A few weeks ago Scannain was lucky enough to catch up with American actor John Finn. Finn, best known for his role as Lt. John Stillman in the TV series Cold Case, was in Ireland promoting his work as Seán Óg Greene in TG4’s new Irish language TV series An Bronntanas.

With An Bronntanas airing on TG4 from this evening at 9.30pm, this is the perfect time to share how we got on.

A warm and chatty man Finn was an absolute delight to talk to, here’s what he had to say…

You find yourself working in the legal system a lot in your roles…
There’s a reason for that. I joined the American military when I was very young. Just 17. And I sailed as a merchant seaman for 4 years. And both of those worlds are hard, hard work. A ship is tremendous work, and the military is tremendous work. So I think that I responded to that. I guess when I fell into acting, as it were, I became comfortable with characters that were from that world. And knock wood I can make a living out of it. And that’s a good thing.

Before you got the multi-series TV show you were in lots of smaller roles with character work…
Yeah, I was doing well. I could have gone on like that for a long time. I’ve gone back to it now that Cold Case is finished, but it was nice to get a 7 year gig. A steady job! It’s unheard of. There was trade-offs with that. It’s a factory. It’s driven by advertising so there’s limited content that you can do compared to some of the other shows, like the Sopranos or ones on Showtime. They’re driven by subscriptions so they can do whatever they want.

Like Ray Donovan on Showtime…
Is that seen over here?

It’s shown on Sky Atlantic, a UK station that we get here. It’s got that Irish connection though.
Yeah, and then you’ve got Blue Bloods which has Tom Selleck as the most un-New York character that you can imagine. You can’t imagine somebody further away from Brooklyn than Tom Selleck. You’d need someone like Stephen Rea…

We have Aidan Quinn as the captain in Elementary…
Wow you watch more television than I do! Not that I’m saying that in a bad way! It’s just not part of my day. I need to watch more of it cause things will come up, and my agent will say it’s on Elementary or something. And I’ll be like what is that? And she’s “What you don’t watch Elementary?”. I’m just not wired that way. But i need to watch more.

When you see it so much from the inside it must be hard to switch off?
Yeah, now I’m moving into writing, directing. I certainly won’t give up performing, It’s kind of a cliché. But I do watch things differently. I’ve a friend who’s an executive producer on Blacklist and so I watch how they put that together. I’ll go down a lot of the times and shadow him if he’s directing and watch how it comes together. I’m really interested in that part of it.

What drew you to work over here?
I was working on an independent film in the States, and the first A.D. on it had a script that he had written and he was trying to get traction for over here. And I was talking to him over the period of the shoot in the States, and we were talking about Ireland. He said let me put you in touch with Tom Collins. So Tom and I Skyped and talked for a couple of hours. And he said you know I have a project here that I’m starting, it’s in Irish…would you be interested? I’ve been a student of Irish, a very casual student of Irish, all my life. So I said yeah. He said can you get over here and we’ll talk to the commissioning editor at TG4 and we’ll see if we can sell it. So I did and it worked out. It was great, because it allowed me to bring 30 odd years of experience into my heritage, I’m a diaspora, as well as the language that I’m fascinated by. It was really great. It was a great opportunity, a boon for me, to have that opportunity. I did it for next to nothing but I would have done it for nothing! They said “we can’t give you your quote” and I said “it’s not about the money”. “Oh it’s not?” “Well you can at least cover me and put me up.” It was a wonderful thing for me. I was conscious of also being the puncan as they say. I don’t want to be the “Oh I’m going to do an Irish film look at me!” I did an interview with Raidio na Gaeltachta and I said “I don’t play music and I’m certainly not going to toot my own horn”. It’s about the language, and it’s about the culture. I feel really fortunate to have been a part of it.

Did you have much problems with accents or anything in particular?
Tommy Collins covers it…I don’t know if it’s in the episode…but the idea was that my character was born in Donegal, went to New York and was a cop, which was plausible, and then left New York and brought his son to Connemara, and became a guard. Which is sort of plausible as well. So that would cover a multitude of complaints that people might have. But then there was instructions…Peader Cox, who writes and acts on Ros na Run, was kind of the resident linguist for everybody in the cast, because they wanted to bring everybody within the same range. But I was his pet student…I had to be, because I had the most work to do. He worked with me a lot…every day. On the days I didn’t work we were going over the script. A lot of the times I would find that the structure of what I had to say was not comfortable to me, because I would approach it from noun – verbs – object or subject – verb -object, whereas Irish as you know is not structured that way. But I did have a structure in my head for the parts of the language that were comfortable to me so we would rearrange some of the dialogue into that structure. So that it wasn’t such a far reach for me. The way that I work is that I need to understand what I am saying so that I can emotionally key into certain parts of it.

Irish can be very lyrical…
Yeah if you’re thinking it as you’re saying it then you’re in trouble! It needs to just flow. There were times when I would have two or three sentences together that didn’t make sense to me…and I though am I getting old here? I can’t remember my lines…what’s going on?!

Did you get the script in Irish or did they phonetically set it out?
No the script was written in Irish. All of the stage directions were in English but the dialogue was all in Gaelic. I would sit with Peader and he would recite it into my iPhone, and then I would listen to that back and make it my own. If there was a specific word I would write it out phonetically and look at where that accent was or where the stress was. And then I would just go over that.

Every Irish person is obliged to learn it for 13 years and then can’t remember it..
Except the swearing…

Well naturally!
I think you all have it. It’s just very difficult to access it, for a lot of reasons. It’s a fascinating language. The thing is just use it. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. It’s not like the French who will jump down your throat or ignore you if you use it wrong. Just use it. You’d be surprised how many people would go along with you. It’s going to be here long after we’re gone. It just has to take another form. It has to grow into some that’s not restrictive or stressed.

An Bronntanas is a lovely looking show…
They did great with the money that they had. Tommy Collins has a great awareness of the schemes that are available and I think that they maximises it. I think that it’s the biggest thing that TG4 has done to date. I think that they bit off a lot to their credit.

It’s structured as a five-part series, but it showed at the Film Fleadh as a film…
I’m not sure how much was lost or gained by that. It’s good, but structurally there are some big leaps there, that the film just couldn’t cover. So while it is episodic the episodes are short, only 30 minutes. Whereas in the States they’re like 40-45. Usually our half-hour stuff is comedy. There’s not as much comedy in this. For the amount of money that they had it’s a pretty amazing show. It’s Cian de Buitléar to his credit. He’s amazing. It showed in Clifden so it’s Oscar eligible…

 

Since we did the interview An  Bronntanas, the film version of TG4’s 5 part contemporary thriller, has been chosen as Ireland’s official nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for the 87th Academy Awards!

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