Ellie O’Byrne went on set in Cork with The Young Offenders in advance of their return to our TV screens next week
IN THE Commons Inn in Cork’s Blackpool, Jennie Readman is sitting in a small anteroom, watching a screen intently. Readman, a West Cork screen hairstylist, received an Emmy nomination for her work on the Irish-filmed Vikings TV show, but she’s also the woman behind The Young Offenders’ iconic “scut cuts.” She’s on set to watch her creations in action; filming on this round of The Young Offenders TV series is coming to a close. The scene Readman is watching is a bathroom scene on a closed set, so she’s watching via a monitor.
Suddenly a door slams, and the unmistakeable, swaggering figures of Conor McSweeney and Jock O’Keeffe breeze into the room, clad in suitably outlandish attire, saluting Readman. Stars Alex Murphy (Conor) and Chris Walley (Jock) are on their way to lunch.
It’s funny how instantly recognisable the duo are, and that’s due in no small part to the haircuts, as well as the height difference between the actors. Sightings of the pair out and about on location in Cork in preceding weeks have been common.
“When we’re together, the shape of us gives us away and as soon as we have the haircuts, that’s it, we get recognised,” Murphy says. “We’ve been trying to keep a fairly low profile while we’ve been shooting, but the response is always so positive and it’s lovely to meet fans of the show.”
Walley cuts in, admitting that there’s a part of him that has a bit of a soft spot for the notoriously bad skin fade haircut.
“When we’re going to get them done, I’ll be saying to my girlfriend and people, ‘oh no, it’s time for the haircut again,’ but a little bit of me is like, ‘yessss,’” Walley says, rubbing his hands together and grinning.
It’s been a particularly successful year in acting for the Glanmire actor who now lives in the UK. He won a Laurence Olivier award for Best Supporting Actor for his stage role in The Lieutenant of Inishmore in April, having been chosen as a BAFTA “Breakthrough Brit” in November 2018.
“We all love coming back to do The Young Offenders though, because it’s like a big, happy family and we always have a such a laugh,” Walley says. “It’s been a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to people getting to see the show now.”
The continued success of the series, a spin-off from the 2016 film now on a second season commissioned by the BBC, has given both actors their fair share of “pinch me” moments, he says.
“The film was one thing, and then the series was proposed, and it was like, ‘yeah, that’ll hardly happen.’ Then it did, and then there was an appetite for more of it. It’s just mad. I had a moment yesterday when we were doing a sequence where we were at a celebration and we got to go a bit mad and I just went, ‘ah jeez, look at what we’re doing, and still doing four years on.’ It was an amazing moment. We were looking at each other going, this is class.”
One of the key reasons for the comedy’s continued success, Walley thinks, is that it’s redemptive, while still showing characters with real and believable struggles like financial hardship and family problems.
“I think what Peter does so well is that there are all these conflicts and character flaws, but the characters always learn from them and come full circle,” he says. “Rest assured they’ll go back to their antics in the next episode, but they’re constantly developing themselves and furthering themselves as people, but they’ll never quite get there, which is why it continues to be entertaining.”
So can they reveal what life has in store for Conor and Jock in season two? Glances are exchanged: details of the second series’ plotlines have been shrouded in secrecy to prevent any spoilers, so the lads, and the rest of the cast, are keeping schtum. We can reveal there’s a pregnancy plotline which will obviously have major implications for all concerned.
Also floating around on set are Demi Isaac Oviawe and Jennifer Barry, who play Conor and Jock’s respective love interests as Walsh sisters Linda and Siobhán, as well as their on-screen father, comedian PJ Gallagher, who plays hapless headmaster Barry Walsh, and Hilary Rose, who has won hearts as Conor’s hard-working single mother.
During the afternoon, director Peter Foott can be glimpsed from afar, working on a scene that seems typical of the show’s ability to combine gritty realism and touching moments of teen life. Murphy and Oviawe are filming one of their typically awkward romantic exchanges, against a chaotic backdrop of airborne toilet paper streamers.
HILARY Rose, as well as playing a much-loved character on the show, is also married to Foott; she was pregnant with their first child during filming of the original Young Offenders movie in 2015, and the couple have had another baby since.
Tapping into her own maternal instincts has enriched her ability to act the part of troubled teen Conor’s mum with conviction, the actress says. “I think I would have played the character differently if I hadn’t become a mum in that time,” Rose says. “It’s a very strange psychological transformation you go through to become a parent — you discover layers of yourself that you didn’t know were there and I hope I brought that into the character, because Máiread is extremely protective of them. And I’m protective of the two of them in real life too.”
Fishmonger Máiread may have a heart of gold, but she’s also renowned on the show for her proficient swearing; Rose says the character’s foul mouth won’t have abated in season two.
“If anything, when I read the script this time, I think my curse-quota had doubled, because I think Peter decided it was funny,” she says with a laugh. “Máiread’s character always has a battle with something: it’s either a battle with the lads or a battle with Healy, or a battle with other characters, which is really interesting. There are some frenemies that show up, that’s all I’ll say.”
One thing fans can definitely expect in season two, PJ Gallagher says, is heaps of the poignant moments Peter Foott seems to be able to write with such ease.
“I’m an emotional wreck from this show, seriously,” he says dramatically, to much laughter. “You laugh all through it, but I’ve had so many emotional moments reading the script. There’s even episodes I’m not in that can f**k me up.”
Series two of The Young Offenders begins on RTÉ2 next Monday, Nov 11