kind of my big break so to speak and so it is still very much a whirlwind all of that, but I’m delighted that she remembers me. That’s very flattering.”

Con with Life of Crime co-stars, Richard Coyle and Hayley Atwell

Set against the backdrop of historical events such as the Brixton riots and the death of Princess Diana, Life of Crime documents changing times in Britain and the police force as well as Denise’s own story: “I thought it was a brilliant idea. I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before really, especially with a female protagonist. I think it’s a very interesting line to take dealing with a woman who is in a very masculine environment and how that changes over the years. We briefly touched on it all with the Helen Mirren character in Prime Suspect but I don’t think we had ever seen in one drama the process over three decades for a woman in a male environment. I did think it was ambitious, an interesting story and a really good choice to have Jim (Loach) direct it because he’s very much made it feel like a grainy documentary and I think that really balances well with the writing. I think ambitious telly is the only way forward, we’ve been far too safe for far too long.

“I find that with a lot of TV, it’s quite bland and quite safe and then occasionally you get things like this or you get Criminal Justice, a thing I did a few years ago, which are ground breaking because they’re distinct in their voice, they’re telling a story that hasn’t been told before, they are breaking boundaries and I think if you are going to do television, that’s the kind of television you should do or aim to be doing.”

Con receives his Irish World Award in 2006 from Mary McNulty (Managing Editor)

Con lights up when asked about the Irish World Award he collected back in 2006. “I had a great time,” he enthuses. “I had my mum and my dad with me, god love them. Of all the awards I’ve won in my life, and I’ve been lucky enough to win a few, that’s the one that has pride of place in my mum and dad’s house. I lost my dad recently, it’s devastating but to have him present on those nights meant the world to me.

“When I told my dad I wanted to be an actor, he ran screaming down the streets because they had no process of working out how to help me with that but they both encouraged it and I thought that was incredibly brave, so any time I could get them to participate in what I do was a joy and that night was particularly great because it was The Irish World. When I won that award, that was the one he called everyone back home to tell them I had won, not the Olivier, not the Tony, The Irish World award. It was a great night.”

For the full interview, see the May 25 print edition of The Irish World.



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