Last week we caught up with Peter Coonan, the most talked about young actor in Ireland at the moment.
If he has his way, he told IrishCentral, he will soon be bringing his talents to America where he has always wanted to make a breakthrough. “If I had half the career ['Love/Hate' co-star] Brian O’Byrne has had in the States I would be absolutely delighted – I do hope to get to the world outside of Ireland in the next month or year,” he said.
Irish readers will be familiar with Coonan as one of the stars of "Love/Hate," the critically acclaimed Irish crime drama that has broken viewership records for RTÉ and made waves around the world.
In its final episode, watched by over one million people or one in five of the entire Irish population, a brutal jail rape scene of Coonan's character with a pool stick spurred a massive reaction in Ireland and on social media with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre entering the discussion.
It has made Coonan the most talked about actor in Ireland as a result and greatly expanded his reputation as a gutsy performer unafraid of even the most chilling scenes.
He told Newstalk Radio he had to really prepare for the harrowing scene
"I went in to work – episodes are given out gradually when shooting – and when that scene came out people were kind of looking at me and I was like, ‘What’s going on. What could it be...?’"
"I had to kind of sit back for a minute and really think about it," he said. "I rang Stuart (Stuart Carolan the writer) and spoke about it. It made sense in regards to the character and the arc of the character and this alpha male being brought down to this level and to be so graphic as well. It was the right choice."
The show is known for its brutal violence and has been compared favorably to hit US shows such as "The Sopranos." Twitter and Facebook are abuzz with activity when the show is on the air and it seems that Irish viewers cannot get enough of the bleak drama.
Coonan joined the cast in season two as Francis ‘Fran’ Cooney, a dangerous criminal who falls in with the cast of warring gang members at the center of the show. The cast of "Love/Hate" has changed considerably from its initial run, as various characters were killed off over the course of five seasons. Luckily for Coonan, his character Fran has so far managed to avoid the chopping block and with the show likely heading into its sixth season next year, we will have to wait to see if he will reprise his role
We asked Coonan how he prepared himself to take on the role of such an intense, dark character.
“Well I came in the second season, so initially there was a bit of work to be done just reading up about it, I suppose. So much of the work was already done in the script – you read about the characters and a little about their lives, and a lot of it is trying to find the connection and build a character around what’s written in the script – you have to imagine yourself being in their situation.”
The situation the characters find themselves in is one of relentless violence and drug-dealing, constantly in danger of the Gardaí (police) or the drug kingpins they have to work for. Gun-running, prostitution and drug addiction are all common themes in the show – these dark themes are what interested Coonan about the show.
“I grew up with Scorsese films and 'The Sopranos,' so it would have been something of interest to me growing up – it was a great opportunity as an actor. Interesting and dark, kind of wildly fascinating. We’re all so interested in the psyches of our characters, and how far a human can actually go.”
But for Coonan, he is happy to leave the dark underbelly of Dublin behind when he leaves the set at the end of the day. Though he grew up in Dublin, he happily admits that he wasn’t able to relate to the experiences of the characters on the show. Despite this Coonan has impressed audiences and critics alike and he nabbed a nomination for Best Supporting Actor from the Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTAs) earlier this year.
“I grew up in Leopardstown, a Dublin suburb, which is very far removed from what I’m doing in the show. It was a happy time – I played a lot of sports. I enjoyed growing up.”
Coonan was familiar with acting before landing the part of Fran, having trod the boards as a child and teenager at a stage school in the city.
“I got into acting when I was four or five. My mother was an amateur actress in Dublin, so she would have been an influence to get me into it. I went to a drama school in Dublin and my drama school teacher was a big inspiration. When I was 15 or 16 I concentrated on sport and college, but then I fell back into acting inadvertently through a few different things with amateur scenarios and college.”
Rumors of an American remake of "Love/Hate" have been circulating for a few years now and as the momentum of the Irish show picks up with every passing year, these rumors are only intensifying. Coonan said he wasn’t privy to the ins-and-outs, but he called any possibly adaptation exciting and he had a few ideas of who he would like to portray an American Fran.
“I’d like a young American actor who hasn’t done anything to play me, so someone could have an opportunity to play the part, similar to what I got.”
When asked about his own interest in pursuing a career in America after the success of his co-star Brian O’Byrne and Robert Sheehan in America, he spoke candidly:
“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to go over to the states and get work. And Brian O’Byrne is an absolute hero of mine – I got a chance to work with him in our little scene together, and he’s a real inspiration. If I had half the career he’s had in the States I would be absolutely delighted – I do hope to get to the world outside of Ireland in the next month or year – I look forward to what’s coming next.”
Of course for Coonan there is life outside of "Love/Hate," and he has recently taken on two new challenges – playing one of the leads in a revival of Brendan Behan’s "Borstal Boy" in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre and becoming a father to his recently arrived daughter with girlfriend Kim O'Driscoll.
Borstal Boy is currently enjoying an extended run in the iconic Gaiety Theatre with the cast gamely dealing with Behan’s autobiographical account of his experience of imprisonment, trial, being remanded to reform school and eventual release after being arrested with a suitcase full of explosives aged 16 in 1939. Coonan portrays the young Behan in the play. When asked about the transition from screen to stage he said:
“I suppose it’s something that you gradually get used to. The length of downplaying you’d get in TV takes a week or so – to get into the world of live theater you have to get rid of any inhibitions you might have had. You have to throw anything else away and lose yourself. It’s a different step.”
However, Coonan wouldn’t be drawn into which type of acting he preferred, instead noting the different challenges posed by both:
“They are too different to compare, such different animals. With live performance, the buzz and adrenaline you get is incomparable. With TV and film you’re getting a different opportunity to search into a character in a different way – sometimes in a deeper way. In a play, every night you have to give it 100 percent; it’s daunting in that sense, but when you find your way it becomes really interesting. You find different nuances.”
With "Borstal Boy" set to close later this month, Coonan plans to spend some much deserved time out with his new baby daughter, who was born in May of this year. After a hectic year of filming his various projects and a successful foray onto the stage, we think Peter might deserve some time off!
Peter Coonan’s latest film "Stalker" (written and director by Mark O’Connor) goes on release in Ireland this week. For our Irish readers, you can catch Coonan in "Borstal Boy" in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin until October 25th or for our Americans, you can catch up on "Love/Hate" on Hulu Plus now.