Gillen 'stunned' after he landed deadly serious role as deadpan Irish comic genius Dave Allen
Game of Thrones star Aidan Gillen says he was surprised to be offered the role of legendary comedian Dave Allen in a new TV biopic to be broadcast tomorrow.
The actor (49) said he is a fan of his fellow Dubliner, who died in 2005, but admitted he rarely saw his shows on British TV as a youngster.
"I didn't see much of Dave Allen growing up for various reasons, like only having RTE most of the time," he said.
"I would have loved it, I'm sure, at the time it was first going out if I had access and I was old enough to get it.
"But I'm a fan now. The ones he paved the way for - like a lot of the 1980s alternative comedians - seem pretty dated now but a lot of his stuff still rings true.
"A lot of people are still afraid of priests and the Church, despite everything. He was way ahead of the times on that front."
Allen was one of the most controversial comedians of his era, enjoying a 40-year career.
An atheist, he delighted in telling stories about the Catholic Church while sipping Scotch and the clergy and was often criticised from the pulpit.
Dave Allen at Peace, made by the BBC in conjunction with RTE, tells of Allen's rise to fame from performing alongside his brother as a Butlins Redcoat to becoming one of Ireland and the UK's comedy greats.
Filmed in Northern Ireland, the hour-long drama also stars comedian Tommy Tiernan as Allen's father, and will feature Pauline McLynn, Ian McElhinny, Conleth Hill, Cold Feet's Robert Bathurst and Joanne Crawford from Line of Duty. "I was offered it and, yes, initially I was surprised until I started looking over stuff and could see that it was an achievable sketch," said Gillen.
"Retrospectively, I can say it is something that I would have chased if I had to.
"Some gigs you're thought of way early in the discussions and others, well, you may not be, or considered completely wrong for.
"For example, even though [RTE drama] Haughey was initially suggested to me by the director Anthony Byrne who was in early discussions to direct it, I had to actively go after it.
"If there's a good role out there and you think it's yours to play and no-one else, you have to try and make it happen."
Did he manage to look like the comedian, who was 68 when he died?
"There's not much makeup involved, but I think I get away with it, yes."
Written by Stephen Russell (Peaky Blinders), the drama will explore how Allen's comedy genius was shaped by the tragic loss of his father, his brother - and his finger.
An industrial accident cost him the top half of his left forefinger, but he used the loss in many of his gags.
The film reveals how he survived decades of the Catholic Church's wrath, death threats from the IRA and a ban by Irish and Australian TV.
Gillen says: "He had a loose, unpredictable affable quality to him.
"He was a really good actor so his sketch work had an honesty to it.
"He was a cracking storyteller too and an iconoclast who didn't seem afraid of too much.
"He was part old school, part new school and there weren't many others in the new school.
"He knew what he was doing and put himself in a position where he could knock out some pretty sophisticated gags on prime time weekend slots whilst not really alienating anyone.
"He could do atheist gags and more old-fashioned visuals like the road sweeper sweeping the litter under the pavement gags back to back, no problem.
"Buster Keaton, Lenny Bruce, Samuel Beckett all come to mind looking through just one of his Saturday night specials. That's pretty good," he added.
The actor watched many hours of Dave Allen shows on the internet for research and said he admired comedians but admitted he "wouldn't make it out alive" as a stand-up.
'Dave Allen at Peace' is on RTE One tomorrow at 9.30pm.