Tuesday 19 March 2019

‘It’s ‘Slainte, mother*******’ being shouted at nine o’clock in the morning, walking back from the gym’ - Derry Girls reveal impact of show ahead of new series

Derry Girls is one of the most talked about comedies of last year.  Georgia Humphreys chats with the cast about being back and the viewers’ high expectations for more episodes

Writer Lisa McGee with the Derry Girls cast members (Niall Carson/PA)
Writer Lisa McGee with the Derry Girls cast members (Niall Carson/PA)

Georgia Humphries

You know a TV programme has been a hit when a huge mural of its cast is unveiled in the city it’s set in – but that’s not the only measure of Derry Girls’ mighty success.

Following its launch at the start of last year, it became Channel 4’s highest-rated comedy in more than a decade.

Inspired by the experiences of Derry-born creator Lisa McGee – who has also written dramas Jump and Raw – the candid family-centred show follows 16-year-old wannabe writer Erin, played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson, and her friends as they grow up in the 1990s during The Troubles.

We caught up with Jackson and co-stars Louisa Harland, Nicola Coughlan and Dylan Llewellyn about returning for series two.

The artwork is a tribute to the city’s support for the comedy series (Brian Lawless/PA)
The artwork is a tribute to the city’s support for the comedy series (Brian Lawless/PA)

With the show becoming a phenomenon not only at home – it’s the most watched show ever in Northern Ireland – but also worldwide since landing on Netflix, it’s fair to say there were some nerves ahead of reading the new scripts.

“I was petrified we were going to come back completely different,” says Derry native Jackson, while Harland, who plays Erin’s whimsical and eccentric cousin Orla, adds: “There’s a fear of overdoing it.”

The mural is being painted on the gable end of Badgers Bar (Brian Lawless/PA)
The mural is being painted on the gable end of Badgers Bar (Brian Lawless/PA)

There was no reason to be worried.

“We got into the swing of it straight away,” says Llewellyn, the actor behind James, the English cousin of party-loving Michelle (played by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), who has the misfortune of being the only boy at an all-girls convent school.

The cast of Derry Girls
The cast of Derry Girls

“We’re so comfortable, we know each other so well now.”

Other than more mad antics, what can we expect from the new episodes?

“Derry at that time, there’s a lot of stories to tell,” says Jackson, “and Lisa has definitely got braver with her writing.”

Galway-born Coughlan, who portrays Clare – arguably the most sensible member of the gang – says: “Siobhan McSweeney [who plays Sister Michael] said it’s like series one was amazing, but series two is like everything in Technicolor.

“It’s really nice because you don’t have to do any of the exposition this time, you know the five characters and the family as well.”

When it comes to the impact these roles have had on the lives of the down-to-earth stars, who were all relatively unknown before Derry Girls, Llewellyn says “it’s not really sunk in yet”.

Coughlan recalls with a giggle: “The weirdest was Louisa and I went to New York two to three weeks ago and we walked into a pub and the girl behind the bar went ‘My girl Orla!’ and came over and hugged us both and sent us shots.”

There are many memorable lines from the first series, and the cast have all experienced people shouting quotes to them.

“I’d say for Jamie-Lee it’s definitely the weirdest because it’s ‘Slainte, motherf**kers’ being shouted at nine o’clock in the morning, walking back from the gym,” says Jackson.

Coughlan adds: “I get grannies and mums wanting to give me a hug because Clare is like the kid you wish you had.

“She’s very studious and dresses like a giant baby, and something resonates with the mums and the grannies.”

Llewellyn, whose character often gets picked on by his female friends, says: “People call me a dick, but I embrace it.”

The characters are shown with their daily life of armed police roaming the streets and British army checkpoints on the way to school.

While it’s accurate to the 1990s setting, it’s an education for viewers around the world.

The characters are shown living through the Northern Ireland conflict, and seeing armed police roaming the streets, and British Army checkpoints on the way to school is, for many of us, an unimaginable situation.

It’s also a period of history not particularly touched on in British schools.“The Troubles was all we learned in history, it was shoved down our throats, we learned all about it,” says Dubliner Harland when asked if they’re shocked some viewers weren’t educated on The Troubles.

“I was so surprised that wasn’t touched on majorly in the rest of the UK’s schools.”

Coughlan agrees.

“Yeah, it was mad,” she says. “Dylan and I will go on Twitter and check the responses and see what people are saying, and people are being like, ‘I knew nothing about The Troubles and now I’ve fallen down a Wikipedia hole’.

“It’s amazing the show has opened that up. It’s a real pity it’s not taught across Britain.”

Jackson says The Troubles aren’t widely part of the Northern Ireland education system either.

“Obviously, you’re taught it from living there and your surroundings,” she says.

“So it’s great to have a voice of the North on the TV. There’s not many shows from the North, and never mind for this story to be told in a humorous light.”

Not only is the show pioneering in the way it shines a light on such a fraught period of recent history, it has also been applauded for being female-led.

Harland says there was a “genuine fear” among McGee and the actors that it would not be as successful as a show about males might be.

However, representing how funny women are is something of which the cast is proud.

“Filming this season, we shot a scene that had 11 women-speaking parts in one scene, which has never been done before in a comedy,” says Harland.

“To hear that that’s not been done before is shocking, but it’s also just great to be part of the movement.”

The kinds of characters they play are refreshing too, and there are elements they recognise in their younger selves.

“Like not caring so much about what you look like, and not caring so much about what you say or caring about what other people think,” says Harland.

“There’s that want to be heard, and that want to be individual,” says Jackson.

“That’s such a famous line from the show: ‘Look, I wanted to be an individual but my ma wouldn’t let me’.

“That’s definitely what it feels like when you’re a teenager.”

Derry Girls returns to Channel 4 next Tuesday March 5.

Read more: People expect me to be wild. They keep buying me shots! Derry Girls' Jamie-Lee O'Donnell on overnight fame

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