Access all areas: Behind the scenes of the Late Late Show
From wardrobe to make-up, to hanging out with Colin Farrell, our reporter feels the buzz of live TV as she goes behind the scenes of The Late Late Show Photos by Naomi Gaffey
Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30
I'm sitting six feet away from Colin Farrell. The Hollywood star seems a little jittery, but looks lithe, clear skinned and fit as a fiddle in a tight black top.
He's surrounded by five or six family members and friends - including his parents and sister Claudine - and they're watching a football game on TV.
"Look, Da - the Shels match is on!" was the first thing the A-lister had said when entering the room 10 minutes earlier.
No, I'm not lurking in the sitting room of the Farrell family home in Castleknock; we're all backstage in the green room of The Late Late Show, hence Colin's mild jitters and my open-mouthed observances. He is the first guest on this evening's live show. And sure what would you expect of the country's most famous actor on a Friday night?
The Late Late is, of course, more than just a TV show. It's an Irish institution, as synonymous with this country as Guinness and Tayto. On the air since 1962, it's the jewel in the crown of RTÉ. However, it's not without its detractors. Critics often deem it out of touch and awkward, while others bemoan the quality of the guests and the interview style of host Ryan Tubridy, especially when compared to the other Irish maven of Friday night light entertainment, Graham Norton on the BBC.
Still, we tune in weekly in our hundreds of thousands, with viewing figures regularly reaching over half a million. Twitter lights up when the show is on and the hashtag #latelateshow nearly always trends. Sure, a lot of people are watching only to mock, but others wouldn't miss it. Audience tickets are like gold dust and the figures just don't lie.
This was all in my mind as I entered RTÉ's television centre earlier that evening. Arriving just after 7pm, I was led to the green room with instructions that the area was off limits for interviews and photographs. For a room that's hosted countless A-listers, it's relatively small - about the size of three average Irish sitting rooms - and a bit nondescript. A few tables and chairs are scattered about, and there are crisps and sandwiches dotted around the room. There's a bar at one end, above which hang three disco balls.
Each guest has their own small dressing room in the adjacent corridor, but most choose to hang out here with their entourage before they go on air. (Host Ryan Tubridy would later tell me that, on occasion, it's a karaoke hotbed after hours.) Besides the celebs and their "people" - family, publicists, friends - myself and my photographer Naomi are the only others. As well as Colin Farrell, this evening's guests are Welsh former rugby player Gareth Thomas, pundit Brent Pope, comedian Pat Shortt, and British politician Nigel Farage.
Ryan popped his head in almost immediately - greeting us with a friendly: "Welcome to my world!" In twinkling form, he offered us drinks and asked about our day before sweeping us off on a guided tour.
We followed him through the costume department - a Halloween dream filled with every type of clothing you might imagine. The wardrobe mistress insisted it's a mess tonight. However, the rows upon rows of rails designated for different TV personalities, as well as lots of period costumes, hats and accessories, looked pretty organised to me.
The presenters come here to select an outfit before decamping to their dressing room. Judging by his own clothes rail (all suits, of course) Ryan has a penchant for periwinkle and pink. Tonight he'd already dressed in a blue suit with gingham shirt. Elsewhere, I noticed Bryan Dobson picking out a shirt for that evening's news broadcast, and caught sight of Sharon Ní Bheoláin's colourful rail.
From there, Ryan took us to make-up. A big room with around eight to 10 stations, it was otherwise quiet as Ryan was powdered and primped. There are three make-up maestros here now, all eager to get their hands on me. I insist I'm not going on air - I could be a bit paranoid, but they look relieved.
Ryan and I settle back in the green room for a chat, where he insists on bringing me a G&T. Does he ever indulge in Dutch courage before the show? "Never! I never even go out on a Thursday. I do the show on Friday and then I go out on the mini-tear," he laughs. "Ah no, most Fridays I have a few beers after the show. I don't go home because I'd only be staring at the walls with my eyes wide open for several hours."
He only has a few minutes before he's due on set to run through the evening's line-up and rehearse the autocue, as well as working out the camera strategy with the floor manager for when he's out from behind his famous desk. Rehearsal takes place around 8pm, while the audience are arriving downstairs and being greeted with a glass of wine.
The buzz of hosting live television hasn't left Tubridy, even after six years in the hot seat. "I think I'm enjoying it more every year. This year I'm probably at my most laid back, and that's all down to experience, age and stoicism - three things that combine to form a very potent armour for this job. I didn't have them before and I might have been a little more insecure, or a little less comfortable in my skin. That doesn't mean I'm cocky now... But I am more comfortable."
One thing he doesn't have much truck with is social media, having famously deleted his Twitter a couple of years ago. However, the show is such a hot topic online, surely the conversation reaches him? "It doesn't, in any shape or form. I think in many ways its importance was over-inflated when I was on Twitter, but it's better for me not to be reading stuff, good or bad. If I'm not doing a good job, somebody I trust is going to tell me. Or the viewers will tell me, in that they'll desert the show. I don't need to read every comment from somebody's couch."
Ryan brought us to the set where he had to record the promo for before the 9pm news broadcast. He needed four takes to get it right - not because he fluffed his lines but because he's too physically animated, waving his hands about. The producers and floor managers chatted among themselves about angles, while the seven cameras swooped about.
It was surreal sitting on the set. It's actually bigger than I imagined, but the audience area is far smaller. Ryan insisted I park myself behind the desk to chat to him - it's an incredible experience being in the hot seat but it's also panic-inducing. I ate from his famous jar of sweets, and noticed framed photos on the wall I'd never seen on telly. Next, I sat on the guest's couch and I won't lie - it felt amazing (and very comfy). Then we were ushered out of rehearsal so the producers and Ryan could talk plainly about the night's show.
Backstage, producer John McMahon took us on another tour, this one slightly less glamorous. We saw the warehouse that houses Ray D'Arcy's set; it would be assembled in the very studio The Late Late is filmed in, the following day. A studio is not the only thing the two programmes share - they're also housed in the same office, where researchers and producers clamour for the best guests. John insisted it's a healthy and friendly competition.
We visited the gallery in full pre-production mode, but it was not the hive of activity I expected. The director and producers here are very chilled out, and all is quiet and calm. We watch the audience arrive and wait downstairs to be called to the set. There was a hum in the room - everyone was excited, and most had made an effort with their appearance, aware no doubt that the cameras might zoom in on them.
They were warmed up by the house band, the illustrious Camembert Quartet. The audience were asked to hold hands and sing along to 'Daydream Believer' in order to break the ice - and the band made a show of one poor young fella who wasn't getting involved enough. The crowd were then asked about any special occasions - the couples celebrating their 50- and 60-year wedding anniversaries, respectively, gifted with Waterford Crystal. Then Tubridy made his entrance, said hello and the show was live.
It's at this point that I find myself a couple of metres from the Farrell clan. Colin goes off to be mic-ed up, appearing on the green room flatscreen seconds later. Everyone is quiet, watching as he gives a good humoured interview. Before long, Colin is back and it's Gareth Thomas' turn. He's visibly emotional as he comes off air having discussed coming out. "It felt like I was just talking to a friend out there," he tells me.
It's not like the green room of say, Jonathan Ross, where guests are filmed and thus must be on their best behaviour.
It's more like a glamorous airport lounge, except you're going on live TV instead of a catching a plane.
Colin and family leave after a while, no doubt used to the whole experience. But as the evening goes on, the guests with a later call time arrive. UKIP leader Nigel Farage tells me he came on the show because there are 600,000 Irish in England that he wants to reach, while comedian Pat Shortt says The Late Late is still the best place to promote whatever it is you're selling, be it a TV show, or a live tour.
Ryan's right - I'm buzzing by the end, and I wasn't even on air. It's been an eye-opening experience, the thrill of live TV combined with the relaxed atmosphere backstage. The audience have loved it, the guests all seem pleased, and the man himself is still beaming.
I remember what he said earlier. "Every Friday at about 9.15pm, I start getting nervous because it's very daunting. Think of getting into cold water for a swim. You want to get in and you're ready for it, but it's cold and alien at first. After a minute though, you don't want to get out. That's what it's like."