It’s no surprise that Red Rock is returning for a second season, says Jonathan de Burca Butler – more a drama than a soap, there’s gritty reality, strong script-writing and fine acting talent from the likes of Jane McGrath.
When I go to meet actress Jane McGrath at The Central Hotel in Dublin, I’m relieved to find two people in the bar that look nothing like her.
I am a little late and her apparent tardiness will give me time to ready myself. As I settle into my seat I notice another room off the main bar.
I convince myself that she couldn’t be in there, she is after all an actress, at the centre of things, likes to show off, likes to be seen, but I persuade myself to go and check.
As I poke my head into this slightly darker annex, I’m greeted by a hearty hug-like smile and a quietly cheerful ‘hello’, said with a slightly flirty intonation.
Straight away Renée Zellweger’s famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire pops into my head but I manage to keep that to myself.
Yes, it’s safe (but probably not politically correct) to say I like Jane straight away.
Within minutes of meeting her it becomes apparent that there is a quiet confidence there, based on a rare quality that immediately puts you at ease and makes you think that she is not in fact talking about herself but someone else.
Her voice is consistent, calm, and never hysterical which makes it all the more surprising when she tells you she was “extremely hyper” at school.
As it turns out, it was with good reason. The 26-year-old actress, who plays the part of Garda Sharon Cleere in TV3’s Red Rock, “had bad dyslexia”.
“I’m a lot better now,” she says, “my confidence is a lot better. In school it was so low and that hinders you because you think you can’t do whatever it is that has to be done and you make it a factual choice and you kind of settle on that. So really I had a difficult time in primary school.”
The discovery of Jane’s dyslexia came comparatively late. It was only when she got to secondary school that a member of staff took Jane’s mother to one side and suggested she be tested for the disorder.
“I ended up missing half my exams in second year doing tests to find out what it was,” she recalls.
“We have this circular table at home that extends out and I remember my mum pulling that out so the lady could put all her tests on it for me. It felt like a week-long interrogation.
"It was very tiring but it was a bit of a relief to find out then. I felt that it kind of didn’t matter that I didn’t want anything to do with maths or science and so I just stuck with the drama.”
Jane started acting when she attended a summer camp at the age of 11. By the time she started going to Loreto Foxrock she was already a regular at Pamela Hughes’s school of acting in nearby Tullow Church.
“When I hit secondary school I got really into it,” she recalls.
“I didn’t play any sports, now I wish I had because I’m really unfit, but anything that came up in school that was drama I was on it.”
Her involvement and interest in the stage was not confined to acting however and when an opportunity came up to direct the annual talent show she put herself forward and got the role.
“I don’t really know where I got the acting bug from,” she says.
“Neither of my parents were involved with it all. But I did discover something interesting recently.
"My uncle is doing our family tree at the moment and only about six months ago he found some old photos of my [maternal] grandparents acting in what appear to be plays, so the gene must have come from there because there’s nobody in my immediate family who was into acting at all.”
Jane’s early immersion in all things drama-related has stood her in good stead and has helped her land parts in TV dramas such as Amber and Game of Thrones; a series she refers to as “spectacular” and “a machine of a show”.
The actress, who hints more than once that she would someday like to direct, seems determined to keep up the multi-faceted approach to her craft.
During our conversation she informs me that after our interview she is off to a Garda station to interview a member of the force who approached her in the street and offered to give her feedback on Red Rock.
This is not the first time she has undertaken such research. As part of her preparation for Red Rock, Jane visited the Garda training facility at Templemore.
Apart from having to get up in front of 30 trainees and fire questions at them, she recalls one cadet in particular.
“I can’t remember the name of the woman in question and I didn’t get her contact details but I remember she was a bit younger than me and even more petite but she had this poise about her, a kind of strength, even though she was so quiet.
"She didn’t ask any questions or anything but she came up to me afterwards and we sat down and had a chat.
"I remember her saying to me that she was looking forward to helping people; particularly the elderly and she said that she wasn’t looking forward to the bad things but she knew the bad things have to happen. I’d love to know how she’s getting on actually.”
For Jane the cadet has some of the characteristics of her own character, Sharon Cleere, in the TV3 series.
“I don’t know if Sharon was as wise as that going into Templemore,” says Jane.
“But she has a keen sense of justice and she’s very smart. I think she loves helping people but I think she’s a little naive.
"Sharon is the newest recruit so she sees everything for the first time and the audience is following her on that journey and you’re not too sure she’s doing the right thing.
"She thinks she’s doing the right thing but she’s learning valuable lessons as the story goes on and how harrowing the real world can be and how people get away with stuff.”
At the centre of series one was Sharon’s struggle with Sergeant Brian McGonigle, played by Seán Mahon, an old-school manipulative sleaze who is having an affair with an underage schoolgirl.
At one point, it becomes apparent that Sharon is going to lift the lid on McGonigle.
To shut her up the sergeant leads Sharon to a warehouse where she is set upon by three hired thugs.
The opening punch is ferocious but it was something Jane felt “had to happen” for the audience to believe both characters.
There is a certain grittiness about Red Rock that makes it more of a drama and less of a soap, but does Jane feel the series is a good reflection of the gardaí?
“I have cousins in the gardaí who tell me that it’s like a family,” she says.
“So it’s only a small thing but even in the series if we pass a guard who [is not a main character but] is an extra we always make sure to say hello to make it more realistic because everyone knows each other and they’re very loyal.”
When I push her a little on the loyalty side of things and whistle blowers, Jane is tactful.
“It’s hard to know,” she says. “I suppose some people have a negative view of them and others think they’re very brave. I’m not sure I can comment on it because I’m still a bit ignorant to it all but it would be a good topic to base a script on.”
Red Rock is contracted for two series but with viewing figures of over 200,000 for the first series it is almost inconceivable that TV3 wouldn’t commission more.
Although she can’t say for sure, Jane thinks Sharon may well go through “something of a hardening up” in series two, which means viewers can look forward to more tense trials and tribulations on screen.
Red Rock returns with a new season on September 2. Re-runs of series 1 are on TV3 at 10pm every week day.
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