It’s a mark as to how much ‘Love/ Hate’ has entered the public consciousness that Tom Vaughan-Lawlor rarely goes a day without being approached by a fan of the RTÉ show. “I get a lot of the ‘King Nidge’ thing,” he smiles as he relaxes on a break from filming. “It’s very interesting people’s association to that particular character, and the way in which they respond to him. It’s funny, we were out on the quays one day outside this pub and these two guys go by on a jarvey and one of them shouts at me ‘Oi Nidge! You’re getting a bullet” It’s very funny,” he laughs.
Jason Barry(Dano) and Peter Coonan (Fran)
On a breezy May morning in the Dublin suburb of Donnybrook, IFTN is on the set of the much-anticipated third season of ‘Love/Hate.’ There’s one week to go on an 11-week shoot and Vaughn-Lawlor, who plays likeable but dangerous gang boss Nidge, notes that the crew are itching to “cut loose and have a big party” after a long three-months of filming that has required lengthy 10 to 12-hour days on-location across the capital.
Today’s location involves a scene outside a mocked-up Garda station but Vaughan-Lawlor can give no more information. Nor can his fellow stars Peter Coonan (Fran), Charlie Murphy (Siobhan), Aoibhinn McGinnity (Trish) and new cast member Jason Barry, who are all present but, like Vaughan-Lawlor, are all tied into non-disclosure agreements in relation to the forthcoming series’ plot and character details. What is known though is that, following the exit of Aidan Gillen’s character John Boy, the focus of this series will very much be on Vaughan-Lawlor’s Nidge.
Aoibhinn McGinnity and Charlie Murphy
“I feel like a different character in each series,” says Vaughan-Lawlor, who can’t speak highly enough of creator and writer Stuart Carolan’s scripts. “So in the last series I was in John Boy’s slip stream so he was in the direct line of fire, and I was in his shadow. Now I’m in the direct line of fire and so the stakes go up and the pressure does take its toll on Nidge. So, what’s great about this series is that the timeline is squeezed. So whereby the previous series were set over several months, this whole six-part season takes place over a couple of weeks and as a result I think the tension is just through the roof. It feels like, in terms of the stakes, the whole show has just dramatically gone up a couple of levels. It makes the playing of it all the more intense.”
That intensity translates on screen. Meeting the five actors, and particularly Vaughan-Lawlor, it’s notable how (thankfully) different their off-screen personas are to their on-screen characters. Unlike Nidge, Vaughan-Lawlor talks in a well-to-do, almost English accent and has the manners of a gentleman to match. You get the feeling that it must take time for him to get into character each time he arrives on-set?
“Do you know, it’s written so well and we’re dressed so well, and our make-up and our hair is so good that you just have to look at yourself in the mirror and you’re good to go,” he says. “I always think as an actor that the hardest parts to play are the ones that are very close to you, where there’s not that much of a gap between you and the character. When there’s a big gap between me and the character, and your imagination has all this space to play with, it’s not that hard to get into. There are certain types of music you might listen too; certain types of film you’d look at for inspiration, or certain types of books and newspapers you might read. That’s all helpful, but because you’ve a gap that you can fill with your imagination and the writing does that for you, it’s not actually that hard. (Laughs) That makes it sound like ‘oh, this is such a piss easy job’… but it’s just because it’s so well written and the production is so good, especially the locations - especially this year. The locations that we’ve been using are the real deal. We’re living in the world so much more this time around. Whereas in the first series I suppose we were in much more middle-class communities. This year we’ve really hit the streets.”
IFTN's Steve Cummins with
And hit the streets the crew certainly have. Filmed almost entirely on-location, Donnybrook a-side, the series has also used locations in Dolphin’s Barn, Coolock, Finglas, Ballymun, Cabra, Tallaght, Clondalkin and Castleknock, among others.
“Those communities have all been so welcoming. You know, we’re portraying their areas in the series and that takes a certain degree of responsibility that I think Stuart (Carolan) takes very seriously,” says Vaughan-Lawlor. “I have to say what has amazed me this year is how welcoming people have made us in their communities. And Stuart wants that authenticity. He doesn’t want a version of a life, he wants the real deal.”
“I think that if Stuart had his way, there’d be no actors in the show,” laughs cast newcomer Jason Barry, who will play rival inner-city gang boss Dano in the new series and is best known for his role in Hollywood blockbuster ‘Titanic’. He remembers one day that stood out for him on-set this year.
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Aoibhinn McGinnity
“It was one of the first days that I was shooting on ‘Love/ Hate,’” he smiles. “Actually it was the very first day, and me and Tom were walking down Capel Street or somewhere shooting a scene and this lad walks up and goes “Alright Nidge!” I thought he was in the scene! But he wasn’t! It just goes to show you how on-the-street Nidge is.”
Barry is the newest member to a tight-knit ‘Love/ Hate’ crew and can’t speak highly enough of the experience. “There's a wonderful bunch of people involved. Great actors, great crew, David Caffrey the director leads the charge. It’s just a great atmosphere on-set and a great bunch of people. Even though you’re making something that’s dramatically tough, there’s a great sense of humour behind the camera. It all comes from the top; it all comes from David Caffrey who is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best directors that I’ve worked with. He holds the piece together very, very well.”
All five actors are quick to praise what Caffrey has brought to the series. “He’s like a child on-set,” laughs Waterford actress Charlie Murphy, who has played Siobhan since the first season. “He keeps it all light and that’s what you need,” adds Aoibhinn McGinnity, whose strong Monaghan accent is a world apart from her character Trish’s rough Dublin brogue. “He knows exactly what he’s doing and he keeps it all light and it’s brilliant. If he became overly aware about how little time we have or how intense it was, that would just catch on and everyone would be unable to perform.”
Coonan, now settled into his role of Fran after joining the cast last year, adds of Caffrey: “He works very hard but he also becomes a mate on-set and that’s important when you trust a director and he trusts you. The first year you’re kind of looking for a bit of recognition to make sure that you’re playing the character right but the second year it’s like you’ve created the character so Caffo says ‘I don’t need to look for that anymore’. He makes it very easy on-set to be honest.”
All five are quick to point to the crew as the real stars of ‘Love/ Hate’. “The crew are in every day for 11 weeks,” says Murphy. “We’re not in half as much as them, so morale has to be kept high – and it is. There’s no weak links and that’s why it’s such a success. If there was one person that was negative, it would just catch on. But with the crew, it’s like a dance at this stage. They’re really tight and just get it done.”
Vaughan-Lawlor adds: “I think the three stars of the show, beside the actors and the writers are David Caffrey the director; Gail Munnelly who is the first AD and David Odd, who is the Director of Photography. They are the engine of our whole show and without them we’d be totally lost.
“They all have a different impact. David (Caffrey) is the one who brings this manic energy. One minute he’ll have a brilliant acting note, the next a great shot, another minute he’ll crack a joke that just totally lightens the mood on-set. Gail just runs the whole thing. She has so many balls in the air and can just run the whole show, and David Odd just sees everything in shots. He just has the most brilliant eye for images and shots.
“Gail also keeps the two Davids in check. You know, they’re running around going ‘we’ve got to do this or that’ and Gail’s going ‘yeah that’s all very well but you’ve got like five minutes to get it done’. But they’re the engine and when you step on set and they’re there all-day, every day it’s great. You feel very lucky.”
Lucky is also a feeling all five share when they sit down to read their scenes each day from Stuart Carolan’s much-praised scripts. “The scripts are as good if not better this year,” says Coonan. “The storylines are just immense…. I don’t know where Stuart gets them.”
Jason Barry, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Charlie Murphy, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Peter Coonan
The Leopardstown–born actor adds that he thinks the show will continue to change Irish television. “It’s raised the bar completely. This is the Irish ‘Sopranos’ or the Irish version of ‘The Wire’. You know it’s hard and gritty and it gets down to the core of the issues at hand.” Barry nods in agreement; “It is a step up without a shadow of a doubt. This show could sell overseas and I’m sure that they’ll try and do that. It’s a weighty show and it looks brilliant, it’s written brilliantly and it’s a got great actors in it. It’s as good as you’ll see anywhere else.”
One young actor to look out for is Vaughan-Lawlor’s 14-month old son Freddie who was brought on to set in the second series to play Nidge’s young son and reprises the role in the forthcoming series. Vaughan-Lawlor smiles as he recalls a recent on-set incident
“It was very funny the other day,” he smirks. “My wife (Claire Cox) is an actor as well and she was on-set as me and Aoibhinn were doing a scene. There’s this bit where a vase gets knocked over and Freddie starts crying. Then Claire, who has been on loads of big sets in the UK and America, walks straight into the shot and was like, ‘No, sorry he’s crying’.” I was so mortified. I was like, ‘I’m so sorry everyone’.”
‘Love/Hate’ is an RTÉ funded Octagon Films production produced by Suzanne McAuley, Steve Matthews and executive produced by James Flynn. The third series is due to air on RTÉ this autumn.
Look at a full gallery of images on the set of 'Love/Hate' here.