With ‘Wrecking The Rising’ airing over the weekend, we catch up with director Ruán Magan about the time-travel 1916 series.
Produced by Stephen Rooke of Tile Films with funding from TG4, the BAI and Section 481, this series is TG4's flagship project to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising and will be broadcast at 9.30pm on Saturday 23rd, Sunday 24th and Monday 25th April 2016 to mark the actual 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising – in 1916, Easter Monday fell on 24th April.
The series follows three modern-day Irishmen, Ernest (Owen McDonnell – ‘An Klondike’), Tom (Sean T. Ó Meallaigh – ‘The Callback Queen’/‘An Klondike) and Seán (Peter Coonan – ‘Love/Hate’), who endure listless and unexciting lives living in Dublin. Their only enjoyment comes from staging re-enactments of the Easter Rising. After being mysteriously transported back in time to 1916 they cause a huge blunder that has the potential to wreck the Easter Rising before it has even begun. Somehow they must keep history on course – and figure out a way to return to the future.
Here we talk to Ruán about one of TG4’s most ambitious series ever.
IFTN: When James Phelan came to you with this extremely ambitious script - what were the initial thoughts that ran through your head?
Ruán Magan: ‘Several things struck me immediately on reading James' scripts. James had performed a miracle - managing to be historically accurate while at the same time undermining and disrupting our precious history with a dark comedic hand. In early drafts we realized that the potential of the premise - hopeless modern re-enactors go back in time and cause a mess - could be pushed further so the final drafts became more destructive, darker and more playful as our heroes begin to realise the power they have in knowing the eventual outcome of the Rising.’
You have a familial connection to 1916 and you also directed part of the Liam Neeson narrated documentary - was it attractive for you with Wrecking The Rising to take a completely different slant?
‘My grand uncle was a fellow called The O Rahilly, who was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers.. He died a tragic death towards the end of the Rising, bleeding to death over the course of a night and a day from his wounds. He wrote a note to his wife and children as he died - extraordinarily poignant. As a kid we were constantly told about The O Rahilly and his sacrifice to the point that you end up feeling your life can never be worthwhile unless you make a sacrifice of significant magnitude. All ones actions end up compared to his life and death. So, here I am with the opportunity of directing a drama series about the Rising where we have the chance to change history. Could we save the O Rahilly? You'll have to tune in to find out...’
How did you garner such a fantastic cast?
‘The cast is unbelievable. The intention from the beginning was to cast this project as diversely as possible to mirror the diversity of men and women who took part in the Rising and to enrich the drama with character.’
‘With casting director, Louise Kiely we cast far and wide to find unexpected faces and were happily surprised to find so much interest. Word spread of the magic of the scripts and the insanity of the project - people just wanted to be part of it. Peter Coonan was a natural choice for the part of Seán - we had no idea whether his Irish would be up to scratch so Peter and I met up - it turned out he had spoken Irish since he was four. Job done - Peter was perfect. Owen McDonnell and Seán T Ó Mealaigh were natural choices for his buddies.’
‘What is particularly interesting is that the series is truly bi-lingual, Irish and English used in equal measure. And the Irish our characters speak is 'street' Irish, a modern idiom, full of "fecks" and slang.’
With ‘An Klondike’ sweeping the IFTA's and other dramas such as ‘An Bronntanas’ airing to acclaim in recent years - the momentum is very much with TG4 drama, isn't it?
‘TG4 have always been brave in their commissioning. It has born extraordinary results. Go mbeidh said beo go deó.’
How do you think audiences will take to ‘Wrecking The Rising’?
‘I really don't know. Some days I think Live-Line is going to go mad and other days I feel people are going to enjoy the fact that we're messing around with something so precious. We've worked hard to produce the finest values we could achieve within the limitations of our budget - so hopefully people will enjoy what they are seeing and hearing. The drama is intense - the comedy is understated, cheeky. And for history buffs, for people who really know their history, hopefully there will be a deeper experience. I'd the privilege of being involved as director on 1916, narrated by Liam Neeson and combining what I'd learnt through that experience with James Phelan's deep research we're hoping we've made a drama series that hits many bells and works on multiple levels.’
‘Then again, maybe they'll hate it! You never know.’
What is next for you?
‘I'm currently working as creative director of the GAA's ‘Laochra’ show which is really exciting - a cast of 3000 and a live audience of 82,000. We're all working to create a once in a lifetime emotion in Croke Park, making one of the largest stadiums in Europe shrink in size through the show until it feels intimate and the audience feels part of something wonderful.’
‘Then it's onto a Discovery Channel documentary on Pearl Harbour which is being produced by 360. There's a feature, ‘No Fury’, in the pipeline for later in the year and a new staging of the theatrical performance, And Spring Shall Come, produced by Abhainn.
‘Wrecking the Rising’ goes out on three consecutive nights on TG4 at 9.30pm starting on Saturday 23rd April.