Taking us down to a hidden world

Taking us down to a hidden world

The team that brought us the hugely popular ‘Love/Hate’ are back with a new series. Esther McCarthy goes behind the scenes on the set of ‘Taken Down’

In the shadows of the old Pigeon House power station in the gritty surrounds of Dublin’s docklands, one of the year’s most anticipated TV series is taking shape.

Led by the creative team behind Love/Hate — including creator Stuart Carolan and director David Caffrey — Taken Down boasts an impressive Irish and international cast. There are cops and killings and clues, but this is nevertheless a very different creature to the escapades of Nidge and co, which had the nation enthralled for five seasons.

Co-written by Carolan and top crime novelist Jo Spain, the drama centres on Jen Rooney (Lynn Rafferty), a tough and tenacious Garda inspector tasked with investigating the brutal death of a young Nigerian migrant close to a direct provision centre. Her investigation unveils the dark dealings of slum landlords and criminals. Also starring Brian Gleeson, Cork actors Orla Fitzgerald and Gavin O’Connor, and British star Enoch Frost, there is a sense of anticipation as the 10-week shoot approaches its conclusion in the late summer sunshine.

For Rafferty, working again with the Love/Hate team after playing Nadine in the series, landing the lead role in the series marks her biggest role yet.

“Jen is a very driven, intelligent, tenacious human being,” said Rafferty of her character. “She’s climbed her way up in the job quite quickly considering how young she is. The job is her life. I go through my own kind of personal journey at the start of the show. Thankfully I have a best friend in the job. I have a massive job to do and I am the manager of everyone as well.”

Jen’s best friend — another tough, straight-talking guard — is played by top Cork actress Orla Fitzgerald, who as well as numerous stage roles starred in The Wind That Shakes the Barley and The Young Offenders TV series.

Niamh is a detective. She is one of Jen’s best friends. Jen is her boss but it hasn’t interfered in any way with their relationship. Niamh is a no-nonsense straight talker, quite married to the job. But she is up for the craic as well, the banter, and she’s quite funny at times.

The strong friendship between the two women is one of the core relationships in the series and both of them researched the worlds in which the series is set.

Taking us down to a hidden world

“I spoke to Jo Spain a bit about Jen when I was building the character, trying to build the human being,” said Rafferty. “I do have friends who are guards and I was luckily able to speak to them regarding the training and how difficult the job is, how difficult it is to move up. That’s what I really needed to know, for me to move up within the corporation, how hard it was, and how that would affect your relationships with other people in your job — if you were getting moved up pretty quick and all of a sudden you’re the boss.

“Female detective is a massive genre right now, The Killing really kicked that off again, The Bridge, all of those. It’s always been out there but it’s great in Ireland to play a detective, that’s something I would always have loved to do. I was thrilled to get it and then the script when I read it was so amazing.” For Fitzgerald, preparing for the role presented quite a different challenge — when the non-driver learned just two weeks before the cameras started rolling that she would need a licence.

When I got the part (and read the script) I thought: ‘Oh there’s a lot of driving in this.’ Nobody had asked, and then the production guy said: ‘Can you send through your driver’s licence?’ This was two weeks before. I know it’s bad that I can’t drive at my age but a load of actors can’t drive, you’re living in a city and you don’t drive. So I had to learn to drive and it’s really complicated in Ireland to get a provisional.

“The driving instructor said: ‘There’s no way I can teach you on a manual in this short time so you’ll have to learn on an automatic.’ I was actually fine, but it was nerve wracking, it was intense,” she said, laughing as she added that Rafferty was “white-knuckled” in the passenger seat during one mini-stunt scene.

Fitzgerald, who plays the character in her native Cork accent, moved back to Ireland recently after being based in London for many years. “There was a load of reasons why we moved back. One was to be near family. And Brexit. I’ve been in London 11 years and we were like: ‘Will we go now or never?’ We missed Ireland. And I do miss bits about London but there were loads of factors, it wasn’t necessarily about work.

“The world of acting, having to live in a big city has changed now with self-tapes (digitally recorded auditions) and everything. You don’t have to live in London or New York or in LA, you can kind of float, but you do tend to go where the work is.” For Rafferty, who is based in Toronto, taking on the lead role offered not only the opportunity to work on a strong story but to do so at home.

Taking us down to a hidden world

“I’ve been kind of full-time there now for the last two years. I’m delighted to be doing this, I came back home in June so my mother is thrilled as you can imagine. I really miss Dublin and I miss Dublin people a lot. My ideal world would be to go between the two. My partner is over there so I’m back and forth. There’s just so much coming out of Ireland, between writers and directors. There is a lot of young talent coming up as well. You always want to be involved in what’s going on because you’re most proud to be involved in something that’s Irish. For such a tiny place we’re creating so much incredible content that’s getting recognised worldwide.”

For Rafferty, the role of detective and leader marked a contrast to her Love/Hate role of Nadine, the girlfriend of criminal Ado. “It’s a dramatic turn to cross the line, but I really enjoyed it. I like playing both sides of it because there’s a psychology behind both sides. I absolutely loved building the character of Jen. Walking through the police station and knowing that you’re the boss is a pretty good feeling. I do enjoy the noise the shoes make.”

A passionate martial arts practitioner, she likes to keep fit both for her well-being and in case a role demands it. “I train in Muay Thai kickboxing. That would be very physical. I didn’t know what this was going to entail but I was ready to do that if it was needed. I like to keep fit for that reason — if I do need to jump over a wall or slide up on a car bonnet, I can do it.” Both stars are fans of crime drama and have loved many of the iconic female investigators who have graced our screens over the years, including Jodie Foster’s Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, and the stars of The Killing and The Bridge. Fitzgerald was a big Cagney & Lacey fan as a child.

They were brilliant, they were the first. I’m delighted to be involved in something like this. It’s just a good role, besides them being female. The story itself is fantastic and all the narratives in the stories being told in it are just amazing,” says Rafferty.

“It keeps you on your toes. Even when we were reading it, everyone’s a suspect. That’s the kind of drama that I binge watch. Because I need to know. I need to solve this crime myself, from my couch. It starts conversations with people at home as well, I think that’s what this is going to do.” Both women are also hopeful it will help create awareness about some of the topical and serious issues it raises, including what living in direct provision is like. 

“Doing the little bit of research that I did do, I think it’s really important that a light is shone on it,” said Fitzgerald. “I think a lot of Irish people don’t know what goes on in the centres, or that they’re even there. Direct provision? They’ve heard of it, but they’re not really that familiar. This show does explore that and I think it’s a good thing.”

- Taken Down begins tomorrow on RTÉ One

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