Tuesday 22 August 2017

'My character is going to bring something out of Tommy you don’t normally see' - Irish actor Packy Lee on Peaky Blinders series 3

Packy Lee and Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders
Packy Lee and Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Irish actor Packy Lee has revealed his Peaky Blinders character is instrumental in bringing out a side of Tommy viewers have not yet seen.

Lee (34) plays Johnny Dogs, a member of the Travelling community and friend of the Birmingham gang Peaky Blinders head honcho Tommy Shelby, played by fellow Irish star Cillian Murphy.

Over the past two seasons and 12 episodes he’s been an important but relatively fleeting presence although this looks set to change in the highly anticipated upcoming third series (kicking off on BBC Two at 9pm tonight).

“I’m over the moon with what Steven [Knight, creator/writer] has done for my character and the opportunities he has given me as an actor, to involve the character a bit more in the series,” says Packy.

“As any actor you just want to get your teeth into something you feel comfortable with. There’s a lot more of me this series which is great, a lot more at risk, and you’ll start to see more of the relationship between Tommy and Johnny Dogs that you haven’t seen before.”

He elaborates, “My character is going to bring something out of Tommy you don’t normally see and that’s what we set out to do with this season and my character.  I just hope people enjoy that side of it.  I can’t say any more or I’ll literally be shouted at right now!”

Lee, who hails originally from west Belfast, landed the role in 2012 after sending a tape of his performance in acclaimed Irish drama King of the Travellers to creator Knight.

However, they both wanted something different.

“We spoke about [not creating a stereotypical character] a lot,” reveals Packy.  “Steven didn’t want my character to be that type of stereotype and neither did I.  I had done King of the Travellers before this and I didn’t want to bring that character to Peaky Blinders.  I wanted to do something different with that type of style.  Steven just wrote it this way and he’s an absolute genius.”

The Travelling community have given the show and the portrayal the thumbs up.

“The response has been brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” says Packy.  “I have family in the Travelling community and I have 110 per cent respect for all of them, and every single one of them I spoke to was very positive.  “People send me messages on Twitter and Facebook, a lot of guys from the Travelling community in Birmingham, London, Dublin and I’m delighted and very proud.”

Peaky Blinders could be described as a modest success for the BBC, drawing an average 2m viewers for the second series which aired in October 2014.

However, now that the first two series are airing on Netflix UK and Ireland, with the third also landing on Netflix in the US shortly, the audience has certainly expanded.

“When it went on Netflix it just went massive,” reveals Packy.  “People can catch it anywhere.  We knew people in Birmingham would hopefully enjoy the show – that’s what we set out for four years ago - but now it’s released in 186 countries and people are eagerly awaiting the next season – it’s madness.  People flew over from Iceland and Norway for the premiere [in Birmingham on Wednesday].”

As for his own profile, Packy has noticed a change.

“I have noticed it back home a lot and I have noticed it just walking down the road.  People shout out, ‘I love your show!’ and I’m very proud of that.  That happens a lot and more often these days.”

Many of Packy’s scenes are with the show’s main man, Cillan Murphy, who he describes as “one of the most giving actors to ever grace the screen”.

“He’s just a great a guy, a lovely family man that puts 100 % into everything he does, actually 110 per cent.  He gives it straight back, looks for every moment, pushes you as an actor every day.  It’s great we have an actor like Cillian to work with.  Not just in Ireland but in Birmingham, London, America, people love him. People need to know how good he is.  He’s a joy to work with.”

The actor also has praise for Tom Hardy, who had a regular role in the second series and is set to reappear in the third.

“Tom’s a great actor, again wonderfully giving and really does give other actors everything on set,” he said.

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“We’re just blessed with this show – so many amazing actors - Helen McCrory, Joe Cole missed [the premiere] because he’s off shooting a movie.  Finn Cole is shooting a TV show in LA.  They’re so busy because they’re brilliant.” 

He may well find himself acting alongside Julia Roberts or Brad Pitt, who have both expressed interest in appearing on the show.  Snoop Dogg also flew to London to meet with Knight.

The late, great David Bowie was also a massive fan of the show, which features a seriously impressive soundtrack of modern tunes juxtaposed with the 1920s setting.

Bowie delivered his new album Blackstar to Steven Knight on New Year’s Eve and expressed an interest in having his music feature.

“There are going to be bits and pieces, but I can’t tell you exactly what and I don’t want to tell you because it’s worth waiting for the shock element!” says Packy.

“Just being the man he was, the genius he was, it would be nuts not to have some of his music in there especially since he gave permission to do so.”

Peaky Blinders returns to BBC Two tonight at 9pm.

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