By BILL HARRIS
Special to The Lede
The new STARZ drama series DUBLIN MURDERS goes deep “into the woods,” literally and figuratively. Based on a book series by Tana French and set in Ireland in the early 2000s, the show focuses on two murder detectives - Rob Reilly, played by Killian Scott, and Cassie Maddox, played by Sarah Greene - whose investigations of current crimes cause their own complex pasts to bubble up.
In advance of the North American debut, Sunday, Nov. 10 at 10 p.m. ET on STARZ in Canada, Scott and executive producers Sarah Phelps and Noemi Spanos set up the series while on a visit to Toronto for the world premiere of the drama, presented by Bell Media.
Q: First, for Killian Scott, your character smokes an awful lot. Should we be worried?
Killian Scott: “I wasn't quite aware of how much I was smoking at the time, because of the way we chop up the scenes, and the order in which we film. But I think my character Rob probably has greater personal concerns than his nicotine addiction.”
Q: It’s funny, in an earlier age when a character smoked, it merely was for effect and there were no judgments attached. These days, when we see a character smoking, it immediately seems to indicate inner turmoil.
Sarah Phelps: “Yes, in this case you’re thinking, there is something going on with this character, this is a person who has made a pact somewhere, and personal health is very low on his list of priorities. Smoking actually is a barrier. Nobody can come up to you when there's a burning coal a few inches away. It's a disguise. If you're standing, it literally is a smokescreen.”
Killian Scott: “That's a really interesting interpretation, because I think it's like that with Rob. There is a sort of philosophical nonchalance towards mortality or something.”
Q: When a TV show goes to dark places, what balance do you have to strike with the viewers from a creative standpoint?
Sarah Phelps: “The audience has to trust you. If there’s a body on the floor, we have to honour that body. It's not there as a cheap catalyst to give you a shudder of grimness. I find that really distasteful. So if you earn that trust, you can hold your hand out and say, ‘We’re going to go into these woods, but I’m not going to let you down.’ ”
Q: The detectives in DUBLIN MURDERS are struggling with their own pasts, but they’re also dealing with the crushing weight of their line of work. How many dead bodies can you see before it really starts to affect you?
Noemi Spanos: “And an added element of having this set in Ireland is, being a small country, you can't be an undercover agent for many operations. In fact, I think it's only two.”
Sarah Phelps: “I kept thinking, who becomes a murder detective? I absolutely love detective thrillers as a genre. But in real life the people who do these jobs are incredibly diligent and utterly focused on what is laborious and time-consuming work, in order to build a case that you can successfully prosecute. I suppose in the genre of detective fiction, people often are doing this kind of work so that they can hide themselves amongst it. There's a shape and a structure to an investigation that sometimes is missing in their lives.”
Q: We’ve covered the darker elements, so let’s end on a lighter note. There’s some amusing wordplay between the Irish and English characters, as they comically raise eyebrows at each other. What does a North American audience need to know in order to laugh along with those jabs?
Sarah Phelps: “I think you just hit on something that really matters to me, which is that when you're telling a story such as this, about a little area of Ireland, people will say, how are you going to make it universal? And my answer is always, well, you don't, you make it absolutely specific. If you want it to achieve universality, you focus down and hone in like a sniper, because it's in the specifics that we find common ground. And in terms of the jokes, as you say, there is nowhere in the world where somebody won't look at someone else and sometimes just roll their eyes because they come from a different village, or a different town, or a different street.”
Noemi Spanos: “We have basically an entirely Irish cast, and our intention was to cast an English actor to play English Rob. But Killian, who is Irish, came along and blew up the way.”
Killian Scott: “It’s funny, I did a role in Canada, a show called DAMNATION, playing an American part, and the easiest thing to do with an accent is to just arrive in it, and stay in it, for as long as possible, between takes and around the days of filming, all the time. It was easy in that case because I was only working with American and Canadian actors, who weren’t as familiar with my speaking voice, and wouldn't be so attuned to an Irish accent. But doing the English thing with an entirely Irish cast? It's something you do for the gig, because it's worth it. But I cringed at myself a little bit between takes, when I’d be asking an Irish person for a cup of coffee with a fine, clipped British accent. You have to swallow your pride in those moments.”
Q: And the emotional tension over the accent clearly is what led to all the smoking.
Killian Scott: “Exactly, it's because of the accent! There it is, we've come full circle.”