BBC’s ‘Copper’ - Irish gangs of New York blaze through a second season
Cahir O'Doherty talks to Thomas Kelly and Kevin Ryan
As the only genuinely Irish actor on set, it’s particularly interesting for Dublin born Ryan, 29, to see the Irish stronghold of the Five Points come to life. “When I read the script initially I was hooked on the first two pages,” he tells the Irish Voice. “It’s exciting to be the only Irish actor there. Now that the show’s exploring the famine and the civil war it’s another perspective, another new layer. In Ireland we learned about our relationship with the British during famine times but here it’s about the Americans and the Irish. It’s a whole different thing.”
Newcomers be warned, Copper is a very violent show. As Ryan puts it: “It’s so different from anything else on TV. We get to be crazy as shit.” Ryan plays the often hapless but well meaning Maguire, best friend to Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones).
Attempting to uphold the law in the Five Points, whilst wrestling you’re your own personal demons, is hard enough but when your daily grind eventually also includes the betrayal of your wife and your best friend you get an idea of how dramatically hard hitting Coppers actually is.
In the new season Tammany Hall’s outspoken General Brendan Donovan returns from the Civil War to restore his own special idea of law and order to the Sixth Ward, all the while remaining as corrupt as his own neighborhood. Acclaimed actor Donal Logue plays Donovan and the results are television gold dust, as he turns in one of the most perfectly realized performances in a television drama in years.
For Kelly, the story of the Irish in the Five Points hasn’t properly been told to date. “My first novel was about the Sandhogs, a heavily Irish union in New York,” he says. “I had thought the Irish story in America had already been told but doing that book I saw that it really hadn’t. It’s so big and there are so many different versions of it. The working class blue-collar side of that story had never been told except for the cops and robbers stuff. It felt like natural story to cover for me.”
At root in Copper is the question who’s going to run New York? Who will have power? What will the future look like? “It really was tribalistic back then,” explains Kelly. “In 1776 they wrote that all men were created equal. Except for you guys and you guys. But the insane radical notion of democracy is being fought out on the streets in this show 75 years later.”
In this season of Copper the fight takes us to Tammany Hall. The Irish were a huge part of that story. “In the last season we learned most of the characters were Irish but the famine was not mentioned! That’s incredible because the Five Points was the bastard creation of the potato famine. This year we address the Irish back-story more. As well as the issues that shaped and created this world.”
Tammany for all its sins was a force for amazing good in society, Kelly argues. “It was institution on a large scale level to deal with the needs wants and desires of impoverished immigrants. Most of our taken for granted social legislation originated in Tammany Hall. Whether it was eight hour work days or child labor laws.”
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