Arts

Louisa Harland and Jack Rowan on mixing fun and gore in Boys From County Hell

Jenny Lee chats to stars Louisa Harland and Jack Rowan about Boys From County Hell, the new Co Tyrone-set horror comedy in which a motley crew of manual labourers face off against an ancient, terrifying Irish vampire...

Boys From County Hell (l-r): Michael Hough as SP, Nigel O'Neill as Francie, Louisa Harland as Claire, Jack Rowan as Eugene and Marty Maguire as Gabriel. Picture by Aidan Monaghan

BEWARE what is lurking under those ancient Irish cairns: that's the message in Boys From County Hell, which is released in cinemas today and brings to life the legend of the Irish Abhartach – an Irish vampire of sorts, said to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The new Northern Ireland-shot horror comedy written and directed by Chris Baugh and produced by Brendan Mullin (the Co Tyrone duo behind hit revenge thriller Bad Day For The Cut) focuses on a group of construction workers in the fictional rural Tyrone town of Six Mile Hill who are constructing a new bypass through the rock-stacked burial site of the alleged blood-thirsty vampire.

When Abhartach is resurrected through a series of unfortunate events, father-and-son duo Francie (Nigel O'Neill) and Eugene (Jack Rowan) realise they'll have to put their constant bickering aside to have any hope of surviving the night.

Flanked by friends Claire (Louisa Harland) and SP (Michael Hough) they fight the legend, helped along by a few pints.

Since receiving its world premiere as the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival's Midnight Selection last year, Boys From County Hell has gone on to screen at numerous festivals globally.

The film boasts a stellar cast, including Fra Fee (Les Misérables, Animals) and John Lynch (The Banishing, Isolation). I caught up with two of the younger actors, Jack Rowan and Louisa Harland, for a chat about blood, horror and laughs via Zoom.

Speaking from South Africa, where he has spent the past two months filming the new series of the BBC adaptation of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses, Rowan admits filming Boys From County Hell during the summer of 2019 was "the most fun I've ever had on a job".

His personal highlights include riding on the front of a dump truck and sliding down a building site rubbish slide chute.

"When I saw it on screen I just cracked up. Seeing Nigel just fly out of the chute was hilarious," he laughs.

The largely Co Tyrone-shot feature is packed with colloquial quirks, but Londoner Rowan felt right at home with the accent because his own grandparents actually live just five minutes away from his on-sceen father Nigel O'Neill in the Co Tyrone village of Coagh.

Jack Rowan as Eugene Moffat and Nigel O'Neill as Francie Moffat. Picture by Aidan Monaghan

"My dad is Northern Irish and I always wanted to do a movie with an Irish accent. It was fun to go back to a place that's very dear to me and to be able to film and make friends and memories.

"I've imitated dad's accent for years, but it's one thing imitating an accent and another thing all of a sudden doing a character.

"There was a voice coach I read through the whole script with and he gave me clarity on odd words here and there," explains the 24-year-old.

Dubliner Louisa Harland (28), who plays kooky Orla McCool in Channel 4 comedy hit Derry Girls, admits she had to try hard at the start of filming not to revert to doing any "Orla-isms".

As the solo female member of the gang, Claire gets stuck in driving a digger to try and crush the legendary vampire.

"Claire was strong and quite real, and not defined by gender – she was totally one of the gang and we had such great craic filming it," she says.

Both actors admit to being horror fans, with their enthusiasm for the genre increased by their involvement in and preparation for Boys From County Hell.

"We were given some great Peter Jackson films to watch as homework for filming by our director Chris, and I got really into it," says Harland.

"I love the old classic slasher movies like Halloween, Friday T 13th and Scream, and it's great to be a part of this genre," adds Rowan, who reveals that after the late night shoots, the cast wound-down in a rather unique way.

"Blood still on our faces, we would eat pizzas and have a nightcap at the hotel bar at five in the morning," he recalls.

"It's the hotel staff who probably had nightmares and were glad to see the back of us."

And how do the pair think they would have reacted if they had found themselves being attacked by a fierce ancient bloodsucking creature?

"There's no rules in place about how to take on vampires. We will probably do a worse job," Rowan laughs.

Much more than blood and guts, this rural horror takes audiences on a rollercoaster of emotions as it paints a portrait of the reality of small-town life in Northern Ireland and a very fractured father/son relationship.

"There's a nice blend of comedy and horror moments within it as well as very tender, heartfelt moments," says Rowan, who sees similarities between his character Eugene and that of Callum in Noughts and Crosses.

"I hope audiences connect with the characters and the journeys they go through."

"Even though they are from completely different worlds, you can't knock their effort in trying to protect those around them. When all is said and done they would risk their lives for their friends and families."

Having also won acclaim for his Bafta-nominated performance as Sam in Channel 4's Born to Kill, Rowan reveals that he might have become a professional boxer rather than an actor had it not been for an injury in his late teens, during which time he joined a Saturday drama class.

"It's still a huge love of my life. But if I'm honest, I'm glad I'm not a boxer as it would have been a much harder life."

Perhaps a role in an Irish boxing movie beckons in the future?

"It would be a dream to do a boxing movie and a Northern Ireland accent within that would be something."

Although speaking to me from London, Harland is looking forward to getting back to Northern Ireland later this month to begin filming on series three of Derry Girls.

"The last time we were on set was three years ago, which is crazy. So we're hoping the uniforms still fit," laughs Harland, who lived with her Derry Girls co-star Saoirse-Monica Jackson during the first lockdown of 2020.

So, what would she like to see happen to her Derry Girls character?

"I don't know, the possibilities for Orla are endless," says Harland.

"I love how she is at the moment and I trust Lisa [McGee, Derry Girls writer/creator] whatever she writes for her."

"I certainly don't want her to lose her inhibitions, her sweet tooth or her dance moves," laughs Harland, who admits she put her time in during lockdown playing Scrabble.

"We were using technology a huge amount, even more so than before Covid – so I tried to think of things that didn't involve using a plug and Scrabble was my favourite. I read a lot as well."

Does a screenwriting future beckon for her?

"I'd love to write and I'd love to direct; but I still have so much to learn in this acting game.

"My dream role is to play Lady Macbeth. Our theatres have probably suffered the most due to the pandemic, so hopefully there is a big revival."

:: Boys From County Hell is in cinemas from today

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