BBC’s ‘Copper’ - Irish gangs of New York blaze through a second season
Cahir O'Doherty talks to Thomas Kelly and Kevin Ryan
Copper, which has just become BBC America’s biggest hit show ever, is set in the Irish heart of New York City in 1865 and it has just returned for a second season. Set on the brink of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the story explores the shifting political landscape that ties the mostly lawless Irish immigrants to the wider nation. Cahir O'Doherty talks to the show runner Thomas Kelly and to its breakout new Irish star Kevin Ryan.
Lethal gangs, race wars, drugs and prostitutes. The daily life of New York in the mid 19-century can sound an awful lot like a New York gangster rap song of the 21-century.
In fact, watching BBC America’s hit show Copper is a stark reminder that sex, drugs and what once passed for rock and roll really haven’t changed all that much since our great, great grandparents time.
Each week Copper takes us through the lawless Irish neighborhood of the Five Points, courtesy of a massive fully recreated set built in Canada (where the show is filmed) featuring early New York City in all of its gaudy glory. Having arrived here destitute on the coffin ships from famine-ravaged island, the Irish understood the struggle on America’s mean streets was the struggle to simply survive.
The story of how the Irish clawed their way out of poverty and political powerlessness to become one of the most influential ethnic groups in America is a crackingly good tale, of course, which is why Copper makes for such compulsive viewing.
Executive producer and show runner Thomas Kelly (best known as the writer on the Irish American drama series The Black Donnelly’s and Blue Bloods) is the perfect choice to oversee the series. The Irish American author, who’s father hails from County Cavan, is the author of three critically acclaimed novels and is widely considered the best urban novelist of his generation.
Kelly knows Manhattan’s history and unique character like the back of his hand, he’s the perfect choice to guide the show. It helps that he has worked in New York a journalist for so long, with his byline appearing in Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Post and New York Daily News. But his main qualification for running Copper is his enthusiasm for the material.
“It’s not a show I created but it’s the kind of show I would have created,” Kelly tells the Irish Voice. “It worked out nicely. The history of the time I know well and I’m passionate about. In my last book I wrote about the grandchildren of this generation, in other books I’ve written about the great-great children of these characters, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
The cast, which includes breakout new Irish star Kevin Ryan, is terrific as are the writers and even the remarkably faithful set (the show is filmed in Canada) tells half the tail. “I didn’t have to do much research, I walked into it ready to go,” Kelly laughs.
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