The latest Irish and Irish-American news in film and television.
1. From Southie to the Five Points to Downton Abbey, the Irish are taking over American television!
First, the cast for an upcoming series about Irish cops in the Five Points is starting to come together. Dublin-born actor Kevin Ryan has signed on to Copper, the BBC America series set in the grimy wards of 1860s New York, when the streets teemed with Famine immigrants and those very immigrants joined the ranks of the NYPD.
Ryan is relatively unknown in the U.S., having appeared on TV in Entourage and Days of Our Lives, as well as in the film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Ryan will play detective Francis McGuire alongside Tom Weston-Jones, who plays Kevin Corcoran. German actress Franke Potente (The Bourne Supremacy) will also star in Copper, which was developed by acclaimed director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog, the Irish film An Everlasting Piece) as well as Oz’s Tom Fontana and Southland’s Will Rokos. Copper may be Kevin Ryan’s breakout role. Ryan comes from a long line of Irish stonecutters, and even began heading into the family business before taking a shine to the bright lights of show biz. Ryan has numerous upcoming films, including the lead in the thriller Tripping Tommy, and a role in the Irish film Songs for Amy, alongside Patrick Bergin.
2. Speaking of Irish actors who gained wide exposure by appearing in critically-acclaimed cable dramas, let’s catch up with Dubliner Aidan Gillen, best known for playing politician Tommy Carcetti on the gritty HBO series The Wire. Gillen will be appearing in the blockbuster-to-be Dark Knight Rises this summer. Gillen plays a CIA agent in the film, which stars Christian Bale as the famous crime fighter. Gillen, who has also appeared in the HBO drama Game of Thrones, will also be seen in two upcoming films with sharp Irish angles.
First there’s Shadow Dancer, which also stars Clive Owen and Gillian Anderson. Shadow Dancer is about an IRA member who begins informing on the group for British intelligence.
Then there’s Calvary, also slated to star Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd (the Irish cop from Bridesmaids – more on him later). Calvary is about a priest who hears something dangerous in the confessional and fears for his life. It was written by John Michael McDonagh, who wrote the acclaimed dark comedy The Guard (also starring Brendan Gleeson), as well as 2003’s Ned Kelly, featuring the late Heath Ledger.
If that wasn’t enough, McDonagh just happens to be acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh’s brother. (More on Martin McDonagh later, as well.)
3. It may be a very British series but the PBS hit Downton Abbey has strong Irish ties. Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Siobhan Finneran (who plays maid Mrs. O’Brien) and Brendan Coyle are among the cast members.
Dockery is the daughter of an Irishman from Athlone. Initially a stage actress, she made her television debut in 2005 in the BBC mini-series Fingersmith. Her breakout role as Lady Mary has clearly led to good things, as Dockery recently landed a part in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, which will also feature Domhnall Gleeson. Finneran’s father hails from Co. Leitrim. She has made a name for herself mainly in British television and film. Coyle, meanwhile, was born to an Irish father and Scottish mother, both of whom lived for some time in Strabane, Co. Tyrone. Coyle plays John Bates on Abbey, and will also be seen in April’s The Raven, alongside John Cusack.
Downton Abbey has proven an unlikely hit with American audiences, and also stars Maggie Smith and Irish-American Elizabeth McGovern. It ended its second season in late February, but has proven a smash hit through Netflix and other online services, as word of mouth has gotten stronger and stronger.
4. Also, on the TV front is a show with not quite so much cultural potential. For better or worse, we have all seen some of those reality shows about insane women who are placed into rooms with other insane women and eventually start pulling each others’ hair.
Well, a plan is in the works to bring such a concept to South Boston, that famous Irish American redoubt. It all may have started as a simple YouTube spoof – something called The Real Housewives of South Boston had been making the rounds on cyberspace.
But earlier this year, the TLC network announced plans for Southie Pride, a reality show focusing on local women and their families. And – wait for it – the production team behind MTV’s Jersey Shore has been hired to oversee at least eight episodes of Southie Pride.
“One of the things I love to do is tell a story of people and who they really are,” producer SallyAnn Salsano told the Boston Herald. “It is such a loving core group that I would love them to tell their story.”
A TLC press release added: “The people and streets, and accents, of South Boston — or, Southie — have been the backdrop of hit movies and the focus of best-selling books, and now you’ll meet the city’s real-life characters as they celebrate their friendships, battle their rivals, and raise their children.”
Thus far, however, Southie is living up to its reputation for dismissing outsiders. “We are getting a lot of people shutting doors in our faces. I can’t tell you the amount of times my staff has been told to [buzz] off since we have been there,” Salsano told the Herald. “The same people that tell me to [buzz] off are the ones I want,” she said. “In order to not be misrepresented, tell [your story].”
For the record: in case a hometown hero like, say, Mark Wahlberg comes out swinging against this exploitation of Southie, I have a feeling that Mickey Ward’s loud brood of sisters in The Fighter just might have had something to do with this concept.
5. Back to Martin McDonagh… The acclaimed writer and playwright will team up with fellow Irishman Colin Farrell for the upcoming film Seven Psychopaths. Also starring Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken and Abbie Cornish, Seven Psychopaths is about a writer who gets involved in a plot to kidnap a dog.
Expect the Farrell-McDonagh collaboration to hit the festival circuit in late 2012. This is a reunion for Farrell and McDonagh, who made the highly-underrated In Bruges together. See Irish America’s on-set interview with McDonagh and Farrell.
6. As for Chris O’Dowd, look for him in the April comedy Friends with Kids alongside fellow Irishman Ed Burns, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, his partner Jennifer Westfeldt and funny girls Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig. O’Dowd does another comedic turn in the Judd Apatow film This is Forty, which is slated for a December 2012 release and appears to catch up with several characters from Apatow’s hilarious 2007 pregnancy comedy Knocked Up.
Further down the road, O’Dowd has signed on for the 2013 film Sean Carlin Goes Crazy.
7. Two generations of Irish talent will be get together for the vampire flick Byzantium. Director Neil Jordan and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan will team up for the film, set to be shot in Dublin and Wicklow.
Film producer Alan Moloney proudly told The Hollywood Reporter that the Irish Film Board lobbied heavily to have the film shot in Ireland to “ensure that the project can be produced in Ireland, bringing with it international investment and ensuring Irish talent are attached to it.”
Though not yet 20 in real life, Ronan will play a 200-year-old vampire with killer piano skills, which required her to actually learn to play the instrument.
8. The Ian Palmer documentary Knuckle – about Irish gypsy bare-knuckle boxers – is being transferred to the American South for a new HBO series to be written by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh.
“Think Fight Club meets the Hatfields and the McCoys,” Welsh recently said of the series which will feature warring Irish-American clans.
9. And finally, everybody’s favorite Irish TV angel Roma Downey recently announced she will be producing a series for DVD release entitled – fittingly – Little Angels. The series is aimed at preschoolers and combines lessons in ABCs and 123s with Bible stories. “When I was a child, there was a charming nighttime prayer we would say that became the inspiration for the series,” Downey recently told Parade magazine. “I thought it would be marvelous to have something reminding children that they’re always being looked after.” See Irish America’s interview with Downey.