'We just saw things the same way'
In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is a writer and actor, best known for being one-third of Après Match on RTÉ. He co-wrote and stars in TV3’s new comedy, On the Couch. He lives in Baldoyle, Dublin, with his wife Lorraine and their two children
I first met Barbara in a recording studio when we were doing a voiceover. It was May 1998 and I was gearing up to do Après Match. We really became friends when we did a show, Guess Who’s Coming to The Dinner by Roddy Doyle. We just saw things the same way. Barbara’s very bright, witty and very funny. And very human too. Sometimes when you’re rehearsing, people get really serious . . . Barbara had a sense of fun about her. She’s a brilliant actress.
I was in Players in Trinity and I did a three-month course in the Gaiety School of Acting afterwards, acted in a few Joe Dowling plays. I remember being in a play in the Theatre Festival, Savages by Christopher Hampton. Part of the set looked like it was for a light entertainment chat show. Before the first show, everyone was warming up, doing head rolls . . . I was doing mock interviews with the other actors, taking the piss. The director threatened to punch me. He said “if I thought you were doing it deliberately, I’d punch your lights out”.
That was before Après Match – that was the first time I found a format: Barry [Murphy] and Risteárd [Cooper] and I were always doing stuff, it went from there.
It was great having Barbara around when we worked on MacBecks, she’s just full of fun and humour. Some people need that and some don’t; I’m somebody who needs it. She and I had been fooling around with ideas for 10 years . . . initially we’d been thinking of a theatre show with two of the characters.
That fizzled out, then after MacBecks, we got back together and started working on stuff that turned into On the Couch.
One day we got a camera, messed around with Dudley and Sylvia, two of the characters. It was improv, fun to do. Then Barbara went off and edited the thing at home. I think I will probably never be totally aware of just how much work she had to do. But when she showed it to me I started pissing myself laughing . . . we thought, there’s something in this. That’s really where On the Couch started.
Barbara and I wrote it together. It’s not simply a comedy, it’s a dark tragi-comedy. It’s not like In Treatment (in which Gabriel Byrne plays a therapist), although we were going to call ours In Denial.
Therapy is great way of getting into characters’ inner lives very quickly. We’re not making fun of therapy . . . it’s a device.
What else do Barbara and I have in common? Well, I’m not wild about salsa dancing I must admit . . . but we both have an interest in Spain. She speaks Spanish, I just pretend to speak it.
Barbara’s more structured than I am, I’m more stream of consciousness. She’s better at the story than I am. And the story is everything.
She’s always up for a bit of fun . . . it’s her way of being.
is a writer/director/actor. She directed and stars in On the Couch, a new TV3 comedy she co-wrote with Gary Cooke. Originally from Deansgrange, Co Dublin, she now lives in Phibsboro
The first time I remember meeting Gary was when we were cast together in Guess Who’s Coming to the Dinner, Roddy Doyle’s 2001 adaptation of the Spencer Tracy film, transposed to Dublin. Gary played Larry, the father of the family, and I played the mother, a son and a daughter. I’ve played blokes in various things – in MacBecks, I played Paul Scholes, a small red-headed footballer.
Guess had a small cast, and when you meet in a rehearsal situation, you get to know people very quickly. It can be very intense. When it finishes there’s always plans to meet up but often that never happens. It was different with Gary and Janet Moran, who was also in the cast. We all just clicked. Gary and I have the same sense of humour. A few days into rehearsal, Gary said to me “I can say anything to you, can’t I, and it won’t shock you”. And I felt the same, that’s where we connected.
There’s great freedom when it comes to creating things – and neither of us has ever been offended.
Gary and I always felt very comfortable performing with each other, we just feed off each other very well. We’ve become friends but it’s very tied to the work. We share a broad range of interests but live quite different lives. He’s married with kids, I’m not.
The way On the Couch happened was really organic. Gary and I had talked for years about possibly making something together, but just because you work well on stage doesn’t mean you can create something together.
After we’d worked on MacBecks in 2009, Gary came to me and asked “Do you want to work on something together?” Nothing was happening workwise; I said we should use the fact that we had no money and no backing to our advantage, to make something we found funny, something we could make with just the two of us and a camera.
We spent a long time talking about who we wanted our three couples to be, what we wanted them to represent. Gary and I are in our mid-40s and we’re playing characters our age. We’re really interested in the psychology of characters, that’s something we both share. It’s not taking the piss out of therapy, it’s a way of exposing the difference between who you are and who you like to think you are. We play all three couples. All the characters have heart. I hope people will understand why they are the way they are, even a bit about their unpleasant sides.
Gary and I do enjoy each other and the characters we come up with . . . when we’re working, it’s like meeting your best friend in the playground. He’s extremely funny, obviously; very kind, has a very sweet side to him and he’s very good company; I would talk to Gary about anything.
My father’s a champion messer and Gary’s a messer too. We’re both messers – but in a good way.