How Cork cocaine caper The Young Offenders struck comedy gold

Cork actors Alex Murphy and Chris Walley are a perfect double act in new Irish movie The Young Offenders. And their comic banter is as hilarious off-screen

Many films – perhaps too many – pivot around a bag of swag (or possibly skag) falling into the wrong (or possibly right) hands.

Happily, film-maker Peter Foott, the brains behind Rubberbandits' much-loved Horse Outside video, has refashioned this tired old trope into an original and rather wonderful new comedy. The Young Offenders follows two hapless Cork city teenagers – Conor (Alex Murphy) and Jock (Chris Walley) – as they venture westwards, for 160km, on stolen bicycles in search of a missing bale of cocaine, doing extremely inappropriate things with a choc ice along the way.

“I know they’re riding down to west Cork on stolen bikes to get cocaine,” Murphy says. “But why are they doing it? They’re a bit misunderstood, really.”

“There’s no malice in them. They don’t want to take the cocaine for themselves,” Walley says. “They’re just doing it to sell it.”

The two actors look at each other and, in perfect chorus, say: “For them, it’s treasure.”

If The Young Offenders is an Irish Dumb and Dumber, I wonder whether it's Conor or Jock who is the dumbest of them all.

“I was just talking to my brother about this the other day,” says Murphy. “He says that in the film I’m the dumber one and I look up to [turns to Walley] you because you’re the smart one. But in fact, I’m the smarter one and you’re the dumber one but we’re both too dumb to realise it.”

Sitting down with Murphy and Walley in a central Dublin hotel, it soon becomes apparent that this duo is just as appealing off-screen as they are on-screen. And no wonder. Foott had but one sensible rule, says Murphy: “No dickheads on set.” By the time Foott took his leading men and a small crew to west Cork, it felt like a real adventure, similar to their characters’ shenanigans.

“It was the best summer ever,” says Walley. “We’re still always talking to each other on WhatsApp.”

“Peter always made us really comfortable with what we were doing,” Murphy says. “Because it was his first film too. It was a first film for a lot of people. Of all of us, I think [sound recordist] Danny Crowley and Paddy [Jordan], the camera man, were the only people who had worked on features before.”

Casting call

It wasn’t quite “buddyship” at first sight. Having turned up for an open casting call that popped up on Facebook, the boys found themselves in the same waiting room just ahead of the second round of auditions.

“We originally thought we might be rivals for the same part,” says Walley. “So he wouldn’t talk to me. And he told his mum not to talk to me.”

“I didn’t want him to be comfortable,” says his co-star.

“It was really awkward,” Walley says with a laugh. “I eventually got up and pretended to go to the toilet. It was only later it transpired he was just playing actory mind games with me.”

The young thespians will probably have to get used to such chicanery. Murphy, who just finished his Leaving Cert, will begin an acting course at the Lir in Dublin later this month. Walley, meanwhile, is entering his second year at Rada in London.

“I started just after we finished filming,” he says. “I’m having a great time over there. I love it. If anything, it has surpassed everything I hoped it would be.”

Neither of them has other actors in the family. Murphy’s older sister works for Apple, while his older brother is at university. Walley has one older brother in the Naval Service. And yet, both parties became involved in youth drama early and often.

“I’ve played every sport under the sun,” Murphy says. “I’m shocking at them all. I had no choice.”

Walley says: “I think it was around the time I started putting on a wig and pretending to be a girl that my mum said: ‘Right then, let’s send you to drama school’.”

Today, dressed neatly and, in Walley's case, sporting a mop of curls, the boys are unrecognisable as the stars of The Young Offenders. Jock and Conor, their inner-city alter-egos, are characterised by tracksuits, earrings and bum-fluff moustaches.

It’s a look, alright.

“I thought about getting my ears pierced for real,” Walley says. “Going Method. But my mum thought it might get infected.”

“I remember once hearing an American say that the Irish must be really athletic because they’re always wearing tracksuits,” Murphy says.

This kind of comic banter forms the backbone of The Young Offenders.

“Peter wrote the script but from the start, he was very adamant that he wasn’t attached to it,” says Murphy. “He always said, ‘You know the characters nearly better than me at this stage, so if you think that Conor or Jock might say something else, say it’. He just wanted to make the best possible film.”

“We always went on script for the first few takes,” says Walley. “And then Peter would say, ‘Let’s do a few improv takes’. So a lot of the film is improv. But we’d stay within the narrative beats.”

To craft the perfect Leeside “langer” accent, the teenage stars listened to tracks by Cork rapper Bony. It’s a dense dialect, but one, they suggest, will not become any clearer with subtitles.

“Buer is not going to translate,” says Walley.

“Neither is langer,” Murphy adds.

Period details

Murphy and Walley also took lessons from history. The film is set in 2007, when there was a record seizure of €440 million of cocaine off the coast of west Cork, hence “the worst plan in the world” at the heart of the new film, which includes a few notable period details.

Marvel, gentle viewer, at the hilarious dance sequence, wherein the movie’s heroes perform with a synchronicity that would put Hollywood legend Busby Berkeley to shame.

“That’s actually a dance called jumpstyle,” Murphy says. “Back in primary school, around 2007, I remember it was the big thing. And because Peter was always asking, ‘Do you guys remember what you were doing in 2007?’ We were doing jumpstyle.”

Moment of messing

“Alex had showed me how to do it and we used to do it off the set, just messing around,” Walley says. “So it ended up in the film.”

“Still amazed that made it in,” Murphy says with a laugh.

That moment of messing went down a storm at the Galway Film Fleadh where The Young Offenders was named Best Irish Film.

“We keep telling people we saw Domhnall Gleeson at Galway,” Murphy says. “But, looking back, it may have just been a man with red hair in the distance.”

The trailer has also become something of a sensation and the film has already attracted a rave notice from Graham Norton who has praised Murphy and Walley as “a classic movie double act”.

“We snuck in to the last half-hour of a screening in Cork the other day,” says Walley. “It was amazing; they were applauding all the jokes.”

“It hasn’t even sank in yet, really,” says Murphy. “We made this film and not only did we not have to leave Ireland, we didn’t even have to leave Cork.”

As it happens, they weren't even the only comedy feature in town. Their shoot overlapped with the production of Handsome Devil, director John Butler's follow-up to The Stag.

“It was completely bizarre,” Walley says. “There aren’t that many films made in Cork. But we were at the end of filming and they showed up. For a minute, it was a tense crew v crew stand-off.”

"It got a bit Anchorman," says Murphy.

The Young Offenders is out now

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