It’s a thin line

Love/Hate’s opener created quite a stir. Actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and writer Stuart Carolan give Colette Sheridan their take on the hit drama

WITH a brutal rape scene and turbo-charged violence, Love/Hate sparked plenty debate when it returned for a third series last week. Viewing figures of 630,700 for the opener underline the show’s popularity, but RTÉ also received dozens of complaints about the graphic nature of some of the scenes, and the Rape Crisis Centres in Dublin reported an increase in calls to their helpline after the broadcast.

This Sunday’s episode continues the dark tone of its predecessor. Series writer Stuart Carolan seems to have been given a freer hand by RTÉ and it is obvious we are dealing with a very different Love/Hate than previous seasons. There are fewer lighthearted scenes and any accusations about the glorification of gang culture have been blown away by the grim repercussions for the characters involved.

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, who plays gang boss Nidge, defends the honesty of the show, not least the scene involving sexual violence in of the opening episode.

“Rape is a brutal act and it was depicted brutally and truthfully, in my mind,” says Vaughan-Lawlor in an accent from the other end of the social scale from the character he relishes playing. “But Stuart Carolan can never be accused of not being a responsible writer. In the next five episodes, the effect that the act has on Siobhán as a woman, in her relationship and in her life will be shown. It’s not just a device. Rape is an incredibly upsetting thing but for the rest of the series you’ll see how responsibly and sensitively it is handled.”

As to the popularity of the show, the 35-year-old Dubliner points to the long running success of the crime genre.

“From the crime films made in the 1920s, and actors such as Paul Mooney, Edward G Robinson and Jimmy Cagney and all the old mafia movies and The Sopranos, people have always wanted to watch people who live on the edge. Because the majority of people don’t lead that life, it’s fascinating to watch people who choose to or are born into that life.

“Also, crime is inherently dramatic. You could also ask why programmes about hospitals are made. A hospital is a dramatic place because it involves life and death.”

Illegal drugs have become a huge industry in Ireland in recent decades, and Vaughan-Lawlor says it is a very visible issue on the streets of his native city. “You see the effects of the drug world every day and the victims in terms of drug addicts. They’re like the walking dead. Because it’s such a small city, it seems very prevalent. It’s a sensitive subject. I think that Love/Hate deals with it very responsibly.”

How does Vaughan-Lawlor get into the head of Nidge? “There’s a lot of material written in Ireland on gang culture. You basically do your homework and know what’s going on. Stuart has done so much research himself. The detail of the character is all in the scenes so a lot of the work is done for you. In the past, I’ve played megalomaniacs on stage. I think there’s probably a touch of that in Nidge. I’m not a stranger to playing big egos and people who live on the edge of society.”

Vaughan-Lawlor says that the current series is the show that Carolan and director David Caffrey (director) wanted to make from the beginning.

“We’re really getting to the heart of it now. I think it’s more realistic than extreme. The amount of people I’ve met on the street or people who live in the communities affected by this culture, who say it’s tough and upsetting to watch, also say it’s true to life. They’re the people that understand that world.”

Fulsome in his praise of Carolan, Vaughan-Lawlor says that in every series, the writer produces new challenges to the gang’s authority. The London-based actor, who grew up in Dublin, is a graduate of both Trinity College and RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). His 22-month-old son makes a few appearances in Love/Hate as Nidge’s own child. “They were stuck for a child. My son happened to be there.”

On a turbulent flight to London one weekend some years ago, series writer Stuart Carolan had intimations of mortality and regretted not really giving writing a proper crack of the whip.

Carolan returned to work the following Monday as producer of The Last Word on Today FM where Eamon Dunphy was the presenter. He left the job that Friday, having put in six years there. He says he had Dunphy’s blessing for his quest to develop his writing skills. (Carolan had created the comic Navan Man character that appeared on the programme).

He wrote two plays which were produced, Defender of the Faith and Empress of India. He wrote a screenplay. He also spent six months writing a novel that was never published. When he first pitched the Love/Hate series to RTÉ, he was met with a favourable reception and remembers talking about it for two hours.

“Jane Gogan [drama commissioning editor at RTÉ and wife of Eamon Dunphy] kind of went for it straight away. I’ve had nothing but support from RTÉ. It’s a highly unusual situation. I don’t think this type of show, with the language in it and some of the violence, would be allowed on BBC One.”

Carolan has to run everything by his bosses at RTÉ. “We have discussions about what’s in Love/Hate. We’re conscious of not glamorising it. When you’re dealing with things like violence, there’s a very fine line. You can’t have gratuitous violence. You’re trying to show the horror of the drugs world and its repercussions. RTÉ allow us to try and show what gangland life is like. I try to be as accurate as I can.”

Stressing that Love/Hate is fictional, Carolan says he is influenced by real life events. “I research it in the same way that a journalist would research a story. There’s no big mystery to it. I talk to a phenomenal amount of people. There’s a huge amount of people you meet who have knowledge of this area.”

Carolan claims the current series of Love/Hate is no more extreme than the second series. “It’s important to show the other side of gangland life. There’s love as well as hate. If it was just pure hate, it would be very difficult to watch. There are certainly some very violent scenes in it.”

In writing the new series, Carolan says he has come closer to portraying gangland as it is. “We’re as close as we can be within the confines of television and bearing in mind that it’s artificial. You should see some of the comments we get on Facebook. People think of the characters as real. It’s almost like a soap opera.”

Carolan is currently working on the script of a film adaptation of Paul Murray’s novel, Skippy Dies, and is also writing the fourth series of Love/Hate. The results may be hard-hitting, but we are pretty much guaranteed plenty more top-class drama.

* Love/Hate, Sunday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm

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