For those who haven’t seen Derry girls, explain a bit about the show.
It’s a coming-of-age comedy about a group of teenagers, set against a backdrop of The Troubles in the 90s in Northern Ireland. It follows Erin and her family and friends and all the shenanigans and trouble they get into. It’s a great, fun show.
You play James – what’s his story?
James is “the wee English fella”. His mum is from Derry, and she went over to England to have an abortion, but didn’t go ahead with it, so James is born, and grows up in England. Then his mum and him go back to Derry, where she just abandons him with his cousin and aunt. From then on, it’s all an uphill struggle for him, because he’s put in the all-girls school, as they’re scared he’s going to get beaten up in the boys’ school, for being English. That’s pretty much it, really.
The show is, quite clearly, about girls from Derry. Why do you think Lisa decided to stick a male, English character in there?
I think he’s there as a foil to the girls. I think it’s a great contrast to have. James is sort of the complete opposite of all the girls. The girls are all such big personalities, and he’s just a sensitive, nice English boy. He’s sort of the voice of reason, and also a butt of a lot of the jokes from the girls, especially from Michelle, his cousin. I think it’s just a perfect dynamic, really. And I also feel like James is a ticket for non-Irish people into the show. They can relate to him and see through his eyes how crazy and colourful the world of Derry is.
The first series was a phenomenal success. When did you realise it was going to be a hit?
Nicola and I were actually quietly confident that it was going to do alright, just because the script was so amazing, But, yeah, it really hit us when the viewing figures came in, and all the records we broke – being the most watched show in Northern Ireland since records began, and being Channel 4’s biggest comedy release since 2004. It’s amazing, and we’re all just so honoured and grateful to be part of it.
The show’s also on Netflix internationally. How does that feel?
It’s insane! We were just buzzing when we heard the news it was going to Netflix. It was just amazing to think people around the world can watch our show, and they can enjoy the Derry Girls experience. We’ve had a great response from America especially, I think because of all the Irish Americans, through Instagram and Twitter. They absolutely love it, it’s such a great feeling.
Do you think you’ve learned a lot about life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles?
Yeah, I really feel like I have. I didn’t know too much about The Troubles, because they don’t really teach you about it in English schools. My knowledge of it wasn’t that great, so when I got over there I did some research and the girls explained a lot. It’s very interesting, and a very eye-opening experience.
As a non-resident, do you think there’s a unique Northern Irish humour or approach to life?
Yeah, I think there is. I think the Irish humour is unique, there are lots of aspects to it. The Irish are quick witted, and their banter is really good. It’s sweary and quick and really fun. They’ve got it down with comedy, they’re just brilliant.
James has quite a hard time as the only English person and the only male in the group. How did that reflect the reality of filming with four young women from Northern Ireland?
[Laughs] It was great, really. At first, I was a bit homesick when I started the shoot, as the only English person on the set. I guess, like anyone, I miss things about being at home, but the girls really took me under their wing, and they really helped me settle in. They’re like my sisters, really. Everyone was so nice – Lisa and Mike, the director, the whole crew. Everyone was so welcoming. They give you a little bit of banter, but I took it on the chin. It was great fun.
James lives with his cousin Michelle, who appears to think of him as something of an encumbrance. Do you think there is affection between them, underneath it all?
I think it’s tough love, I really do. When it comes down to it, if someone was bullying James, she’d step in and protect him. Like “I’m the one that’s allowed to do that, not you!” I feel like that’s the relationship they have. I think she’s trying to get him to adjust to living in Derry in that time, trying to toughen him up. He is quite out of his depth, really.
There has never been a hint of romance between James and any of the girls. Why is that?
I guess because he’s English. I think there may have been tiny hints. In episode 4, I don’t know what Erin’s intentions were, but she tried to stop James from losing his virginity. Maybe that was a romance thing?
Is James’ love life likely to take a turn for the better in season 2?
I doubt it! Not really, no. I think he’s likely to stay pretty lonely.
Is he ever going to find any male friends?
I’ll say this. He tries, he tries very hard to get some male friends. Some lads. Some mates. But that’s all I can say on that.
What else can you reveal about season 2?
It’s going to be bigger and crazier, the girls and I get into much more trouble.
The show is full of music from the 90s. I’m told you’re a bit of a music aficionado. Where do you stand on 90s tunes?
I think 90s music is brilliant. Personally I’m more about the 60s and 70s, I love the classic rock, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and all that. 80s is pretty good too, and 90s is good as well. There were some great bands in the 90s like Blur and Oasis, The Stone Roses and all that. I think, in Derry Girls, it’s a cool combination of 90s music and the show, and it helps you travel to that period of time. It’s brilliant.