BBehind some rubbish bins – large wagons in an alleyway on Dublin’s north side – a man and a woman, both old-fashioned, are frantically mating. Their outdoor fun is interrupted when they are spotted by the man’s daughter, who has just come from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
“It’s not what it seems, Shiv,” explains her confused father, posing decently as the woman, short and of Asian descent, with close-cropped silver hair, pulls up her tights.
“It looks like an old Irish man fucking a woman behind some garbage cans,” she says.
This delightful scene is from The dry, a daffy eight-part tragicomedy previously on Britbox, is now coming to ITVX. The old man is played, with all his bewildered charm, by Ciarán Hinds, who is 70. The woman behind the bins with him – and here’s the complicated surprise – is played by none other than Hinds’ French-Vietnamese wife, Hélène Patarot.
You would think such roles would have been offered to both of them together, but no. “I was already working on it in Dublin,” says Hinds, “and then Hélène called and said, ‘Someone just contacted me about something. It may be what you’re doing, but I don’t know. It’s to play a character called Mina.” I said, ‘Wait a minute. I now know what that is. Nobody told me!’”
For example, a couple who have been together since 1987 found themselves in the weird position of working with an intimacy coordinator. “I honestly don’t know if it made her job easier or worse,” says Hinds. “We thought ‘We know what to do’, and Hélène is so nice and just gets it, she could hardly do the scene for a laugh anyway. Whether it was me trying to be intimate in public, we definitely had to bring her together while frolicking.
It is only the second time that husband and wife have worked together. The first was when they met as members of an international cast for Peter Brook’s nine-hour production of The Mahabharata, premiered in French in 1985 and in English two years later. What would the great eminence have made of their most recent antics? “He would have said, ‘Couldn’t you have done that a little more subtly?’ Peter was a very witty man.”
In The dryHinds plays Tom Sheridan, a big old boar of a man whose long marriage has been slowly tarnished by time and disappointment – and in particular by the death of a son. Hence the affair. The three remaining children all have their fears, none other than Shiv (Roisin Gallagher), a failed painter and an alcoholic, who returns from London for her grandmother’s funeral, determined to dehydrate. Her commitment to honesty reverberates outwardly, not least on her father as he flirts with his acupuncturist.
“You are my father,” she tells him. “You’re supposed to be my rock.”
“I am a human being!” he says. “I’ve had a hard time too. It just makes things more bearable, that’s all.”
“For God’s sake,” says Shiv. “She’s not the Dalai Lama.”
Nancy Harris’s script is as bawdy as it is wise, but what ultimately lured Hinds was the knowledge that Paddy would direct Breathnach. His resume covers the boardwalk of I went down (1997), a roustabout caper about Dublin lowlifes by Conor McPherson, to the stark social realism of Rosie (2018), written by Roddy Doyle. The dry falls somewhere in between, especially that scene near the bins.
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“I didn’t believe it at first,” says Hinds. ‘Younger people, fit and horny, okay. But people of a certain age would get a room. I thought Paddy would get to grips with the tone of it. Nancy Harris deals with a lot of issues. Addiction, and grief, and abandonment, and all that. But meanwhile, the mess we are as humans makes a lot of it pretty dry, funny, weird, quirky. It is doubly broken.”
You could say the same about Hinds. With those cheekbones that stand against the breeze, an air of weight and eyes that can get reptilian, he’s always had it in him to play the unscrupulous powerhouse. His most recent turns in TV drama are as a corrupt head of MI6 in the Netflix thriller treasonand a dastardly hotelier in the BBC’s ‘revisionist’ western The English. If our Zoom conversation gets stuck a few times – “These intimate questions don’t sit well with the gods,” Hinds suggests – there’s a chance to study those charismatic traits at your leisure.
Still, there’s always a wry softness coming through, especially when he’s working with his own accent. The main taste that emerges in conversation with him is just right for The dryas it was for his portrayal of the grandfather in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast — the Oscar nomination for which he received a ringside seat at last year’s Smith-Rock fight: “For me, it was like, ‘Oh, guys, come on, there’s no need.'”
In recent years, the opportunities to work in Ireland have increased enormously. It was clear Game of Thrones, which Hinds had doubts about joining to play the “King Beyond the Wall” Mance Rayder from the third to fifth seasons. “I was quite put off by the amount of sexuality in it because it detracted from the actual political narratives,” he says. “But that’s business, I guess, from their perspective.”
Does he have a theory about the growth of Ireland’s industry, reflected in so many nominations at this year’s Academy Awards? “It is about support for a certain period of time. The backup was not there in the 1980s, Ireland was still very poor, but since the late 1990s something started to happen, and little by little they started to organize themselves. Then a generation of younger artists realized that they wanted to give something back to the culture they come from.”
That includes Hinds. He left Belfast in the early 1970s, encouraged by one of his professors at Queen’s University – where he would study law – to pursue his gift and train in drama. At that point, picking it up from Rada felt like a giant leap. “We didn’t know how the world worked. We saw it a little bit through black and white television. Getting on a plane, leaving a small place was kind of huge. You look at it now and you think, don’t be ridiculous.” When Branagh showed him the script of Belfast“I knew within 10 pages that there was something deep in my Northern Irish psyche, that I understood the people he was writing about.”
What does he think of Northern Ireland’s current mental health as the UK and EU push for mutual accommodation after Brexit? Without pausing he denounces ‘a party out there that’s so stranded in the Middle Ages and we can’t move on – it’s such a negative, pointless view of how we’re supposed to move forward. I don’t know what the way out is. I know it can definitely be fixed. But not if people have to pay a ransom.” He’s probably referring to the DUP? “Maybe or not!” he chuckles. And what about the other side? The New IRA is suspected of the attempted murder of DCI John Caldwell in Omagh in February. “The other extreme is repugnant, senseless, and savage. There’s nothing political about that. It’s really just another act of barbarism, and it doesn’t serve our next generation.”
He’s going back to visit family, and London is where he works in theater – though he’s not sure when he’ll do it next. “The old gray matter is retreating,” he says. “I’m just not as proficient at learning as I used to be.” But home is Paris. Their house, “very close to a place called Père Lachaise,” he explains, “a cemetery where I often go to interact with Oscar Wilde, who is buried there.” One can only assume he’s done his share of major Hollywood movies (Munich, Road to destruction), Hinds has endured enough showbiz interviews to feel compelled to flesh out these details.
Commuting, he believes, helps explain the permanence of his relationship (he and Patarot only got married five years ago). “We have always behaved like traveling people. We’ve had this constant of turnover, and movement, and meeting, and nobody’s saying you can’t. So we work it that way.”
Much to Hinds’ surprise, their only child, Aoife, born in 1991, has followed them into the business. “It was a well-kept secret for me; maybe not from her mother. She went to LSE, and she struggled, but she never really expressed a desire. She went on a trip and came back saying she wanted to be an actor. I was like, ‘Whoa, you’re a little late.’ But you’re never too late.” For her biggest role, as Connell’s college friend in Normal people, she and Paul Mescal worked with the same intimacy coordinator who took on the role for her parents. Hinds even went so far as to consult her about what to expect, something most fathers and daughters don’t talk about.
“I asked her because it seems strange to me. I am not from that generation. Everything we had to create together, in scenes of a sexual nature, we just talked about it. It’s about how we tell the story together, so I didn’t understand why suddenly there were intimacy coordinators everywhere. As actors, you let your own mind dictate what you do. Aoife said, “No, it was fantastic because your own emotional context was put on hold, and it didn’t get quite balletic, but not your libido.”
She’s not a fake baby, he insists. “I’ve never behaved nepotistically,” he says. “It’s not in me.” Hence his surprise that his wife was inside The dry. The same thing happened to Aoife when she was cast as his daughter in an unreleased movie called Cottontail rabbit. “It’s a really sweet story about a Japanese man who comes to scatter his wife’s ashes in the Lake District, gets lost and runs into this Irish-Vietnamese-French father-daughter. If we had acted as we normally do, they wouldn’t have believed it. You have to get rid of who you are and be something else.”
Hinds has been something different for half a century now. Did the results of his decision to get on a plane all those years ago exceed his expectations? “I’m an everyday person by nature,” he says. “I feel very blessed, way beyond what I imagined. But then I don’t remember what I had imagined then.”
‘The Dry’ is now on ITVX