Following its recent release on video on demand, OTwo sits down with Alex Murphy and Chris Walley of The Young Offenders, the highest-grossing Irish-made film of 2016.
The Young Offenders debuted last year to attentive audiences at home and abroad. It was the highest-grossing Irish-made film of 2016, picking up three awards at the LA Comedy Festival in November for ‘Best Feature Direction,’ ‘Best Feature Screenplay’ and ‘Best Feature Film.’ This is thanks in no short part to the lead performances by Alex Murphy and Chris Walley, who play two teenagers in Cork who endeavour to find an untouched bale of cocaine worth seven million euro. Their performances were praised by critics and fans for their ability to couple their comedic sensibilities with genuine emotion.
Speaking to the pair it becomes apparent that the duo brought a lot of their own humour to the film, and that recent success has not hampered their down-to-earth personalities and genuine charisma. In one scene in the film Alex Murphy’s character, Conor, shoves a Choc Ice down his trousers: “Yeah it was originally a Loop the Loop,” he says. “So it was Loop the Loop all over my crotch, but we got a call from HB saying ‘we don’t want you doing that.”
“‘We don’t want you rubbing up against our Loop the Loops,’” responds Chris Walley, imitating the heads at HB.
“Yeah so we just got a generic looking Choc Ice-looking ice cream and I put that down my pants […] It’s not pleasant. [We had to shoot it] four or five times. And actually, it just hurt. It was just a rapid change in temperature down below.”
The director of the film, Peter Foott, had not made a feature until this point, having worked exclusively on television shows like The Republic of Telly and The Clinic, and as for Murphy and Walley this was also their first experience of making a feature film.
“It was a great process because it was everyone’s first time, bar the camera man and the sound guy”
“It was a great process because it was everyone’s first time, bar the camera man and the sound guy,” says Murphy. “Everyone was very much in it together. We all were on the same boat all the way through. Peter was very free with the script, he’d shoot what was on the page and once he’d got that he’d say ‘right lads, just do what you want, improvise the scene again, hit the same points.’ [And] the only drama was the onscreen drama. We [once] had a big fight. That’s about the height of it. Other than that it was hugs and kisses and love all round. ”
“We didn’t [expect] that once we’d finished shooting,” responds Walley, “[when] our hair grew back, [that] we’d have to get it cut again for the posters.”
Murphy continues: “We did like three days a week because we were working around other people’s schedule, who were doing other stuff up in Belfast and whatever.”
Did he find any of it a challenge? “There was a scene where I’m jumping out of bed naked. Originally we were trying to negotiate doing it with clothes on and I was just like ‘will I just take off my underwear? Does that make it easier?’ And they were like ‘yeah, that’s way easier.’ We did that and it was fine. It actually looked like sex was happening. And now I’m everywhere nearly naked so I just have to kind of get used to that.”
The bulk of the film was made around Walley’s college schedule and Murphy’s school hours: “I was doing it through my Leaving Cert, so I got to miss a good bit of school which was alright.”
“I was doing it through my Leaving Cert, so I got to miss a good bit of school which was alright.”
Although the pair exhibit a genuine chemistry on screen, they had not actually met prior to the making of the film, as Murphy explains: “Yeah, we didn’t know each other. I met him in the second round of the auditions in the audition room and, man, actors are awful. [I thought] ‘I can’t be talking to him in the audition room, because he’s the competition. You have to make him feel as awkward as you can.’”
“It was so awkward, man,” Walley responds. “I went and had to go to the toilet just to escape the awkwardness. It later transpired that he’d told his mum [not] to talk to [me] because [I’m] the competition.”
In the film Murphy and Walley play two Cork-based teenagers who perform a very traditional double-act: writing for the Irish Times, Donald Clarke favourably compares them to Laurel and Hardy. The dominant Jock leads Conor into comical situations in the search for a huge amount of cocaine.
“We all know someone like Conor and Jock,” Murphy suggests. “I’m friends with people like them. They’re not just made up characters. That’s a fashionable thing in inner-city Cork: the haircut and the slit. We didn’t just pull it out of nowhere, a lot of people have them!”
Walley adds: “I grew up with people just like this, I know a lot of people like this, friends like this and other people, and you just know them. I didn’t base it on one person in particular, but [there are] definitely influences from a lot of different places.”
In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, the pair tie up a farmer and watch television with him all night. “That actually was one of my favourite scenes in the film,” says Walley. “Pascal [Scott, the farmer] is a legend. He’s so cool.”
“We pretty much beat him up for 10 minutes” admits Murphy. “[We] weren’t even rolling, but we were just pushing him to the floor for 10 minutes, and he’s not exactly a young man. We were like ‘Pascal, are you alright, we’ll take a break?’ And he was like ‘No, no. I’m fine. Go again.’ He’s got such a good laugh as well. When he was tied to the chair.”
In order to prepare for the role, both Murphy and Walley had to perfect the distinctive Cork accent. “We went in with what we thought was the right accent and then Peter made it stronger,” states Murphy. “We were listening to a rapper from Cork called Bony and we had to write out his interviews phonetically. I know people [from Cork], though my mum’s from Donegal and my dad’s from Cork, so my accent isn’t quite there. I wouldn’t have much of a Cork accent.”
“It was a lot of listening and imitating it,” adds Walley. “And we know people who speak like that as well. We’re from there or near enough. Once you’re in it you don’t really slip out of it.”
“We were listening to a rapper from Cork called Bony and we had to write out his interviews phonetically.”
Although the pair had never made a feature film prior to making The Young Offenders, Murphy and Walley had appeared in a student film and a Lidl commercial respectively. “I was advertising Valentine’s Day roses,” says Walley. “I was only in it for a snippet.”
The Young Offenders has, alongside winning the accolades described above, taken the ‘Best Irish Feature Film’ award at the Galway Film Fleadh, and both the ‘Ros Hubbard Award for Acting’ and ‘Súil Eile Award’ at the Irish Film Festival London. Such success will no doubt carve a path for the two young actors to find more work in and outside the world of film. Instead, they will focus their efforts on theatre training.
Murphy states: “I still quite like theatre work. I start college next week in The Lir [a performing arts theatre in Dublin], and that would mostly [be] theatre training”
“Similar to myself,” says Walley. “I’m training for another year at RADA [The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London] so I’ll [do] two more years if I could. Doubt there’s a lot of theatre there. Having done the film I’d love to do more film and TV, and I love theatre just as much, so ideally if I could do both [I would]. We’re both in college now. “
The pair’s education continued post-filming. “[Alex] is going in to first year and I’ve done a year. That was the plan. I was going over to college in London. It definitely was a bit of a comedown [when we finished filming].”
Murphy agrees: “We were all [at a loss], and certainly I was still heavily involved [afterwards]. We were mostly all around Cork and so Peter would call and say ‘do you want come down and watch me do some editing,’ and sure I’m the narrator in it as well so I was coming in doing the narrations once we finished filming. He was showing me the editing suite and things. And there’s always stuff like this [interview] coming up. Yesterday was the premiere so we haven’t be lacking each other too much.”
The film’s success follows a multitude of accomplishments for Irish talent. In 2016, Lenny Abrahamnson’s Room and John Crowley’s Brooklyn were nominated in the ‘Best Picture’ category at the Academy Awards, while Irish actors Saoirse Roonan and Michael Fassbender got ‘Best Actress’ and ‘Best Actor’ nods, respectively. Irish-Ethiopan actress Ruth Negga has also enjoyed success recently by securing a role in the blockbuster Warcraft and the much-praised historical drama Loving. There appears to be a renewed interest in indigenous talent, so are Murphy and Walley inspired by their peers?
“I’d have to say Mr. Cillian Murphy,” responds Murphy. “He’s from Douglas, I’m from Douglas. To see him go off and do big films and independent films and then come back to Cork and do plays… I just think he’s doing well for himself. I was growing up and looking up to him.”
“I’d be inclined to agree with you,” says Walley. “I love Cillian Murphy, massive fan, but in order to give a different answer I’ll say Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. I love James McAvoy, big fan. I want to be his friend.”
In keeping with his character, during the interview Murphy becomes easily distracted by a woman who appears to eat a cucumber like a banana. “Sorry that woman out there was just eating a cucumber straight! She’s just munching on it.”
“It was just the story of Tony going to people’s houses and collecting debts […] the first episode ends on a cliff-hanger because my phone ran out of battery.”
“I’ve done that actually,” laughs Walley, changing the subject of conversation dramatically towards eating habits. “When I’ve had a lack of anything in my fridge. I’ve eaten a tomato like an apple […] Like a pepper. People think it’s really weird, but like it tastes the same. If I’m hungry and I want a pepper I’ll just bite in to it and eat it like it’s an apple. Why would I cut it up? It takes a long time and you have to take the seeds out – just eat it straight. I’ve done it with tomatoes, peppers, and stuff. People think it’s really weird. I ate a lot of squid over the summer [too]. And I’ve actually eaten kidneys actually, I ate kidneys.”
In order to regain a semblance of order to proceedings, the interview turns to the subject of onset antics. “We filmed this miniseries we made up called Tony Leroy, Debt Collector,” says Murphy. “And I was Tony Leroy, we filmed it on an iPhone. It was just the story of Tony going to people’s houses and collecting debts […] the first episode ends on a cliff-hanger because my phone ran out of battery.”
“I was the cinematographer and had a cameo in the second episode,” laughs Walley. “I’m an assassin in it. I’m Scottish.”
Murphy continues: “In episode two, Tony Leroy is in a car in disguise. This guy played by Dominic McHale is telling me a plan to steal from Tony Leroy. Little does he know, I’m Tony Leroy. A twist! So when he tells me this plan to rob me or kill me I take off my glasses and run away.”
Murphy and Wall are fortunate enough to experience success early in life, while many actors struggle to become established until much later on. What has led to their success?
“I don’t feel we’re in a position to give much advice,” laughs Murphy. “We’re very lucky to get it, but I’d say if you enjoy it then keep doing it. The minute it becomes a chore, stop.”
“And keep auditioning,” Walley chimes in. “You know I did a lot of auditions growing up and I didn’t get anything. Then suddenly I got this and then I knew everything happens for a reason. I auditioned for drama school the first year I finished secondary and I didn’t get in. Then I got in the film and if I had gotten in to drama school I wouldn’t have been able to do the film. Then I got in to drama school after doing the film. So I’m over in London now. It all worked out well.”