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Derry Girls: Stall the bloody ball ‘cuz they're back on the goggle box again
26 Feb 2019
The launch date for the second series of Derry Girls was made known a few days ago. To the very few of those people who don’t know yet-well, put simply, ‘what planet have ye been living on?’ Anyway, it’s next Tuesday, March 5 at 9.15pm on Channel 4, ‘so, don’t say ye weren’t warned!’ We’ve also known for over a year that around ten minutes after the end of the first episode of series ‘wan’ that a second series was commissioned. You can almost hear the collective voice of the entire city say: ‘Sure, we knew that. That’s no big tickle." The new city centre mural of the show’s main characters has also certainly whetted the appetite for the arrival for the new series attracting visitors from far and near. While very little of the content of the new run of Derry Girls has been given away, we do know that famed U.S. presidential visit is going to be recreated, undoubtedly with massive comedic effect. It’s also being rumoured that Derry’s chippies will be forced by a Council by-law to issue a strict limit of five bags per household for the next six weeks. Spud farmers all over Inishowen have already booked three weeks apiece in Benidorm on the strength of it. Also, as part of major incident contingency planning, Chinese takeaways and off-licences are quietly drafting in extra staff (cash in hand-say naffin) and supplies in advance of next week’s transmission. Some takeaway owners are even worried that it will be easier to find a post Brexit stash of home heating oil than an extra supply of chicken balls next Tuesday night. And, it’s anticipated that just like during the first series, the pubs will empty quicker than that infamous night in ’94 when twenty TV Licence vans were spotted heading up Creggan Hill in a convoy under escort from the cops and Brits! But, before the madness commences, the Derry News recently caught up with the major players involved in Derry Girls, very fittingly, at the Guildhall and hosted by Northern Ireland Screen who fund the programme. The Derry News spoke first to the series creator and writer Lisa McGee and asked her if she had stockpiled much material for the second series of Derry Girls before finishing series one? Lisa said: “We heard it was going to be recommissioned after the first episode went out so I had stuff in my head that I thought I might do, but they were small ideas. I didn’t do any story lining because if I’d found out the second series wasn’t happening, it would have been disappointing.” We also asked if the final output for the new series differed a lot from Lisa’s original thoughts? “There are so many stories and things that happened just from growing up here and from my family. So, there were bits and pieces that I knew I’d be including in episodes. “When I was writing series one, I didn’t know who would be playing the characters, so I can hear their voices now. “They are all good physical comics so I knew I could do something along those lines that would work. We all know each other a bit better. We know the characters a bit better, so I knew what worked last year. One thing that really worked was the balance between the kids and the family so I’ve kept that equal to last time. “Also, the political backdrop versus the silliness of what the gang get up to worked well. It just made me more confident that people do understand the accents and understand the humour so we could just go for it and push it. “I was surprised that the humour translated so well. I thought there would be an audience for it but I didn’t think it would be such a big audience. I didn’t think so many people from everywhere would be watching it and getting it. And, even if they don’t get it there’s still something about it that they like or understand even if it’s just what it felt like to be a teenager,” she said. Whilst Derry Girls is undoubtedly set against the very serious backdrop of the Troubles, it is of course firstly and foremostly a comedy. It is also a view of 1990s Derry viewed through the eyes of a group of teenagers. So, does Lisa McGee feel that her writing portrays a view that life went on despite the serious events that unfolded around us in that era? Lisa continued: “I always felt when watching stuff about here that I never saw anything but the political story or the terrible tragedy. You never saw the joy and humour, or that everyone from here is a storyteller. You never got to see the mischief and all those other things that make us more than our past or more than our history. “Even though it’s a comedy and it’s obviously exaggerated, the laughter feels very truthful. “That’s why it’s a privilege to write about our own place. This doesn’t happen very often. I always think that if I never do anything like this again that’s fine because I’ve gotten to write a show about Derry that’s gone around the world. Who would have ever thought that? It’s amazing. “I always enjoy writing Derry Girls because I never thought I’d get the opportunity to write about my own home town.” Finally, we asked Lisa McGee how much of her own character is in the show? “I think Erin’s a bit like me. I always wanted to be a writer and I’m a dose at times and dramatic, so there are definitely bits of her in me.” Saoirse Monica Jackson is of course an authentic Derry girl. She plays the central character of Erin Quinn and we began by asking her how much the character has developed in this series? She told the Derry News: “She’s still a disaster. She is still absolutely, completely ruthless and so self-obsessed. “A lot of the time she doesn’t realise other people are in the room. I don’t think she has matured at all. This time we have a brilliant family scene where she literally has a tantrum like a two-year-old. “I think she has become more confident in what she wants to do and more confident in how she’s going to get where she wants to go. But in terms of maturity, she hasn’t changed at all. I think perhaps she’s actually regressed-gone backwards.” The Derry News also asked Saoirse if the cast was allowed to contribute to the idea making and writing process? Saoirse said: “No, because I think what is so amazing about Lisa’s writing and what’s so special about it is that there’s such a beat to it. “So, when we’re doing the show you can feel that and even if you add an extra few words it takes it off rhythm. The only person that has that freedom is Louisa who plays Orla. There’s a lot of her character that’s not written on the page. “All our lines are on the page whilst Louisa is making up her own story in the background which is a testament to how much of a fantastic actress she is.” We also asked Saoirse how strange it feels to be on the streets of her own city acting? “It’s absolutely incredible. The street that we use in the Bogside is where my best friend lives. I went to school around the corner from there. And, when we filmed there during series one, myself, Louisa and Nicola were standing in an alleyway in school uniforms and three girls from my old school walked past in their uniforms and continued on down the street that I walked down every day. “So, it was very surreal. Very surreal. It was also a very surreal experience having my mum as an extra in the show and it was very surreal having my dad and my aunties and my brothers coming to the set. It’s been incredible.” Louisa Harland plays the slightly ‘other worldly’ Orla McCool in Derry Girls-the cousin of the Erin Quinn character. We asked the Dublin woman how weird it is to be featured in a ten feet high mural in Derry city centre? She told the Derry News: “Yeah, it very weird. Saoirse always says that it must be mental for me to be famous here, because it would be like her being on a mural in the middle of Wolverhampton or somewhere else. “It’s pretty phenomenal. My father is from Northern Ireland and he finds it amazing. It’s a beautiful mural and I’m very, very proud to be on that building and I feel very proud to be a Derry Girl. I’m delighted.” In the first series of Derry Girls it became immediately obvious that Louisa’s character Orla often appeared to be totally detached from reality only to suddenly and without warning dispense random pearls of ‘philosophical’ wisdom-even if they didn’t really fit what was happening in that moment. So, hard was it to channel that ‘spaced out’ character trait? Louisa said: “It was pretty easy actually, I should look into that,” she laughed. “It’s so fun and free playing Orla. But, it’s quite difficult to stay in that mindset all day. We had very long shoot days, but it’s all down to the writing. A lot of it is on the page for my character, but I feel honoured that Lisa trusts me with this mental role. “I know Orla only comes through in snippets and you don’t get to hear her speak a lot, but I really like that about my character as well.” Louisa’s previous roles included regular appearances in the hard hitting RTE drama Love/Hate, a series zoomed in on the criminal underbelly of gangland Dublin which starred internationally renowned Irish actor Aiden Gillen. We asked Louisa if she enjoyed the contrast between drama and comedy? “It’s very much a contrast, but an enjoyable one. It’s very different. I wish I could go back now and do Love/Hate again now because I was so young. I like to go back now that I’ve trained and feel that I can actually act. “But, it was an incredible first job. It’s so strange to have been in two successful modern Irish shows. I’m so proud of that.” Nicola Coughlan plays the Clare Devlin in the show. From the west of Ireland, the actor received rave reviews even whilst still at drama school for her portrayal of Maggie Tulliver in the Mill on the Floss-an adaptation of the George Eliot novel. We began by asking Nicola whether she preferred comedic or dramatic acting? She told the Derry News: “There are a lot of similarities between comedic and dramatic performances but I think in terms of comedy, it’s a lot more about timing and listening. “I was actually thinking about this on the bus to Derry, I was having a very contemplative moment. I was thinking, ‘what is it about comedy?’ “Anyone I know that is good at comedy acting has a certain level of intelligence. I’m not thinking about myself, Nicola laughed.” “But, I think you’ve got to be willing to understand the timing, whereas with dramatic acting it’s a lot more straightforward because you know what direction you’re going in,” she continued. A major moment in the first series of Derry Girls came when the Clare Devlin character revealed herself to be gay. Obviously, a serious issue in the life of any teenager, the show managed to deal with it sensitively while keeping it immersed in comedy. Nicola said: “I talk about it all the time, but I always say the scene where Clare comes out would have been so much easier to film if it had been a drama. You would have known the beats to hit. But, because it’s a comedy, you think, God, I really need to do this in a way that pays tribute to the story and take that seriously but doesn’t take itself too seriously because it is a comedy. So, it can be more difficult in certain ways. “I love doing both comedy and drama and I’ve been really lucky to do a mix of it. When Derry Girls series one finished I did a show called Harlots which was a drama and then The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. That involved bursting into tears every night and then dying at the end. “I think the reason you do acting is you love the challenge of different roles. I consider myself a character actor. I like to disappear into the role. I wouldn’t find it interesting to play different versions of myself-I’d get bored with myself. So, it’s fun to be able to flip it around and change into to a totally different persons frame of mind. It’s great.” Nicola Coughlan is from Galway, but her character Clare Devlin is obviously a Derry schoolgirl. We asked the actor if she found many common themes between her own school experience and playing one. “Definitely, yes. I think what I most loved about the script when I first read it was that it was the first one I’d ever read, or even seen, that really reflected what it was like for me to be in school. “I’m still best friends with my best friends from school. We were so wrapped up in each other. “I think a lot of teen comedies are just all about the boys they’re chasing after. And, they use other clichéd platforms, whereas Derry Girls just wasn’t like that. They are real human beings and rounded characters. “Clare is gay, but Lisa didn’t make her this archetypal gay character. She’s a whole person. “And, when we get back into the school uniforms something happens to your brain. It’s weird. “It’s bizarre, it’s so strange and we get treated like that on set and get told to calm down. “We are like, ‘can we have a can of Coke?’, and they are like ‘no, you have to do a scene’, and we turn into huffy children.” Finally, the Derry News spoke to that poor ‘wee English fella’ who in real life is actor Dylan Llewellyn from Reigate in Kent. Dylan’s character James Maguire as we know finds himself in the most bizarre set of circumstances. The fact that James is the only male in an all girl’s school in Derry sporting an English accent during the Troubles would be enough to shred anyone’s nerves. Added to that is the fact that he’s the cousin of the show’s Michelle Mallon (Jamie Lee O’Donnell)-without doubt the most abrasive of the Derry Girls characters. So, we asked Dylan if he came across another unfortunate individual in a similar position what advice he would give them? He said: “I guess I’d say strong and don’t let them get to you,” he laughed. “I personally think that Michelle’s giving him tough love and she’s trying to get him to adjust to the Derry life. She’s trying to get to him to learn to take the jokes and see that it’s all banter and it’s not bullying. “James is part of the family with the girls and only they are allowed to pick on him and if someone else picked on him the girls would have his back for sure.” We also asked Dylan how much of an insight does he feel Derry Girls has given him into the life of a teenager in 1990s Derry? “It’s very, very different. It’s been eye opening. Especially learning about the Troubles. We never learned about it at school in England which is really a shame because it was such a big thing. I think we all deserved to know about it. “To think that you guys are next door to us and we weren’t told about it is such a shame.” We also asked Dylan why he believes that Derry Girls has had such worldwide attention. “I feel like everyone can identify with one of the characters in one way or another. And, also the slang as well-it might go over people’s heads but they still ask, ‘God, what does that mean?’ “It piques their interest-they are curious about it. It definitely makes the Derry Girls lives more colourful and it’s so entertaining to see, everyone can relate to and I think that’s cool.”
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