Before talking to Lorcan Cranitch I checked which Irish films I’d recently seem him in. The short answer is “all of them”. He was there speaking the native tongue in Róise & Frank. He was in Frank Berry’s direct-provision drama, Aisha. He was Éanna Hardwicke’s dad in Lakelands. Now he’s back as Gaeilge for Declan Recks’s Kerry-based Tarrac. He’s (nearly) always there. He’s always good. We knew that when we saw him as the awful Jimmy Beck in Cracker, back in the 1990s. His scuffed humanity has remained useful ever since.
“I’m very, very proud of my involvement in all those things,” says Cranitch. “It’s very refreshing in your fourth decade in the business to be part of all that. What can I tell you? If Frank Berry asks you to be just the guy who opens the door of a car, then you’re out of your mind if you don’t say yes.”
Tarrac, a rollicking drama concerning a woman who connects with her Kerry roots while participating in traditional naomhóg rowing races, follows films such as Arracht, Róise & Frank and, of course, An Cailín Ciúin in furthering a renaissance in Irish-language cinema.
“I got asked to do Tarrac on the back of Róise & Frank,” he says. “I confessed to them, before I went to meet them for Róise & Frank, ‘Lads, I am not a Gaeilgeoir. Don’t make a mistake here.’”
“I thought it was well written. But I had no idea … well, to be fair, I don’t think the producers had any idea of the huge success it would turn out to be”— Cranitch on his big break in Cracker
In his infinitely modest way, he seems content that he mastered the task.
“You have to say the words in the right way. What was difficult for me, not being a Gaeilgeoir, was not ‘what was the next word?’ but ‘what was the next sound I have to make?’”
There is no sign of uncertainty in his rooted performance as father to the homecoming protagonist in Tarrac. He also had to get to grips with the country life. Lorcan Cranitch was raised on the southside of Dublin – Harold’s Cross, to be precise – and began dabbling in acting while at Terenure College. After that he secured what he describes as a “floating membership” of Dramsoc at University College Dublin, where he seems to have excelled. He eventually twigged that he should try drama school.
“The only way to do it was to leave the country and go somewhere else,” he says. “So I investigated it and, unknown to my parents, I pursued it. The next thing I knew I had an audition. I went over and it happened.”
What “happened” was the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Cranitch had never been on a plane before he went over to audition for the world’s most prestigious drama school. “I found myself in a room with people from Australia and South Africa and thought, What the hell have I let myself in for?”
He secured his place as part of what now looks like a golden generation. Kenneth Branagh, Fiona Shaw, Janet McTeer, Paul McGann, John Sessions and Kathryn Hunter were all near contemporaries at Rada. Cranitch singles out Mark Rylance as the “person who blew me away and still does”. Yet not everyone who finishes that college makes it. In an earlier interview Cranitch noted that, by the early 1990s, he was considering throwing it all in.
“Yeah, it was around 1993,” he says. “I was having doubts. It hadn’t really clicked, and I’d been in the business for about 10 years. It was good, but you need a lot of courage to ride it out. And I was losing that. I thought, Maybe somebody’s trying to sell me something. Those demons do haunt us. Thankfully, Michael Winterbottom came along and gave me a job.”
Winterbottom was director of the first two episodes of Cracker, Jimmy McGovern’s extraordinary crime series. Robbie Coltrane appeared as the boozing criminal psychologist Dr Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald. Cranitch played Det Sgt Jimmy Beck, a cop whose initial mid-level sexism points towards greater enormities. Cranitch initially felt he had secured a modest gig, but when Christopher Eccleston, who played DCI David Billborough, left the show, Beck’s role was expanded. The part established Cranitch as an essential character actor of the age.
“I thought it was well written,” he says. “But I had no idea ... well, to be fair, I don’t think the producers had any idea of the huge success it would turn out to be.”
It was eventually discovered that Beck had raped one of his colleagues. Cranitch reveals that, extraordinarily, he offered to fall on his own sword for the sake of the show.
“They wanted to do the third series, and I thought, How do you do that? How do you have those two people working together, alongside each other? I didn’t buy it. I didn’t buy they could do that. Somebody had to go. And I said, ‘Look, I think I should be the one going.’ McGovern said, ‘Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, and I’m going to give you a good exit.’ And he did.”
The cliche to reach for here is, perhaps, “and he never looked back”. Cranitch secured a role in later series of Ballykissangel. He was in the film of Dancing at Lughnasa. He has taken guest roles in Penny Dreadful, Lewis, New Tricks and a host of other shows. This while maintaining a stage career. He was only 40 when he played Prospero in The Tempest at the Abbey.
As we speak he is sheltering at his bolt-hole in Wicklow. It is a strange time to be an actor. The writers’ and actors’ strikes in the United States have given all in the profession pause for thought.
“We all stand behind it,” he says of the action. “But we have a smaller version of the same f**king problem here. Our actors are not being rewarded for international work. You look at our success at the Oscars this year and wonder: Are we not worthy of recognition?”
Irish actors often find themselves working beside British actors being paid vastly more than they are making.
“We need something like the actors on Fair City all to go on strike,” he says. “Suddenly the general public will say, ‘What’s this all about?’”
Tarrac is in cinemas from Friday, October 6th