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Aidan Gillen on becoming Charlie: 'It's not a sensationalist hatchet-job'

“There’s something unknowable about him for sure. I wasn’t expecting to find a definitive answer.”

gillen charlie Source: RTÉ

AIDAN GILLEN HAS played many roles over the years – from John Boy Power in Love/Hate to Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in Game of Thrones.

In January, audiences will see him in a new light once again when his portrayal of Charlie Haughey hits our screens.

‘Charlie’ marks the first time RTÉ has commissioned a drama about a political figure.

Gillen said he liked the script because it didn’t set out to sensationalise or judge the former Taoiseach’s life.

“If it was a sensationalist hatchet-job I wouldn’t have been interested,” he said, describing the drama as a “fair assessment of a particular time in our history”.

I grew up in Dublin in the 1980s with the background noise of Today Tonight and Hall’s Pictorial Weekly.

Gillen said he focused on nailing some of Haughey’s mannerisms – such as the twiddling of his thumbs – rather than attempting “a full-on impersonation”.

He said that when approaching “such a vast tapestry … it’s more important to hone in on very specific events and characters”.

‘Affairs aren’t interesting’

Gillen said he wasn’t interested in overly-exploring the relationship between Haughey and his mistress Terry Keane as it would have been largely based on speculation.

He was more drawn by what drove him, noting: “In politics, idealism and time and experience equal something else.”

“There’s something unknowable about him for sure. I wasn’t expecting to find a definitive answer [to what drove him],” Gillen stated.

The show’s writer Colin Teevan shared Gillen’s lack of interest in Haughey’s relationship with Keane.

An affair is not very interesting drama, we’ll leave that to the soap operas … Gossip doesn’t make him interesting, but what drives him. As a figure he was fascinating … I’m not sure he knew what drove him himself.

Teevan has been working on-and-off on the three 90-minute programmes since 2010. He said he could have easily penned six.

‘Charlie’ was directed by Kenny Glenaan and Charlie McCarthy. The cast includes two other Love/Hate alumni: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (PJ Mara) and Peter O’Meara (Brian Lenihan), otherwise known as Nidge and Andrew. English actress Lucy Cohu plays Terry Keane.

Teevan stressed that while the show is a drama and not a biopic he’s confident it’s factually accurate. While refusing to name names, he said “everyone we thought would be relevant” was contacted for research purposes. Some responded and others didn’t.

The writer said he thought there was “something Shakespearean about Charlie’s vaulting ambition and lust for power”. He believes Haughey sacrificed those around him to retain power at any cost because of a void in his life, noting: “There’s something missing.”

Teevan said the deals that became public knowledge during McCracken and Moriarty Tribunals were “the tips of the iceberg”.

“I believe there were a hell of a lot more.”

Living beyond our means

One scene in ‘Charlie’ juxtaposes Haughey’s famous ‘Living Beyond Our Means‘ speech in 1980 with images of a lavish party thrown at his palatial home.

“The facts stack up,” Teevan said of this.

It’s not drama’s job to offer answers, it offers a journey – both emotional and intellectual.

Jane Gogan, Head of RTÉ Drama, said the show will appeal to young and old alike. “It will be insightful to people not familiar with the era and very, very easily absorbed by younger viewers,” she stated.

Gogan said she was amazed by the finished product, describing it as “an enormous intellectual exercise”.

Gillen said he was somewhat wary of playing a man who is still such a huge political and cultural figure in Irish life, but couldn’t turn down the role as Haughey was so “intriguing”.

He said there were less examples of Haughey speaking in the government’s archives than he’d expected to find while researching the part, noting: “There were reams of Garrett Fitzgerald.”

Charlie kept his cards close to himself.

‘Charlie’ will air on RTÉ One over three consecutive Sundays in January (4, 11, 18) at 9.30pm. It charts Haughey’s political career with Fianna Fáil from 1979-1992.

Check out the trailer for RTÉ’s new Charlie Haughey drama

Haughey family behind website to provide ‘factual information’ about Charlie’s career

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Órla Ryan

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