RTÉ unveils one of its biggest, most ambitious dramas on the first day of 2017.
Striking Out — a gritty new drama set around the high-stakes world of the legal profession —has already been generating positive word ahead of broadcast.
The expensive four-part drama has already been acquired by streaming giants Acorn TV and will debut in the US next year. RTÉ executives also confirmed that a second series is in development.
It marks a major role for actress Amy Huberman, who plays the lead. Tara Rafferty is a high-flying solicitor who has the career, the good-looking law-partner boyfriend (Rory Keenan) and the apparently charmed life.
But when she discovers he’s cheating on her with a colleague on her hen night, she decides to go it alone and set up her own firm.
Playing a woman forced to come into her own was a big appeal, says Huberman. “She has been on this track her whole life, and nothing has ever really upset it that much.
And this is the first time where she has real self-reflection, and the first time she’s had to find the measure of her own stock and how strong she is.
She’s front and centre in the job that she does, there’s no hiding. It’s that feeling like you’re falling apart but just having to get on with it.”
The series marks a bit of a departure for Huberman, who has become better known for lighter, comedic roles. “It had been a long time since I’d done drama, my roots were in drama before I went down the comedy road.
“When I look at the series, the universal appeal is personal relationships, which in drama are at the heart of most things — how they’re built up, how they’re tested, how they break down. None of it is specific to Ireland.
It just happens to be set here with an Irish voice. Dublin looks so beautiful as well — it’s lovely when you’re watching a series that you get an essence of the city it’s being shot in. Our director and our director of photography were Swedish, so they were seeing it through fresh eyes.”
While legal eagles were on hand on set to ensure the script and performances accurately represented their world, Huberman took the opportunity to visit legal offices for research.
“A friend of mine worked in a firm and she said to come in, which I did, and we went down to the courts for a day, which was amazing. You just see the shorthand of how they talk to each other. We had legal advisors but to see it first hand…there are all kinds of old-school formalities about how you talk to the judge.”
Huberman, one half of the best-known couple in the country, says that husband Brian O’Driscoll visited her on set. “He will always come in on something that I’m doing. But he’d rather come in on a lunch break because it’s kind of strange being on set. Everyone has to be really quiet, you don’t know if you’re standing in the right place, or in front of the camera!”
One person who was excited at the arrival of BOD was Huberman’s co-star Neil Morrissey. The affable actor is a huge rugby fan and joked that he struggled to maintain his composure when they first met.
“Brian turned up on set once — it might as well have been Tom Cruise. Everyone nearly went down on their knees — he’s an absolute legend. I was trying to be really cool when I was talking to him, but inside I was completely starstruck. He would rate in the top five of all time in his position. Such a warrior.”
Morrissey, who plays a leading barrister in the series, became a household name thanks to the success of comedy hit Men Behaving Badly. But he has pursued more dramatic roles in series such as Line of Duty and The Night Manager in recent times, and was pleased to be considered for this role.
“It had interesting storylines, set in Dublin which is an attractive thing for me. It was a good character, a good part, and I’d never played a barrister before. It was brave of them to think of me to play the part in the first place. It wouldn’t be the first thing you’d think of: barrister, Morrissey. The two things haven’t run together in the past. So it was nice — a small amount of flattery and a good script.
“The last four or five roles have all been where I’ve had to actually go to work. I can’t just rely on the old funniness. It’s easier to do drama than comedy. If you don’t quite squeeze a tear out of someone in a comedy, you’re slightly forgiven. If you don’t quite squeeze a laugh out, then it’s not comedy.”
He was thrown in at the deep end, making technical legal arguments in the Four Courts on his very first days of filming.
“I had 18 pages to learn in the first two days which — believe me, if you ask any actor — is terrifying. To walk in and do that in the Four Courts, in the actual spaces where these things happen, was a great experience.
“We did have a lawyer and a barrister on set with us constantly, to make sure that the writing was correct and to make sure that we conducted ourselves correctly, in terms of what you’re allowed to wear and not to wear, how you would approach (the bench), what happens when you walk in late, what happens when these various circumstances arise.”
While it has yet to be seen how it’s received by Irish audiences, RTE’s head of drama Jane Gogan confirmed to the Irish Examiner that a second series is already in development.
“We have series two in development. As soon as we finish series one, have series one in production, then we start looking to series two, there would have been a certain amount of conversation about that.
“All going to plan, we’ll commission series two and that goes ahead with DCD (the top rights agency) and Acorn again.
“Most of our returning series, they won’t be huge on their first series because, the beautiful thing about returning drama is over seasons, you actually build this relationship with the audience and the show. It’s what we love about those big returning dramas, shows like Raw and most spectacularly Love/Hate.”
She added that RTÉ has been closely looking at how it could increase its drama output in recent years.
“We were faced with a couple of things in the last five years. We needed to build up the number of dramas we have across the year so we needed to increase our output — many director generals and managing directors have been saying this, but then how do we do it?
“The other thing we needed to do was we needed to finance our shows better as well. Those combined needs of increasing output and making our shows of a higher spec brought us into a much more progressive, international approach to the market.”