24 November 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTN Speaks to the Creator of ‘Striking Out’ James Phelan
17 Jan 2017 :
The Cast of RTÉ Drama ‘Striking Out’
With the concluding episode of the four-part drama due to broadcast on RTÉ One on Sunday 22nd January at 9.30pm.IFTN spoke to the creator of ‘Striking Out’ James Phelan about the show, its’ origins and his future plans.

IFTN: Obvious question but where did the inspiration for the show first come from?

James: “It began, I guess, with the through-line that has stayed constant through the show’s development and that’s the character of Tara. The show was originally called ‘Cheaters Inc’ and later ‘Cheaters’ before evolving into ‘Striking Out’. But Tara is the constant. The central disruption in her life that launches episode 1 (finding her fiancé cheating on the eve of her wedding) was always there. As was her reaction to that event. The upheaval it causes. The damage it entails but also the positivity of setting up a new life and finding the right people to surround herself with.”

IFTN: What prompted the title change?

James: “Important factors like the fact that any internet search starting with the word ‘cheater’ or ‘cheating’ summons up an unrelated tsunami that any viewer searching for the show would struggle to wade through was an issue. Plus there was a consensus that the word ‘Cheaters’ was, though not intended, going to come across a touch judgemental.

“I think ‘Striking Out’ is a great title in that it evokes a range of meanings in just two words. It has positive and negative connotations. It conjures up the main character’s thrust and new direction while also pointing to the possibility of failure too. Which is a concise bit of business whichever way you look at it.”

IFTN: Was it always a legal show?

James: (laughs) “Hah. Not immediately. Rendering all ‘The Good Wife’ alleged inspirations rather redundant. No – it was a detective show – a genre I’m massively interested in. I guess the character of Meg is a vestige of that incarnation of the show. During the couple of years of development, the show fastened quite quickly onto a legal setting. The second it did, I could see how rife and rich this world was. It was exciting. I couldn’t think of a previous Irish drama that concentrated exclusively on the law. It always feels good to break new ground. Tara was an immediate organic fit for the world too. And from that new direction, new characters like Vincent (Neil Morrissey) sprung.”

IFTN: Have you any legal experience yourself?

James: “Not at the sharp end. In all seriousness, I had completed a Business and Law degree in my twenties – which definitely gave a grounding.  As part of that course, I had been in and out the Four Courts a bit to sample the mechanics of the law in action and nearly more importantly soak up the atmosphere. So it felt vaguely circular to be back there, doing research.”  

IFTN:  What was the biggest challenge on the show?

James: “Writing-wise, the real crux on ‘Striking Out’ was coming up with cases and legal interventions by Tara that were immediate and active for the character. Reflecting the true exact nature of most legal procedures on-screen would be exceedingly tricky and dramatically inert for the most part.

“Real-life court cases are punctuated by constant delays, regular adjournments and these natural organic intervals of months that would be impossible for us to follow across the same timeline with Tara’s personal life. So where we went into a case was vital and it was generally as late as possible.

“Aside from the cases, I was just trying to furnish myself and the other writers with a compelling world stocked with a rich array of characters.”

IFTN: How would you describe the Dublin portrayed on screen through ‘Striking Out’?

James: “Look it’s a definite cliché of any drama application to have a little blurb about how the city is like an additional character. Everyone says it. I’m sure drama commissioners must glaze over whenever they see it. But yes – there was a pronounced upfront ambition to reflect an upbeat version of the city. I think anyone who lives here can get a little blasé about how striking the city actually is.

“We knew we were sculpting our world against the courts backdrop which establishes one palette of formality, architecture and time honoured institutions but then we knew Tara’s social and home life would be warmer and more vibrant. And let’s face it, Dublin bars and restaurants have never been so aesthetically pleasing.

“Yet ultimately what audiences are reacting to comes down to how well the director (Lisa James Larsson) and the DOP (Frida Wendel) infused the series with distinct visuals that captured a vision of the city that resonates.”

IFTN: Can you tell us a bit more about the ‘Striking Out’ cast?

James: “It’s pretty much a cast you dream about. Amy taking the lead role as Tara seems like the kind of kismet you don’t see too often in this industry. The very first meeting I had with Blinder they asked me who I envisioned in the lead role. Amy was genuinely my first and only thought on the matter. I thought her touch for balancing drama infused with a bit of heart and humour would just be a great fit. Despite a couple of years in development, I don’t think that notion ever truly left the building (laughs).

“I can’t say I was writing it for her but it was there in the back of the head. Fortunately Blinder and RTÉ clearly concurred on it too when the time came to cast. The rest of the cast were a delightful surprise to me.  When you see actors of the calibre of Fiona O Shaughnessy, Rory Kennan, Neil Morrissey attached – it’s pretty much dream territory.”

IFTN: What else have you in the works for 2017?

James: “I have a couple of feature animated scripts that have been optioned so that’s exciting. Naturally animated features won’t be concluded in one calendar year but I’ve really enjoyed building up my animation CV through work like ‘Oddbods’.

“I have some research to do for a film script set in America. And I want to get back to directing too. I have a short and my debut feature in mind. Who knows if it can all get done in 2017 but I’d like to give it a go.”

Striking Out’ is produced for RTÉ by Katie Holly and Yvonne Donohoe of Blinder Films with international co-financing from DCD Rights and Acorn Media Enterprises. The series was created by James Phelan (‘Wrecking the Rising’), written by Rob Heyland (‘Between the Lines’,’Whistleblowers’), Mike O’Leary (‘Eipic’, ‘Misfits’) and James Phelan and directed by Lisa James Larsson. 

The final episode of ‘Striking Out’ airs on RTÉ One, Sunday 22nd January at 9.30pm.

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