'I would never disrespect them' - Irish star Packy Lee on playing a Traveller in Peaky Blinders
Irish actor Packy Lee will be back with a bang for the highly-anticipated third series of Peaky Blinders - the BBC's post-First World War crime drama television series starring Cillian Murphy.
The 34-year-old, from west Belfast - plays rough-and-ready Traveller honcho Johnny Dogs, best friend of charismatic gang boss Thomas Shelby, who’s played by Murphy.
Lee landed the role after sending a tape of his performance in the acclaimed Irish drama King of the Travellers to Peaky Blinders’ creator Steven Knight.
“I thought I was too late for the auditions, but 24 hours after they got my tape, I was on a plane over to England to meet them,” says Lee.
“It really is a dream role for me and, in this series, Johnny Dogs provides a bit of comic relief — although he can also be serious. He’s not as violent as the Peaky Blinders, though.”
A father-of-three — Sodhla (8), Seadhna (5) and Dallan (1) — Lee has been acting for 20 years and starred in the Oscar-winning short film The Shore (2011) and in Killing Bono (2011).
He has relatives in the Travelling community, who have given him positive feedback on his performance in both King of the Travellers and Peaky Blinders.
“I’m from west Belfast — I’m the only one in the family into acting — and I’ve spent time with the Travelling community to get into character. I wanted to be 100% authentic for these roles,” he says.
“I would never disrespect them. The accent I have in Peaky Blinders is something I created with the writer and director.
“I came in with a very strong Traveller accent and they asked me to make it lighter and add a bit of Liverpool, Birmingham and Cork into it.
“I came up with something that’s all forward from the front teeth. I get this wonderful expansion of every word.”
Over the course of four years of filming Peaky Blinders, Lee has become good friends with its “very generous” star Cillian Murphy, whom he describes as a pleasure to work with.
In the new series, he has also been filming alongside Tom Hardy and Paddy Considine and will appear in the dramatic wedding scene in the first episode tomorrow.
And before he dashed off to the red carpet premiere in London last night — while his wife Danielle was looking after their three children — Lee confirmed the rumours that the late David Bowie was a Peaky fan, who wanted to get involved with the drama.
Writer Steven Knight strongly hinted at Bowie’s potential involvement when he said in a recent interview: “I’ve had unsolicited communication from Michael Mann, the film director, from (the author) Dennis Lehane, Snoop Dogg — he’s such a fan. And the late David Bowie was a huge fan — more of that to come.”
Lee says: “Yeah, Bowie left a podcast for Cillian to listen to and all these pictures of him wearing Peaky Blinders caps years ago. He wanted to contribute to the show. I mean — wow.
“For something that was such a slow-burner at the start, with very little hype, it has really taken off. But the writing’s so good, we knew it would. And this series is going to be more nail-biting and international than ever. I’m living the dream. I really am.”