’20 years to become an overnight success’


David Hennessy chats to Barry Ward about White Lines, the hit Netflix murder mystery series set in Ibiza, taking Extra Ordinary to the London Irish Film Festival last year and how Ken Loach turned him into an ‘overnight success’

“There’s an exoticism to it which is nice for people to escape into during this particularly testing period of time,” Dublin actor Barry Ward tells The Irish World of White Lines. “Netflix certainly gave it a good push and it looks to have been top of the charts for a while. People are still watching it and talking about it which is good. The main response has been positive.”

The series sees Barry’s character Mike and his wife Zoe travel to Ibiza to receive the news that the body of Zoe’s brother Axel, who has been missing for 20 years, has been found. With Spanish police unwilling to investigate a crime that is so old, Zoe sets about finding out what happened to her DJ and club entrepreneur brother while Mike holds the fort at home in Manchester.

Seduced by the lifestyle and a dashing bouncer, Zoe forgets about her life and responsibilities at home. Although they have a teenage daughter, the pair met when Mike was Zoe’s carer after she threw herself out of a window due to the distress of her brother being missing.

“In a weird way I think the dynamic was never quite equal in terms of status, Mike being her carer when she was suffering from mental health issues and then they got into a relationship.

“It seems those roles never really changed even though they got married and had a family. I think that all got too much for Zoe and she needed to break out from under that so this whole Ibiza event kind of offered that opportunity to her which she grabbed with both hands.

“In a way it feels all of her actions are something she needed to get out of her system, there’s a lot of suppressed emotions there.

“Myself and Laura (Haddock who plays Zoe) had just worked together in a previous job, on BBC’s The Capture. It kind of made sense when White Lines came along then because it meant we had already done a huge part of the research. We already knew each other and had worked closely together. We had a shorthand and dynamic from a previous job so to go straight into White Lines together and start shooting it just means you have a history so it’s a short cut really into performing it as opposed to meeting for the first time and then trying to pretend you’ve been married for ten years or whatever. The fact that we had a ten week intensive shoot on a job just prior to going onto White Lines was a massive help.”

Of course, everyone is turning to Netflix for entertainment while stuck in doors. While it is no doubt, the series has benefitted from having a captive audience, it can also be a reminder of the travel and holidays people may have planned for this time of year that are unlikely to happen for the foreseeable.

“It’s so true. There’s a real freedom when you watch it that we’ve all been deprived of.”

Audiences have been impressed with Nuno Lopes, the Spanish actor who plays Boxer, the head of security for a powerful family on the island who starts an affair with Zoe.

“I would have thought as much because I worked with him. I saw him in action. He’s a great character. He’s a hero in many ways. I think it’s a brilliant performance because Nuno Lopes is completely different. He’s actually quite bookish and nerdish, he’s a very talented actor. He’s not like Boxer at all which is very impressive because he’s very convincing.”

The series leaves questions unanswered about whether Mike and Zoe’s marriage survives. Barry is hoping he makes a return in any second series.

1365_White Lines_Photo Nick Wall.RAF

“I have no idea whether or not Zoe is going to return to Manchester, to the normality and very drab surroundings in comparison to Ibiza, whether she’s going to settle back into that or she’s irrevocably changed.

“I don’t know how they would do a second season, how to match that if she’s just to go back to Manchester. I suspect she’s staying put. The only way I’m going to get a job out of it is if I go back to Ibiza which I would love, trying to get her back and maybe have a showdown with Boxer. I fancy my chances.

Playing the lead in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall made Barry an ‘overnight success’.

“One of the directors did say, ‘I’d love to see Mike coming back out here with an AK47, losing the plot and mowing a lot of them and just going crazy on everybody’s ass’. That would be fun.”

He couldn’t hit him with a car because Zoe has beaten him to that. “We’re running out of ways to kill people.”

Although he was just 13 years old when he made his screen debut in Roddy Doyle’s Family in 1994, it was starring in Ken Loach’s 2014 film about the deported Jimmy Gralton that propelled Barry towards his current success.
With parts in dramas such as The Fall, Rebellion, The End of the F**king World, Maze and the more recent Save Me, Too he has rarely been off our screens since.

“That opened up a lot of doors,” Barry says of working on Jimmy’s Hall. “Even though Ken Loach doesn’t set the box office alight, He’s so highly regarded in the industry and rightly so. Someone said jokingly, ‘it took 20 years for you to become an overnight success’.

“That was my first lead in a movie, that was 20 years after starring in Family. It’s an amazing showcase and since then, I’m very happy to say I’ve not been out of work.”

Based in London for 15 years now, Barry was working at a book shop in Finchley when his boss at the time would tell him to remember all the times he let him follow his acting passion when he was starring in a Ken Loach movie.
And Barry didn’t forget him when it happened.

“Yeah, he was a massive Ken Loach fan,” Barry remembers. “He was a big leftie and we used to always talk politics and film. He had a great knowledge of socialist film-making and socialist film-makers.

“Whenever I needed a favour which was to close up shop and attend an audition, he used to say, ‘Okay, just don’t ever forget me when you get your first lead in a Ken Loach movie’. I was working in a bookshop then but I had to leave. I was getting some gigs and he was downsizing so we had to part ways and we kind of lost contact.

“About five years after I left the job, I got the lead in a Ken Loach movie so I rang him up. I sought him out and found him and rang him up and I said, ‘Mike, you remember me? Come and meet me at the BFI and wear a nice suit’. I didn’t tell him any details at all. He was clueless and he came and met me on the bridge in a nice suit.

“I said, ‘Right, here’s your ticket, you’re going in that entrance and I will see you in 90 minutes’. And he still had no idea what was going on and then of course myself and Ken Loach walked out onstage to introduce the movie. He was suitably mindblown.”

Barry was selected when the BBC visited his school in Cabra to be the rebellious teenage son in the dysfunctional family of Ger Ryan and Sean McGinley in Michael Winterbottom’s Family which was written by Roddy Doyle. Although it was a massive opportunity, Barry describes it as pure chance.

“Gangs of us were picked out of school to audition. They had hundreds and hundreds of young fellas from around Dublin and they had these improv sessions and whatnot. Finally it came down to me really and they said, ‘Here’s the job’.

“I just thought, ‘Okay, what do I do now?’ I had no experience but it was an amazing opportunity and an amazing first job.”

Barry acted with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor in Maze.

Does Barry think he would have been an actor if it had not been for that chance encounter and bit of luck? “No way, I really don’t think so. Even when that did happen, I still wasn’t sure I was going to be actor. It was probably about six, seven years after that that I kinda thought, ‘Okay maybe this is something I can do’. But even then I thought it might just be a one off.

“I was doing the odd gig but I had no idea of how the industry worked. I had no idea of how the profession worked. I had no idea of the craft. I was just clueless. I was dropped into a job and given free rein and it was a role that suited me. I did that.

“Then I slowly learned you’ve got to be adaptable and you’ve got to shift and change and fit various other roles but I was still 14, 15 so you’re finding yourself and that requires enough full-time dedication.”

Working on 1999’s Sunburn with Cillian Murphy was a big milestone in Barry’s career as it was his first movie role.

“It was when I did my first feature movie and it was also Cillian Murphy’s first feature movie. His enthusiam and ambition and skill and talent were very infectious. He kind of convinced me: This is what I had to do. We had such a great time on that job and it was really life changing and then you make the conscious decision, ‘Okay, I’m going to dedicate a lot of time to make this happen’. Whereas before that I was just waiting for opportunity to knock but you really have to put yourself out there and work extremely hard to create those opportunities and I learned that around that time, I guess.”

Barry can also now be seen in Dating Amber where he and Sharon Horgan play parents. About teenage romance, the film is being spoke about as the new Normal People.

Although he started his career as a child, Dating Amber is another project that sees him playing a parent.

“I know. I don’t know if there’s any way back. I don’t know (If I’m happy about that). I’m still figuring that out.

“Working with Sharon Horgan was a joy. A big attraction to that whole job for me was to get to work with her and bounce off her. She’s fantastic. You learn so much from someone like that.

“There’s a lot of comedy in there and Sharon provides a lot of it. I think the movie balances comedy and serious stuff very well.”

A scene with Maeve Higgins from Extra Ordinary.

Barry brought comedy horror Extra Ordinary to the London Irish Film Festival where it was well received.

“It’s a good one to watch with a live audience. It’s a good film to bring to a festival.

“Something like that can find a real niche audience and I think it’s living up to that. It’s one of the most illegally downloaded movies of last year which tells you all you need to know.

“A movie like that is much less pressure on those Q and As. Something like Maze that could be quite contentious, it’s a different ball game the press junket, you’ve got to be really careful with what you say.

“Something like Extra Ordinary, outlandish comedy, the more outrageous your comments, the better.

“If you’re making a movie about sensitive subjects, you’ve got to lock up your tourette’s, ya know?”
Barry can also be seen in Save Me, Too with the second series of Lennie James drama returning to Sky earlier this year.

“That’s been doing really well. People really love that. The reviews are really strong again this year. I was going to say that’s another cult classic but actually I think it’s more widely popular than that, isn’t it?”

Could we see a third series? “I haven’t heard. I have no idea. It’s just whether there’s going to be anything in it for me. That’s all I care about,” he laughs.

White Lines is available on Netflix. Extra Ordinary is available on Netflix. Dating Amber is available on Amazon Prime. Save Me, Too is available on Sky on Demand.

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