The Mrs Brown creator tells Jeananne Craig about bringing his hit TV show to the big screen.
AT A recent exhibition of his life in his native Dublin, Mrs Brown’s Boys star and creator Brendan O’Carroll reflected on his success.
“I looked around and thought ‘My mother Maureen, an Irish Labour Party politician, who died in 1984, would just love this’,” he reflected at the exhibition at the Little Museum of Dublin.
“Then I realised ‘No she wouldn’t. She’d be 105 and she wouldn’t know where she feckin’ lived.’ She wouldn’t even remember her name.”
It’s the kind of four-lettered ice-breaker you expect from the mouth of O’Carroll’s comic creation, Agnes Brown, the cardigan-wearing matriarch who has been a hit with TV audiences worldwide.
With its bawdy humour and knowing winks to the camera, Mrs Brown’s Boys has fans from Iceland to Australia. Ireland aside, its most recent festive special racked up 9.4m viewers for BBC One, beating Downton Abbey and Call The Midwife to the Christmas Day top spot.
It has now spawned a film, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, which takes the action beyond the fruit-and-veg trader’s front porch as she fights to save her market stall from a ruthless developer.
Bringing Mrs Brown’s Boys to the big screen meant O’Carroll and the crew — who record the TV version in Glasgow — had a bigger budget, but they didn’t want to “go crazy” and lose the essence of the beloved sitcom.
“I wanted to tell a story in the family’s comfort zone,” says 58-year-old O’Carroll, whose grandmother hailed from Dublin’s Moore Street market. “We got to show the market, we got to show her at work, we got to show her interact with people. It made for a nice little story.”
Mrs Brown started life as a short sketch O’Carroll penned for RTÉ 2FM, and the Brown family appeared in a series of novels and stage plays before coming to the attention of BBC producer Stephen McCrum.
Mrs Brown’s Boys had its TV debut in 2011 and, after all these years cross-dressing for his crust, O’Carroll now has Agnes’s hair and make-up routine down to “about five minutes”.
Looking more colourful than his cardigan and slippers-loving alter ego — he is in a brightly patterned shirt, yellow-framed glasses perched atop his bald head — O’Carroll jokes: “Maybe I’m halfway there to being an old woman, but it doesn’t take me that long.
“Bodysuit on, foundation on, colour in the mole and Bob’s your auntie, there’s Mrs Brown,” he says.
Jennifer Gibney is O’Carroll’s second wife, and she also plays Mrs Brown’s daughter Cathy in the show. If you think that’s confusing, O’Carroll’s son Danny, plays Mrs Brown’s loveable rogue of a lad, Buster; and his daughter Fiona, and Danny’s real-life wife Amanda, play Agnes’s daughters-in-law.
Meanwhile, O’Carroll’s older sister, Eilish, plays Mrs Brown’s best friend, Winnie.
“When you’re working together on something like this, when you’re in Australia to do a show in front of 7,500 people in an arena, you’re completely dependent on the people around you to turn up.
“That interdependency just adds a little extra edge of love when they come through, and they come through time after time,” O’Carroll says.
The success of the show has baffled some critics, who say it is lacking in sophistication and comic subtlety.
But O’Carroll, the youngest of 11 children, says: “The recognition I set out for was the recognition of the viewers, the people who pay the bills and wages, or, in the case of the live show, the people who go to the trouble of buying tickets a year in advance.
“There will always be critics, there will always be donkeys telling the racehorse how he should have run the race, always.”
The show hit the headlines in December 2013 when viewers complained after the BBC interrupted a repeat episode to announce that Nelson Mandela had died. What did O’Carroll make of that?
“I was embarrassed...” he says, taking a rare pause.
“What can you do? You can’t say to them, ‘Look, Nelson Mandela’s death is much more important than your show’. Because, at that moment in time, it wasn’t to them. So I think the BBC handled it really well and said, ‘Look, we apologise for the interruption to the programme, at the time we felt it was a very, very important event and we wanted to make sure it was properly covered and that people got to know as early as possible’.”
When O’Carroll and Gibney aren’t working, they are based in Florida, where they golf, swim, read and lead an idyllic existence. He says that most of his neighbours aren’t sure what he does for a living.
“I think some of them think I’m a drug dealer. I go away for three months, I come back and I’ve got a new Jaguar... Americans are much too polite to ask,” O’Carroll says.
His fellow Dubliners have no problem quizzing O’Carroll on what he’s up to.
“About two weeks after we finished the movie, I was filming Who Do You Think You Are? for the BBC and one of the scenes was in Moore Street,” he says with a smile. “One of the old dears said to me, ‘What are you making Brendan?’ I said, ‘It’s a programme for BBC called Who Do You Think You Are?’
“Another woman came up to see what we were doing and asked what I was doing. She told her, ‘It’s a programme called Who The Fuck Do You Think You Are?’
“And I just thought, ’You know what? I love being home’.”
Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie is in cinemas on Friday
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