David Hennessy spoke to Adrian Dunbar and Gráinne Keenan about the return of Irish drama Blood to Channel 5, how she felt a responsibility when portraying a character with motor neurone disease and how he wasn’t quite prepared for the success of Line of Duty.
Irish drama Blood returns to Channel 5 with a crash this week. Revered veteran actor Adrian Dunbar, well known from Irish classics such as The Crying Game and The General as well as the more recent BBC small screen hit Line of Duty, returns as Jim Hogan.
Gráinne Keenan’s character Fiona is pleased to see her father Jim return after a year away. However, the whole family does not share her joy at his return.
Not long after his reappearance, Fiona is hurt in a devastating car crash. However, Fiona and the whole family is rocked by the news that her husband Paul was in the boot when the car hit the water making her the suspect in his murder. The series unfolds to reveal what really happened in the lead up to the accident.
“A lot has happened, a lot of water has gone under the bridge,” Adrian told The Irish World of how Blood’s second series finds the family.
Jim finds some work helping his son-in-law Paul but is all the time dealing with those who whisper that he killed his wife. It is when he suspects some local young lads of messing around with drugs that Jim can’t turn a blind eye.
“He was away for a year and he arrives back into a new scenario that feels dysfunctional. He doesn’t quite know where things are going wrong but he tries his best. Jim could possibly be doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
“As somebody once said: Show me a family and I’ll show you dysfunction. The dysfunctional element is still there thankfully. That’s the bit we’re really interested. We’ve got great new characters coming along.
“I think it’s a great set-up. Sophie (Petzal)’s a great writer. Gráinne and Ian Lloyd Anderson are the two leads because that’s the part of the family the new series is focusing on and I think Sophie’s done a great job in delivering the same sort of thing but in a different way.”
The second series finds Gráinne Keenan’s Fiona struggling with family commitments and her unfortunate diagnosis. Series one found the family reeling from Adrian’s wife dying from an apparent fall at the bottom of the garden.
Gráinne told The Irish World: “It’s a really interesting way to open a story, in the aftermath of quite a huge earthquake in the family. Watching them try and come back together but then also another earthquake hits. It’s so layered and Fiona really is trying to keep the family together. It’s really important to her but obviously people have different attitudes to her father and the whole situation.
“In the first series, Jim kills his wife and obviously that doesn’t happen everyday but I think what the story does is take the idea of those broken moments that we all have in our families, the tensions and feelings, and they have taken that to the most dramatic extreme so there’s something recognisable even within the high drama. Those dynamics are very recognisable.”
Gráinne told us the psychological thriller series does not look to condescend to its audience: “The whole idea is to capture people’s imagination and I suppose throughout the series, there’s a lot of possible threads, there’s a lot of people who could have been the killers and it’s sort of fun for audiences to play with. It gives a bit of a role to the audience.
“There’s nothing worse than being talked down to or treated like we can’t keep up. It’s quite an intricate plot and there’s new characters, it does challenge the audience. Certainly for me as a watcher of TV, and I watch a lot of TV, I love it when a series is asking me to step forward and really work out what’s going on. I think it’s respecting the audience in a way because they’re much smarter (than they are given credit for) and getting smarter as well because there’s so much content out there and people’s tastes are really varied and refined now because there’s so much competition. That’s really exciting when the challenge is to rise to people’s expectations.”
Fiona is dealing with, or perhaps not dealing with, being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, the same condition her mother suffered with. Her mother-in-law has moved in to help her with the children but you can see it is all getting too much for Fiona.
Gráinne told us that the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association helped her get to grips with portraying the condition on screen as she felt a responsibility to those individuals and families who deal with it every day: “That was a big thing for us. I don’t want anyone who has been touched by this to feel like we’ve let them down. You want people to feel that they’ve been represented. It is a big responsibility.
“It’s a disease that can affect people in very different ways. There’s no one way, it starts with diagnosis really.
“It can be very different for different people. What was even more interesting was that they really talked us through the wider implications of the diagnosis for the family and things I hadn’t thought about. How it impacts on the little and big things in households, relationships, what can happen.
“People also react to the diagnosis in different ways. Some people sign up to all the information they can get, others deny it. I feel like Fiona’s in the latter group. She doesn’t share her problems. She’s a coper. She likes to deal with things herself. So she’s like, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine’.
“It’s a brutal disease and I’m especially thinking of people who suffer with it at this time as well because when you already have a condition, I don’t know how people are coping with this lockdown.”
After originally airing on Virgin Media in Ireland, the series was well received here on Channel 5. Adrian says: “We’re all very proud it went to a second series, that the work was recognised. It went to channel 5. It did really well for channel 5 and we were thrilled to hear it was going for a second series because we thought it had the legs and we’re very lucky with Sophie Petzal as a writer. I think she’s really delivered and I think it really stands up.”
Although he has appeared in numerous iconic Irish films, it was BBC’s Line of Duty that lifted Adrian’s profile even higher. The popularity of the BBC’s fast paced crime drama makes Adrian recognised for playing Hastings, the internal affairs investigator, in the show that also stars Martin Compston and Vicky McClure.
“Line of Duty has been a game changer for me and everybody associated with it, I think. I mean everybody’s done extremely well out of the success of the series because they got to play really interesting characters and show what they can do.
“But for me it’s been a real game changer because I’ve never been in a returning series before so it’s interesting, it’s a different scene when suddenly you’ve got a character who’s moving along but people are getting to know and have a relationship. It’s a completely different experience than anything I’ve experienced before. It’s a really nice experience. People are very kind. They love the series and they love the character so I’m very lucky in that respect and I get to work with some brilliant actors.”
The lockdown halted shooting the show’s sixth series. Asked if he could have foreseen such success when he started on the first series, Adrian says: “I don’t think anybody realised what was happening with it because I think Martin and Vicky were brought on board potentially as people who could push the series forward. I thought I was going to be in a returning series that starred Lennie James and none of us really knew what was going to happen to Lennie. So we were kind of working, two thirds of the way through and we eventually saw the last script where he was killed and thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know where this series can go now’.
“We felt very lucky to get a commission for series two because that really wasn’t necessarily on the cards. It happened thankfully and then about halfway through series two it started to take off, people started to take a real interest in the show and we went from doing reasonably well to doing very well and by the end of series two, we had an audience that was ready to travel with us and since then it’s just been fantastic.
“Now here we are, we get a month into shooting the new series and we get locked down. We all have to stop work. Now we’re all sitting around with a month’s load of film in the can and waiting for who knows how long before we can get back to work and do something.
“It’s a bit of a struggle at the minute but hopefully Line of Duty will get itself back together and we’ll move on.”
Gráinne says that in addition to being her screen father in Blood, he is also something of a fun paternal figure to the crew: “He comes on set with so much experience and knowledge. He just knows what he’s doing. It’s great to have someone like that on set.
“Also, he’s really warm and fun to have around as well. It’s funny. He’s a really heavyweight actor but he wears it lightly so that it’s really playful working with him.
“He is like a father figure. He’s got that gravitas but also faithfulness and devilment, you never get too heavy or weighed down by anything on set which is really important. He’s just great to work with. I would highly recommend it to any actor,” she laughs.
Adrian adds that there is no point if the job can’t be fun: “That’s why we do it. We do it so we can be with our friends and have fun. When work is like that, it doesn’t feel like work. The hours are tough, I think we have to make it as nice an experience as you can for everybody.
“You need to let the pressure out of stuff. The work can be very tense and very concentrated and so forth so you have to let the pressure out after that.”
Often used as a destination for other countries’ productions, both actors feel that Blood, which has been sold to many countries all over the world, shows Ireland using its own assets for its own drama.
Adrian says: “I’m particularly proud that this is a piece of TV coming out of Ireland that is quality and has been bought by about 60 countries already. That’s very significant.
“Although Ireland has a very vibrant and amazing film industry that punches well above its weight, we have been a bit slow on the TV end of things. I’m just pleased now to see there’s much more of a drive to realise that people are interested in what happens locally. You don’t have to try and be somebody else, have confidence in your own things.
“I think the Scandinavians pointed the way and I think there’s ways for smaller countries to produce good work and I’m glad to see that RTE are going to film something on the west coast because you have Star Wars and all these guys coming in to film on the west coast because they’re recognising the worth of all that scenery and how fabulous it looks.
“It feels to me like a bit of a resource there that we could hbe looking at in terms of setting a TV series so I’m glad to see that people are starting to look at those things.”
Gráinne adds: “It’s always been a great destination for big productions to be shot because of the locations and the tax incentives but I think along with that there are great writers coming out of Ireland. We have a big, big background in storytelling that goes back centuries and I think it’s really great to see us honouring that in TV in this modern world. I always thought there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t be up there with the big players.
“Maybe we don’t always have the budget but we certainly have the quality. It’s really nice to be part of something that feels like it’s part of a bit of a wave, ya know?”
Blood is on Channel at 9pm every night this week, also available on Channel 5 player.