As TV3 launches a soap opera that marks its most ambitious project to date, CLAIRE O'MAHONY meets India Mullen and Jane McGrath, the two young stars of Red Rock who look set to be the next big things on Irish screens. Photography by Mark Nixon.
Red Rock, TV3's gritty new Garda soap, may not have aired yet but already it feels like the show is set to become television's Next Big Thing. Since the Love/Hate finale there's been a rather large hole left in the Irish viewers' schedule, in terms of the kind of programme that you'll turn off your phone and cancel all plans to watch, but TV3 is clearly confident that Red Rock is going to be that show.
They're calling it their most ambitious commission to date, committing to the drama for two years, which represents an investment of €7million per annum. A slick, dark and intense 90-second trailer has already given a taste of what to expect and this has been accompanied by a concentrated marketing campaign; on my way to meet two of Red Rock's cast members, at a café fittingly enough in the shadow of Clontarf Garda Station, I passed three billboards for the show.
This is new territory for actors Jane McGrath and India Mullen. Jane plays young Garda Sharon Cleere, fresh out of Templemore, while India is Katie, a member of the Kiely family, who are warring with the Hennessy family. Both characters' stories are among those played out in the fictional Dublin town of Red Rock.
"It came on all of a sudden," says Jane. "One day you're figuring out if you fit in your costume properly, then you're driving in and you see yourself on a bus, staring at you. It's a bit strange."
India agrees. "I don't think I anticipated it on this level," she says. "I did think that because it's a new show that there would be a lot of hype about it but I think it's only in the last week that I'm starting to realise how big it is and how exciting it is being involved in a new show."
Landing their Red Rock roles is likely to be a game changer for the two in terms of their careers. It's the first major job for India, 21, from Sandycove in Dublin who graduated from the Gaiety School of Acting in July. "This is the first step of my journey and a really nice one. I just feel so lucky to be working so soon," she says.
Jane, from Foxrock in Dublin, has more experience under her belt. The 26-year-old's resume includes theatre and film work, including the BBC's Silent Witness, RTÉ drama Amber and The Aristocrats in the Abbey. Game of Thrones fans might recognise her from the fourth series of the HBO hit, as Sissy, one of Craster's daughters. "There's a lot of hair pulling and a lot of spilling stuff all over myself," she says of that role. "But it was an amazing experience because Game of Thrones was such a machine. While we were shooting that up in Belfast, they were shooting in Malta as well as Croatia. You have this little tiny set up in Belfast but it's so massive at the same time. It was a lot of fun. The attention-to-detail was incredible."
Just to get one thing straight from the outset they are not particularly concerned about the inevitable comparisons with Love/Hate although there are obviously some similarities in theme. "It's totally different," says Jane. "Love/Hate is Love/Hate. Red Rock is Red Rock. They're extremely different shows and different formats, different stories."
There's no point suggesting any rivalry between Red Rock and Ireland's longest running soap, Fair City, either.
"Of course it is going to be compared to Fair City because they're both Irish soaps and a lot of people have worked on both and a lot of people are friends within the two. It's more a nice opportunity to have more work in Ireland,' says India.
"I don't think there's any rivalry. We're on at 8.30pm and I think Fair City is before that so you could watch both of them and they're completely different stories," says Jane "I was only talking to a friend yesterday about Fair City. Our show is only on twice a week and at the moment I'm still struggling to learn my lines. Fair City is on four or five times a week - I think you have to be a pretty phenomenal actor to do something like Fair City. I know a lot of them over there and I just really admire them so much. They just keep the story going, keep the stakes high, keep the energy going. It's all go, go go."
There is a long tradition of Irish male actors becoming major Hollywood players - Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Michael Fassbender - but both Jane and India maintain that Irish female actresses aren't doing so shabbily in this respect either. India cites Charlie Murphy and Sarah Greene; Jane references Saoirse Ronan and Mary Murray, who is one of her favourite actors.
One tends to presume that every young actor wants to make it in Hollywood but India and Jane are surprisingly noncommital as to whether that is a career trajectory they would like to take - or perhaps just cautious at this relatively early stage of their careers.
"I don't know what my path is going to be. At the moment I'm really focussing on Red Rock and even though I'm seeing my face on bus stops, the main thing I'm doing is really just focussing on the script and what I need to do each day for the shoot," says Jane.
"I worked in London and I really liked it and someday I'd love to go back there but I have no idea what's going to happen. I'll just have to play it by ear." "Like Jane said, it's so busy at the moment that I'm only planning a week ahead of things," agrees India. "It's hard to say. I definitely wouldn't rule anything out but it wouldn't be something that is in my head in the near future."
Would they ever be temped to take on some silly role in a blockbuster for a hefty pay packet?
"It's hard to say when you're not faced with that kind of money," says India. "If it was something like a comedy," says Jane. "I'm dying to do a comedy. I've never really done one, but it really depends. If the people are great to work with and the director is lovely and the writing is great, yeah."
They single out two A-listers whose work they really admire. For India, it's Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard.
Jane plumps for Charlize Theron. "Her performance in Monster in particular is amazing. Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose, it's a similar thing. Both their performances were transformative. When they play a role, they completely change themselves," she says. "I love seeing actors when you can't recognise them in the parts and you look at the credits and think 'Oh my God, that's amazing!' That's a big dream."
One of most appealing aspects about working on Red Rock for Jane is the strong female characters.
"You have the two matriarchs Denise and Cathy and Katie [India's character] and then Sharon [her own role]. It's more great writing for women out there," she says.
What can they reveal about their characters at this point?
"Katie is probably the most sensible of the Kiely family. They're a funny bunch and they're wheeler-dealers," says India. "She's quite feisty and she's very vocal so she tends to voice her opinions quite forcibly, especially when it comes to her family."
There's a touch of the Romeo and Juliets for Katie who is in a relationship with David Hennessy - from the other feuding family - and they're quite contrasting characters. If she were to sum up Katie in five words or less? "Honest, intelligent, caring and self willed," India says.
Jane says she really loves playing her character of Sharon Cleere.
"When the audience meets her, she's been in Red Rock, the fictional town, for six months and you kind of see through her eyes, experiencing everything for the first time. The audience experiences it through her as well," she explains.
"Things come in her way that she doesn't expect to happen, all the things you learn in Templemore. When you're out in the real world, it's completely different."
The actress certainly put in the spadework in terms of her research to play Sharon, visiting Templemore Garda College and sitting in on some of its classes. Two of her cousins are also members of the Garda so she got to quiz them about their work, visiting stations in Donnybrook and Tallaght. She also says that she has plagued the Garda advisor on set with her constant questions.
"The other day it said on the script 'Sharon and Paul do paperwork' but it's nice to get different alternatives on paperwork so I rang the advisor and said: 'What do you think they'd be doing?' He explained you could be transferring a statement onto the PULSE [the Garda computer system]. Little details like that help me do my job as an actor."
As per her character, Jane can now handle a baton but insists that she would be an awful Garda in real life.
"I'm way too sensitive. There was a young girl arrested in Tallaght, where my cousin works, and I wanted take her by the hand and ask why she felt the need to steal. My eyes would be welling up and my cousin was telling me: 'Listen this has to be done, you can't get too emotional.'"
Jane doesn't think that she will read critics' reviews of Red Rock and is more concerned about what the Garda community will think about her performance. "They're what I'm afraid of right now, the most… that I do the best I can being a Garda," she says.
India will not be rushing out to read the reviews either. "I think I'll try to avoid reading them myself but I can imagine there will be some really positive comments made about the writing and about the production in general because we have some seriously talented people in the crew," she says.
Both are clearly excited about what Red Rock will mean for them, and while job stability is not an actor's lot, this has never been a deterrent to either of them.
"I wanted to be an actress since I was about ten years old so it's been like a slow ascent," says Jane.
"I have a lot of support from my family and friends, which helps a lot, because sometimes I have to cancel plans with mates because I have an audition the next day but they completely understand. It is kind of unpredictable but that's what makes it so exciting as well."
"Very similarly I haven't really thought about that side of it because I haven't focussed on the bad aspects of it too much," says India. "But I suppose, the variety in this job is one of the most attractive things about it so it's kind of exciting not knowing what's next. I definitely like that aspect but it can be a little bit scary."
I ask them what ideally they would like to happen next. For Jane, there's a play that she wants to do but doesn't want to say what it is. She's also co-writing a film and hopes to shoot some of that in the summer when she's finished shooting Red Rock. India says she would just like to keep working and getting experience.
"It's amazing how much you learn on each job as an actor," she says. "I'd love to do a bit of theatre and get experience in that area."
And once they become somewhat used to seeing their faces plastered across billboards, it will be interesting to see how they will cope as their recognition factor rises and people nudge each other and whisper "There's yer one from…" in shops and on the street. The two Next Big Things have a refreshingly unstarry attitude to this.
"It's very new for me and I'm not sure I can answer that question yet because I've not yet been recognised," says India.
"At the moment my fame or recognition is within my circle of friends. It's really friends and family texting me and telling me I'm on a billboard."
"I haven't been thinking about that because I'm just thinking about the shoot at the moment but it has kind of crept up slowly and pounced on me," says Jane. "I just keep getting texts from friends telling me 'You're here' and telling me the location of the bus stop. My dad said: 'I drove this way just so I could see it.' It's really sweet."
Red Rock begins on January 7 and airs every Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm on TV3
Photographs: Mark Nixon, 62 Clontarf Road, marknixon.com. Styling: Corina Gaffey, assisted by Rachel Potter. Hair: David Marshall Hair Salon, South Great George's Street Dublin 2, (01) 677 0598, davidmarshall.ie. Make-up: Aidan Corcoran, using MAC cosmetics, aidancorcoran.ie.