Sunday Times article on London casting for NI dramas 26/5/13
29 May 2013
Drew McFarlane, Equity's national organiser for Northern Ireland and Scotland, said its members voted at its annual conference last week to lobby Ofcom, the British broadcasting regulator, to redefine what constitutes drama production outside London. It has also raised the issue with the BBC and MPs in the House of Commons, as well as the culture committee at Stormont.
"We have a smashing series in The Fall but look at the cast, most of the actors, even the Irish and Northern Irish ones, live in London,"
McFarlane said. "Actors who choose to live in Northern Ireland get walk-on roles.
"Local actors don't even have a fair crack of the whip because the initial casting and auditions are done in London before a production comes over to Northern Ireland. When that happens, all the locals get are cough and spit roles. I understand the argument that you need a wellknown face in the leading roles, but an entire cast?" Northern Ireland has attracted a range of dramas made for the BBC and other broadcasters including Line of Duty, Game of Thrones, and The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby, a modern take on the classic Charles Dickens novel.
When The Fall was broadcast for the first time on BBC Two this month, the first episode drew the largest audience for any drama series on the station in almost a decade. The serial killer is played by Jamie Dornan, a Northern Irelandborn, model-turned-actor who used to date Keira Knightley and now lives in England. Other Northern Irish actors in the series include Ian McElhinney, who has starred in Game of Thones and Titanic: Blood and Steel, and former Hollyoaks actress Bronagh Waugh. "Local actors need an opportunity to work in good television drama instead of just working three months of the year at the Lyric Theatre," McFarlane said. "There has been an exodus of actors from Northern Ireland because they can't afford to live and work there. A complete exodus would have a knock-on effect on all cultural aspects of Northern Ireland. You'd think a public broadcaster funded by licence payers would do something."
McFarlane said HBO, the American cable network that films most of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, has created more work for local actors than the BBC.
"Actors such as Richard Dormer were overlooked until they got a part in Game of Thrones," he said. "This huge production started off with well-known people in it, but as it has gone on, we have seen more local actors getting meaningful roles. And HBO has no allegiance to Northern Ireland."
Armagh-born Dormer has said the chance of Northern Ireland-based actors securing parts in a series such as Game of Thrones would have been "minimal" if it were shot in Los Angeles.
One Northern Irish actress said actors who do not have the opportunity to attend castings for television productions in London are loath to complain because "it might appear to be sour grapes. That being said, local actors tend in the main to get very small parts unless they are household names."
In the republic, the BBC is filming dramas including Quirke, starring Gabriel Byrne and based on the crime novels of Wexford author John Banville.
It features Irish actress Charlie Murphy, who starred in Love/Hate.
Vikings, the History Channel's €30m series filmed in Ireland, also stars Byrne.
Padraig Murray, president of Irish Equity, which had a meeting with its UK counterpart and Siptu last week about improving pay for Irish actors working on international productions filmed in Ireland, said it is not the union's place "to tell production companies who they should and shouldn't hire".
Murray, an actor who has had roles in Fair City and The Clinic, said:
"Companies are attracted to Ireland because of the section 481 tax break.
"They must have an Irish producer on board but don't have to have Irish actors involved. That's not to say we haven't tried. Bigger productions have had quite a few roles for Irish actors but they usually bring leading actors with them when they come to Ireland."
Tom Dowling, a blogger who has worked in the film and television industry for 21 years, said: "I can't think of a single UK television production that has come into Ireland in recent years that has employed a significant level of Irish talent. In saying that, we must remember that these productions are primarily aimed at a UK audience and they need to have faces familiar to British audiences."