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Interview with Eugene O’Brien – writer of IFTA-winning TV series ‘Pure Mule’
05 Oct 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Garrett Lombard as Scobie in Eugene O Brien's 'Pure Mule'
Before ‘Love/Hate’, ‘Clean Break’ and ‘Raw’, there was ‘Pure Mule’, Eugene O Brien’s wildly popular 2004 RTÉ series that followed the rural adventures and misgivings of Scobie, Seamie and the gang.

Responsible for launching the careers of actors such as Simone Kirby, Garrett Lombard and Charlene McKenna, as well as inspiring the establishment of Film Offaly, the county’s very active film commission, the effects of ‘Pure Mule’ are still indelibly felt in the region today.

A ‘Pure Mule’ 10th anniversary night will be held at the 2015 OFFline Film Festival in Birr on Friday, October 9th where O’Brien and director Declan Recks (both Offaly natives) will be in attendance and will take part in a Q&A.

Here, O’Brien talks the lasting effects of ‘Pure Mule’, the OFFline Film Festival and the very minimal possibility of a Scobie Down Under in the future..

IFTN: Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since ‘Pure Mule’ first aired – it premiered to a lot of acclaim and attention which isn’t surprising considering it’s darkly comic look at rural Ireland and the familiar characters within that realm that wasn’t really seen before…

Eugene O’Brien: ‘Yeah, I suppose there hadn’t really been much Irish drama series before that even. Back then, more money had just become available and the Drogheda-set ‘Love is the Drug’ had just aired the year before us and that was a great show. We premiered in 2005 after three years in development. Originally in 2001, Channel 4 was involved too but they dropped out and the project was dead for a year. RTÉ then came back on board in 2004 and we were back on. We shot for 12 weeks in places like Banagher, Birr and Tullamore in Offaly as well as Moate in Westmeath.’

The response of the show must have blown you away – a hit with audiences and critics - going on to win five IFTA Awards…

‘It was great – you never have any idea when you’re writing how something will be received. You just concentrate on getting the scripts right. I have to say that the whole process of ‘Pure Mule’ was a fantastic experience and I can’t say that about every project I have been involved in [laughs]. We had a great team – Declan Recks – who I work with a lot directed the first three while Charlie McCarthy directed the other three. They were brilliant as were the cast. We found some great young actors like Simone Kirby and Garrett Lombard – it was Charlene McKenna’s first gig too really. The people of Offaly were amazing in helping us get it made too. It was just a joyous experience making it and we hoped the audience would respond to it and they did so that made it all the better.’

We just premiered on a Tuesday night – there was very little publicity. Today, a new show like ‘Clean Break’ is on every bus in Dublin. Back then, you just came out on a Tuesday and f**k all people would know about it [laughs]. But, very steadily the audience built and it was amazing to see it catching on.’

There has been a lot of television shows over the past 10-15 years that have faded into obscurity so it must be icing on the cake now to see ‘Pure Mule’ have a bit of staying power in people’s minds…

‘It’s gratifying and I really can’t believe it’s been 10 years! It keeps you encouraged to see that you have done something that really resonates with people. It was the first time that a drama on rural Ireland had been done in the modern era so people recognized a lot of themselves in it I think. It’s hard enough to get films and television dramas to the screen – it’s a business that hits you with a lot of ups and downs so to have done something like ‘Pure Mule’ is extremely gratifying and inspiring.’

The three actors you mentioned earlier – Simone Kirby, Garrett Lombard and in particular Charlene McKenna - have went from strength to strength since ‘Pure Mule’ – does it give you a kick now to hear how well their careers are going knowing how much of a hand ‘Pure Mule’ played in it?

‘We were lucky as we had so many great young actors get their big break on that show. It’s great to see them doing so well – Garrett, Simone, Charlene and actors like Dawn Bradfield who will be at the celebrations on Friday. It is kind of sad too because the great Tom Murphy has since passed away. He played Seamie in the show and I think it’s sad now looking back over the episodes because he went so young. He was a great loss to everyone in film and theatre in Ireland – what a great talent.’

The show not only served as a breakthrough for actors but also inspired Film Offaly, the county’s film commission which is really bringing up some fantastic filmmakers now..

‘There are a lot of great people coming through. Mark Noonan’s film ‘You’re Ugly Too’ (which will screen at OFFline) is a really lovely film. Paddy Slattery is doing loads of great stuff and I think OFFline’s shorts will also show a lot of other talented young filmmakers too. Film Offaly are very active in trying to get people to film in Offaly. They very kindly say that we inspired them to set up the Film Commission and I’m delighted we got a chance to show off the county the way we did. Offaly is a much-maligned county [laughs]. But there are a lot of wonderful places in the county just waiting to be discovered.’

The 2009 edition of ‘Pure Mule: The Lost Weekend’ was a timely affair as it threw Scobie and co into the depths of modern day Ireland – recession and all. We last seen Scobie heading to Australia – any plans to bring Scobie back home for a new series now that the recession is over?

‘You never know, there could be [laughs]. I would love to do a Scobie Down Under actually! Go to Australia and see what he is up to six years later.’

On a personal note then, what are you working on at the minute other than dreaming up Scobie Down Under?

‘I wrote some episodes of ‘Red Rock’ earlier this year and as well as that, myself and Declan Recks are developing something together. We have been very close to making films in the past and they haven’t happened – the usual development hell story [laughs]. But, we are very close now on two projects – one project in particular and we will know very shortly whether it’s going to happen or not so we have all the Child’s of Prague out in the garden. Fingers crossed.’

Short term then, I am sure you are looking forward to celebrating ‘Pure Mule’ at the event on Friday, October 9th…

‘Yeah, it will be nice. We will show an episode and there will be a Q&A after and a few pints I presume [laughs]. I will stay on then as I am judging the International Short Film competition the next day. There was a great response to this competition last years – lots filmmakers from all around Europe travelled to Birr for it which was amazing. Hopefully we will still be alive by the Sunday!’

The OFFline Film Festival takes place from October 7th-11th. Events include the ‘Pure Mule’ 10th anniversary celebration as well as the 57 Hour Filmmaking Challenge where teams of filmmakers will register on Thursday 8th, then will shoot and edit their short film in and around Birr. They’ll have access to equipment, locations and a database of local actors and extras. The winning film will be guaranteed a slot at the 2015 Galway Film Fleadh, as well as a €3,500 post-production studio rental. To register, go to http://www.offlinefilmfestival.com and click on the Challenge tab.

For more information on all screenings and events at the 2015 OFFline Film Festival, go to www.offlinefilmfestival.com.

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