“Downton Abbey’s” Mr Bates has Irish charm - exclusive interview


Coyle draws a veil over the major surprises ahead, but he admits there will be plenty of them. Filming the show, he developed a close friendship with Maria Doyle Kennedy, the Irish actress who played his scheming wife Vera in season two. 

“I was delighted when Maria (best known as Natalie Murphy in The Commitments or Queen Catherine in The Tudors) was cast in that role. We had played husband and wife in a film called I Could Read The Sky but I didn't know her very well,” Coyle says.

“As Vera she hit the ground running and since then we've become pretty good buddies. A really good friendship has come out of that."

You wouldn't think peace could be possible between them when you see them dueling onscreen. Vera Bates has to be one of the most conniving and heartless viragoes to hit  television screens in the last 10 years. But it was also obvious how much fun Doyle Kennedy had playing her bitchy part. 

“I have to say in real life she's utterly charming,” Coyle clarifies with a laugh.

Coyle grew up in the immigrant town of Corby, Northhamptonshire, an industrial town made up of workers from Glasgow and Belfast, to an Irish father and a Scottish mother. When he was 28 he left for Dublin to study acting under the guidance of his cousin Mary Elizabeth Burk Kennedy. 

As luck would have it Coyle's cousin was doing then in Dublin what the Origin Theatre is doing now in New York. They were bringing new plays to the public that they would otherwise never have seen. 

“I was only 18 when I went there and it was a bit of a culture shock but it was a great experience for me,” Coyle recalls.

After Dublin Coyle got a scholarship to study theater in London where he began to get cast as an Irish actor due to his wide experience of Irish roles and theater. 

“My career proper started at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and my background is in Brian Friel, Conor McPherson (he won a Laurence Olivier Award for his performance in McPherson's The Weir) and Sean O'Casey,” he explains.

The good news for New York theatergoers is that Coyle meet with the board of Origin Theatre last weekend and was excited by what they're doing to bring new plays to the New York public. 

“I would like to do a show here,” he reveals. “When George Heslin asked me if I'd like it to be an Origin production I unhesitatingly said yes. So now I'm an honorary patron of Origin Theatre. I really want to be involved in this.” 

Expect Coyle to be back in the city in the autumn, when he'll bring real star power to a new Irish play. It's the kind of development that even Mister Bates could smile at, since clearly both men are full of surprises.