You may remember him from his 90s heyday, when he was riding high on the charts with number one hits such as ‘Unchained Melody’, with his ‘Soldier Soldier’ co-star Robson Green.
Long before he was ‘Up on the Roof’ with Green however, Jerome Flynn was a serious actor who starred in the award-winning TV series ‘Soldier Soldier’ for four years.
After nearly a 15-year break from prime time television, and a six-year break from acting entirely, 2011 saw Flynn make a sensational TV comeback in HBO epic ‘Game of Thrones’, in which he plays cunning sellsword Bronn.
Back on screens again this month, this time as rough-around-the-edges East London detective, Bennet Drake, Flynn talks to IFTN about falling back in love with acting, why Irish crews feel like family to him, and how the last 10 years has affected his character choices.
Jerome, how familiar were you with the Jack the Ripper tale before you signed up for ‘Ripper Street’? I didn’t know much except they never caught him.
What made you sign up for the part then? It’s the world in which [Richard Warlow] paints, it’s a very rich and textured world of London at that time, and as an actor, it’s characters that, it’s not just a kind of episodic to have a crime and solve it, yes that kind of tends to happen, but the characters of these, that’s the strong element that runs through.
The series is centred around the lives of three East London police, Matthew Macfadyen’s character Inspector Reid, who we are told wants nothing more than to catch the Ripper; Adam Rothenberg’s character Captain Jackson, who mysteriously comes over from America; and your character, Detective Drake… That creates a nice dynamic with my character, Drake, because I think Jackson, what he represents, and that he is very much out of his suit and free and does what he wants, whereas Drake’s very buttoned up. He has a wounded past and he’s trying to make himself a better man and be a gentleman but he can’t button it up.
So he’s jealous of Jackson, and also he’s jealous of the fact that he takes Reid’s attention, because Reid obviously has a thing going with him and enjoys his company and bounces off him, whereas it’s harder for Reid to bounce off him, apart from physically, in terms of intellectually, I don’t do it for him. I’m trying to convince him, but maybe a couple of series down the line, so that’s a nice dynamic.
Drake has been described as being incredibly loyal to Reid. I am, in my own way. He’s like the model of what I’d like to be and what he has in my mind, it’s like I’m trying to support him as much as possible in my mind. We sit down, occasionally have a whiskey…
There was a time when I fell out of love [with acting], and I had unrealistic views when I was younger. It wasn’t going to make me happy
In a few sneak previews that we’ve seen, your character Drake seems to be slightly more thuggish than the others, in that he roughs up the prisoners to get answers. Would that be fair? Yeah that goes on in the cells, from what I understand it was inherently a much more violent time then, the techniques they used to get confessions, I think a lot of that was done just purely physical.
Would you say your role is very physical then? I did need to get down the gym and build up a bit, but it’s nice to be asked to do that for a part, to prepare, it helped me get into character, so that was a real month or two before hand. It has been [physical] in what we’ve done so far, in a couple of episodes going back to his days in the army when we’d have flashbacks to him completely losing it in the desert and things. We had a very few physical weeks.
There has been a period drama resurgence in TV recently, with ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Nick ‘Nick Nickleby’, ‘Titanic: Blood and Steel’, and now ‘Ripper Street’. Why do you think TV keeps revisiting these historical times? I think that’s it, it’s like we are fascinated with our history, especially when you can almost touch it and we’re living in with the same cobbles and the same buildings, so there’s that ‘wow’ part. You start to see how your own life is formed. But there’s the thing that we never caught him (Ripper), so it’s the reverberating cyclically, it’s in our culture that fact, the most notorious killer was never caught, so that’s become legend.
How have you found being back in Ireland? It’s been one of the joys of the job, everybody, the cast are fantastic, and the crew, and the Irish element for me has been an important part of that, and I also worked on ‘Thrones’, it’s noble, the Irish influence in terms of the crew and the family feel. It really makes a difference especially if it’s a long job like this.
I think the family culture in Ireland is stronger than the British, so that rubs off here, and that’s something that’s very strong.
And how are you finding Irish designer, Lorna Marie Mugan’s designs? You immediately feel like you’re in period so doing something in period helps, you just kind of mould into what you’re doing.
You mentioned ‘Game of Thrones’, in which you play sellsword Bronn. Season three has just wrapped filming in Northern Ireland. How much has the role of Bronn changed your career? It’s more, in a way, whether I wanted to revive it or not. I hadn’t worked for six years. I hadn’t wanted to, and somehow I found myself at that audition, and without that, I wouldn’t have got this, because the writer was a big Throney, I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for ‘Thrones’.
The roles of Bronn and Drake are somewhat grittier than your earlier roles. Was this a conscious decision? It’s just that my face is… I’m not the blue-eyed boy that I used to be with Robson, so a lot’s happened in the last 10 years! That’s nice because I’m not, it’s nice to play some characterful roles.
Why did you take a six-year break? It takes up a lot of time and emotion. For me it’s not like I have to act, there’s a life beyond it, and I was just too busy being in Wales and enjoying myself.
I think there was a time when I fell out of love, and I had unrealistic views when I was younger. When I was in my teens, my dad was an actor and he was my hero, and around 24/23 when I was lucky enough to work, I could see that those weren’t real. It wasn’t going to make me happy. I love acting, but in terms of having to be an actor and define myself through being an actor, that I dropped away.
We are fascinated with our history, especially when you can almost touch it and we’re living in with the same cobbles and the same buildings, so there’s that ‘wow’ part
I love acting, and when it’s good, and acting with really good guys and you’ve got something going, then that’s something when there’s an electricity to it. So it’s nice to find something when you’re ‘yeah I’m actually enjoying this’, and there’s several factors that make that possible.
Obviously ‘Game of Thrones’ has a huge cult following in both book form and on television. The BBC is now looking to air ‘Ripper Street’ in a prime time slot this year. Is it daunting going back to those ‘Soldier Soldier’ days when you were on one of the most successful shows on television? I’m just kind of letting it happen. I try not to be daunted.
’Ripper Street’, an Irish/English co-production between Element Pictures, Tiger Aspect Productions and Lookout Point, will begin an eight-week run on BBC One on Sunday, December 30 at 9pm.
‘Game of Thrones’ season three will return to Sky Atlantic in April 2013.