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Ardal on comedy, nihilism, his wonderful wife, worrying . . . (. . . just don't mention the D-word)

Anyone invested in the concept of Fr Dougal and Ardal O'Hanlon as one and the same person need only meet the actor -- wryly cynical, slightly nihilistic, angsty and deeply philosophical.

Granted, almost the first thing he says when we meet is that he's hungover, having enjoyed a night with his new cast members from God of Carnage, the play he is starring in at Dublin's Gate theatre.

He's tall, good-looking and wears his 45 years lightly but when he takes off his dark-framed glasses and says 'brilliant!' there are ripples of that character.

However, we won't talk about that just yet.

He orders a Guinness and tells me about God Of Carnage, a welcome reprieve from the comedy grind. "I wouldn't say I don't have to think for myself but I don't have to do that thing... the constant analysing your every thought and mining your experience for the merest glimmer of a joke."

O'Hanlon lives in Dublin with his wife (whom he met when he was 16) and three children (13, 11 and eight). "The best part of my life is my home life, by a long shot. I'm blessed and lucky and sometimes I think too lucky in the sense that I'm, I wouldn't say complacent. I'm always edgy, slightly concerned, slightly worried. It's just my DNA. I'm a worrier. I worry about the planet. I worry about what's happening to our lovely country. I worry about my own future. What I'm going to be doing tomorrow, I don't know, I just never know what I'm going to be doing. And then when I am doing something I'm worried about whether it's the right thing to be doing..."

I look appaled so he clarifies: "I think that people who think about these things are much happier than people who don't. I think self-awareness helps and people who don't think about it at all and go about their business and they're very frustrated but they don't know why.

"I think if you just go to work and you're very tired at the end of the day and you watch really bad television and you go to sleep there's obviously something missing in your life and you can't pin-point what it is but if you have a job like yours or mine, which is all about inquiring and finding out stuff you're in a slightly better position."

That noise you hear is the sound of Fr Dougal's brain, melting.

O'Hanlon is deep like that, though. We're hardly 10 minutes into the conversation before he's mentioning how choosing a career in comedy is an antidote against nihilism, "a positive reaction" to not being a big believer in the institutions of church or politics, which is surprising, considering his father is Rory O'Hanlon, TD.

"I've always been very self-conscious that my father devoted his life to public service and that my grandfather fought in the War of Independence. These things haunt me and I apparently live a very charmed life which is dedicated to frivolity so I think I'm always looking, searching for something better."

He bucks up. "We're getting very wanky here."

God Of Carnage couldn't be further from O'Hanlon's stand-up and television roles, a black comedy of manners, about two married couples who meet to discuss a bullying incident between their respective children. "It's a satirical comment on marriage itself."

O'Hanlon's marriage is that rare thing in entertainment -- abiding. "I suppose the fact that we have a shared history, the fact that our families knew each other, that's solid, very deep roots. But more to the point, she was a great support to me in the early days in Dublin. She was always there and totally believed in me when I didn't believe in myself."

Our time is nearly up and we haven't spoken about Dougal yet. "You don't need to. Resist, resist," he says and he's not joking. He's stalling, sparring, doesn't want me to land the punch. "It was great, but I'm not going to talk about it. There was a documentary on last week, just go back and watch it."

Finally, he relents. "I would say the first thing that comes to mind is pride, very proud to have been associated with that show." His children love it now too, which has given him some kudos.

He concedes it was a landmark for Irish comedy. "I have to say though the day we finished filming was the day I tried to put it to bed. I definitely made a huge conscious decision never to trade on it, out of respect for Dermot and for the show, but also just to get on with life and career. To viewers and to fans it was a big deal but to me it was a gig, it was a job and I hope that's not too disappointing for fans of the show. You go in, learn your lines and go home."

He has made conscious choices to take acting parts that were different from Dougal, not least his latest role. "It is very different. I'm playing a sort of dynamic prick and you couldn't accuse Dougal of being a dynamic prick, whatever else he was."

God Of Carnage runs at The Gate, Dublin, previewing from February 3, opens February 8. www.gate-theatre.ie; Tel: 01 874 4045

Indo Review