Dearbhla Walsh, Stuart Carolan, David Caffrey, Tom Vaughan Lawlor on the Love/Hate panel
The Galway Film Centre’s TV drama seminar this October featured a Love/Hate panel – attended by series creator/writer Stuart Carolan, director David Caffrey and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. Gemma Creagh was there to find out about RTÉ’s most successful drama.
As the rain pummeled on the window panes of the Harbour Hotel, Galway on the Autumn afternoon of the 17th October, those of us clutching our teas inside for the Love/Hate section of Talking TV Drama were about to be steeped in some inspiring Irish talent. It was Dearbhla Walsh who introduced the panel to the eager crowd of filmmakers and fans. Now household names, David Caffrey (Director), Stuart Carolan (Writer) and King Nidge himself – the surprisingly well-spoken – Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, talked to us open and honestly about one of the most popular Irish TV Dramas in recent history.
The origin of Love/Hate was Dearbhla’s first question, she queried Stuart and David as to who made the first move, had it been RTÉ or themselves? Originally the pair had gone in to pitch an alternate show, however at the very last minute Stuart decided to mention his ideas for Love/Hate, which himself and David had been discussing for quite some time. Dearbhla followed up with an enquiry about the show’s topic: ‘Are you interested in exploring the world of crime, of the family?’ Stuart took some time formulating his response: ‘I’d had an obsessive interest in it. The themes are there, it’s grief and love and hate; that’s what it’s about. It’s a heightened world… Love and death. Who’s not interested in that?’
Speaking about their past, David and Stuart brought up the first time they’d worked together on popular RTÉ drama, RAW. One of three writers, some of Stuart’s scenes had ‘sat up just a little bit more’ for David. This opened dialogue between them, and they began to talk about Love/Hate but made the decision to approach it more like an independent film. David worked closely with Stuart in order to really get inside his thought process and shared: ‘The look, the feel, the tone – all of those kind of things didn’t go through a lot of people. It went straight from his head into mine.’
Stuart cited Shameless as one of his major influences, which also happened to be one of the many shows Dearbhla had directed episodes for. He noted how the programme, along with a number of massive US shows, had kept the writer at the heart of it. Previous to penning Love/Hate Stuart shared his heartbreak of writing plays – and quite a few things in other areas – that just hadn’t gotten made: ‘I was nearing the end of my tether, to be honest with you.’ So pitching Love/Hate was his final chance – but he knew he didn’t want to work with the old model and lose too much creative control. Quite bromantically, Stuart spoke about how he was in the doldrums before he met ‘Caffo’ and praised the director’s sense of fun.
The well-deserved lovefest continued as David shared his esteem for the rest of the Love/Hate team: ‘When you’re in a situation where you’re with people you really like, you’re able to make mistakes. I feel comfortable and confident enough with both of these guys to make a fool of myself and go: “What about this for an idea?” Stuart can instantly just go: “Pfffft… that’s bollix.” I’m not going to take offense to it. That’s the sort of trust in the relationship we would have. Same with me and Tom on set; he can basically try anything he wants.’
Declan Gibbons (Galway Film Centre Manager) and Stuart Carolan (Love/Hate Writer) share a pose
Casting director, Maureen Hughes, was credited by Tom for landing him the role of Nidge. It was her who sent him on a copy of the script. Although doing a couple of films previously but no TV, Tom was completely blown away by it and added: ‘One of the testers for me is running lines with my family. They are a really good barometer of what they think is crap or not. So I was running lines with my sister, and she was saying: “What the hell is this? This is really incredible!”’ Tom talked about meeting David for the first time, and the director’s alternative take on auditions: ‘One of the great things he does for an actor is, when you audition, Maureen comes out and says: “Look you’re not going to go in there and have a chat… you’re just going to do the scene. You might get a note and that’ll be it.” So David didn’t want any preconceived notion of who you are.’
At this stage David cheerfully added: ‘I met Nidge before I met Tom!’
In the beginning stages of Love/Hate, David and Stuart discussed the character of Nidge in great detail – and had decided on a particular picture of exactly who they were looking for. They were a tad cagey about revealing who the subject was – and rightly so – but they admitted the mystery man was very distinctive. It was thanks to Maureen, David shared, that they found what they were looking for when Tom walked through their door.
On the subject of scripts, Stuart praised Paul Abbott’s writing technique; he was enamored with the joy and movement in Abbott’s work. Dearbhla agreed. During her time working on Shameless, she was always able to recognise the scripts that Abbott had written himself – giving credit to the flow to his writing and the fact nobody else could properly write Frank Gallagher: ‘Part of all of that is because Paul knew those characters. It was his story.’ The crowd couldn’t hold back their laughter when she revealed that Shameless was heavily influenced by the Waltons – right down to the closing voiceover.
Love/Hate’s previous gangland boss was played by the heavyweight Game of Thrones actor, Aidan Gillen, and Tom cited Aidan’s professionalism as inspiring: ‘The first week of filming was my apprenticeship in screen acting really. I think being thrown into the deep end – but also working with Aidan, being in scenes with him and seeing his technique – it was mind blowing. I remember thinking: “he’s not doing anything… I’m acting my balls off!” Then you look back on the footage and it’s all going on – so the penny starts to drop.’
Bringing up the controversial nature of the show – and the infamous cat scene – Dearbhla questioned RTÉ’s role in editorial censorship. Stuart commended RTÉ Drama commissioning editor, Jane Gogan and her unwavering support and trust in their work: ‘We have conversations with her the same way we have conversations with each other, about the importance of it, about the morality of it, about getting to the heart of it and going with what’s important to the story… It’s about being true to this world, even if we’re going to lose the audience. And that’s pretty amazing to have.’
When discussing the rape and murder that takes place in the opening episode of season three, Dearbhla revealed that the bar where ‘the’ scene was filmed was the Irish Conservatives’ Club. For that episode Git had been a tough character to cast; according to Stuart, a lot of the actors who read for that role were over the top. He wanted someone who could provide a sense of violence without having to shout. The creators had originally agreed on Mannix Flynn for the role, but Mannix had ended up stalling his acceptance until his friend Jimmy (who eventually got the part) was able to do the audition.
With the panel relaxed and chatting away, David admitted it took eight days of shooting to record each one-hour episode, and how he generally only reverted to storyboards for the more intricate, expensive scenes. He also confessed that to adhere to a quick set up, himself and Tom would often do their run-throughs on the set – but this wasn’t quite the norm and was mainly done only because the pair had developed a trust.
After a screening of the scene in question, the talk was diverted to Dano breaking the necks of his father’s pigeons. This was actually based on a true story, which happened after the father of Stuart’s friend had passed away. Stuart thought it was very meaningful moment – and asked could he use it for the show.
Love/Hate’s soundtrack owes much to the powerfully atmospheric compositions of Ray Harmon, but David also disclosed how Stuart chooses eighty percent of the music tracks – even for the promos and trailers. Stuart added how the music comes into his head as he’s writing: ‘I think that’s my favourite bit sometimes, the music will make something come alive.’
Much like the rest of us (Dearbhla included), Tom was in awe of Stuart’s writing: ‘It’s great. Sometimes you get scenes from this with this great weight behind them. Very little seems to be happening, but everything is happening… these little moments.’ Tom added how, when the show is all over, that the shooting scripts should be released – mainly because the stage directions are so incredible. When asked for specifics Tom continued: ‘There’s a love scene coming up later. I can’t give too much away but it’s a three-page description… this incredible journey of these two people together. Just reading it as an actor, it’s not just: “they have sex.” It has an arc and flow and is just a real gift to an actor.’
To illustrate the surreal nature of his newfound fame, Tom had us in stitches with a funny experience he’d had on the tube last year: ‘It was quite a full tube and I was sitting reading a book, when a group of maybe six Dublin teenagers got on… and I hear someone going: “Oh my god.” “OH MY GOD.” “Nidge. Nidge!” They all started going mental. They came over for photographs and were chatting away, and when they all got off at Leicester Square, everybody on the train turns and looks at me.’
The questions were then opened up to us on the floor and one young female actor asked Tom talked about preparing for his role – especially the emotional scenes. We were thrilled when he began regaling us with another Aidan Gillen anecdote: ‘I remember working with Aidan. They would cut and say: “We’re moving on.” Aidan would say: “I could do a better one”. His status would allow for that. [Chuckles] He’s a very generous man. I remember doing a scene with him and it was on me. They were moving on and he went: “Are you happy with that?” [Laughs] I was going… oh god, Aidan Gillen thinks I’m crap in the scene! … What he said was: “Look, if you’re not happy with it yourself, say it now because you’re never getting another go at it.” It was a great lesson.’
The next question was on research, something Stuart does quite a bit of, be it talking to the Gardaí or just investigating the boring mechanics behind money laundering. Ultimately he advised us not to rely on it too much: ‘It’s all made up. If you look at this room, I guarantee you that most of you have experienced loss or that type of thing… All the research aside, as a writer you’re haunted by something. It’s just a sense – but it can be the smallest of things.’ He added that what he finds most surprising of all is how the stereotypes of who is involved in drugs, who dies from overdoses, it’s never who you think.
As the superb talk came to an end – and as a first-rate show is concluded for another season – those of us in the audience were at least consoled by the copious glasses of tasty wine and sandwiches waiting for us outside.