‘Young Offenders’: ‘Who knew little old Cork would travel so well?’

The comedy’s enormous success surprised everyone, not least its stars Alex Murphy and Chris Walley

Young Offenders Conor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) and Jock O’Keeffe (Chris Walley). Photograph: Miki Barlok

Young Offenders Conor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) and Jock O’Keeffe (Chris Walley). Photograph: Miki Barlok

 

Nobody saw The Young Offenders coming. Though well-reviewed and much-quoted, back in 2016 few commentators or critics could have imagined that the low-budget, Cork-based, sleeper-hit comedy would take €735,532 at the box office.

Even fewer could have predicted that Ireland’s most successful comedy film since Mrs Brown’s Boys, would, in common with Brendan O’Carroll’s wildly popular creation, win over UK audiences.

A spin-off TV series, developed by creator Peter Foott, debuted on RTÉ2 and BBC Three last year, introducing loveable teenage langers Conor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) and Jock O’Keeffe (Chris Walley) to an even larger audience. Now non-nationals can enjoy such sweary exchanges as “Stop asking Ma how randy she is”.

Even the stars are a little confounded by the sudden limelight.

“I had no expectations going in,” recalls Walley. “I was so young. I didn’t know what I should expect. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. What happened was overwhelming. I don’t think anyone knew it was coming.”

“It’s mind-boggling to think it’s on the BBC so obviously people are watching it over there,” says Murphy. “Who knew little old Cork would travel so well?”

It’s not just The Young Offenders, either. Irish-set TV shows are on a roll.

Derry Girls is fantastic,” says Walley. “It shows you that a good story is a universal thing. People often have that worry. Will this travel? Will they get it over there? But some of my favourite films – like City of God – have subtitles. That’s the thing with Peter [Foott]. Peter writes good stories. And good stories make good TV.”

Between shoots, Murphy is studying acting at the Lir Academy in Dublin. Walley, meanwhile, has graduated from RADA and made his West End debut last summer alongside Aidan Turner in a revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore. There were, the young actor discovered, material benefits to be garnered from the hordes of eager Poldark fans hanging around the side door night after night.

“They were all there for me, obviously,” he jokes. “Sometimes Aidan got so many gifts that a few would make their way to me. It was brilliant. I had the greatest time doing the play. I’m a big Martin McDonagh fan. So I couldn’t have asked for a better play or a better bunch of people to do it with.”

Nominated

And the gifts just keep on coming. For his work on The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Walley has been nominated as best Emerging Talent in the Evening Standard Theatre Awards and he has been shortlisted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ (Bafta) for the Breakthrough Brits initiative. Previous honourees include Martin McCann, Cbeebies’ Ashley Kendall, and Black Panther’s Letitia Wright.

Walley insists he’s still very much a proud Corkonian but he’s still delighted to be recognised by Bafta.

“I’m not actually British,” he says. “I’m Irish. But I’m very honoured to be chosen. It’s previously gone to people like Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley and Florence Pugh and Tom Holland. That’s an incredible group of people. It’s so exciting.”

Both Walley and Murphy are lifelong fans of Christmas in general and selection boxes in particular.

“Santa was always very good to me,” recalls Walley. “Now Santa’s budget was always made clear to me. I remember getting a really, really fast remote control car once. So that was my favourite present until it broke. But I love Christmas. I love Christmas songs. They make people happy. I’d listen to them all year round if I could. I love wrapping up in big coats. I love the cold weather and having the fire on.”

Murphy is singing from the same hymn sheet: “I was born on Stephen’s Day. So I’m a Christmas baby and I feel very at home in the cold. One year, I asked for a bike and whenever I came down, it wasn’t there and I was very upset. But it turned out it was in the other room. I’m also a big fan of passing out in front of Die Hard 3 after far too much food.”

This Christmas, the lads can look forward to passing out in front of, well, themselves. The first Young Offenders Christmas Special has just wrapped in Cork and will be broadcast on RTÉ and BBC.

“We were shooting in October so you had to keep reminding yourself when you went home: Oh, it’s not Christmas yet,” says Walley.

The special will also feature Portlaoise’s most admired thespian export, Robert Sheehan.

“He’s lovely to work with,” says Murphy. “But it’s even better because growing up watching shows like Misfits and Love/Hate you never think you’ll be in scenes with him.”

Last year, speaking from the Cork set of the first TV series, Hilary Rose (who plays Conor’s indeterminately randy ma), noted that, “Every day we hear stories of how popular it was. I met this girl and she told me there was a staff member in the wine bar across the street. His nephew is 10 years old and he watches the film every night before he goes to bed. I thought that was so sweet. It’s almost become part of the culture.”

Filming the Christmas special, the Cork crowds were once again out in force.

“It’s gone even crazier again,” says Walley. “But it’s always fun.”

“It’s amazing,” says Murphy. “It’s all filmed on the streets of Cork and you can see the pride that people have in it. They’re always so respectful and quiet when we’re actually filming. And you can see how much support we have and that it seems to be growing and growing all time.”

Murphy is equally enthusiastic about his colleagues: “Every day, you’re delighted to get up and go because you know you’re going to have a great day with great people and make something that people really enjoy.”

The Young Offenders Christmas Special will be on BBC and RTÉ in late December