John Lynch – looking back on a 'wounding' past

John Lynch as PSNI assistant chief constable Jim Burns in the third series of The Fall
Joanne Sweeney

THERE are not many actors who can move fluidly from working in English to French and Irish but then south Armagh-raised John Lynch is in a class of his own.

He was last seen on our screens in The Fall series three finale as ACC Jim Burns, being hauled away from trying to attack Phil Spector (Jamie Dornan)after he launched a brutal attack on senior detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson).

A few weeks before that, his character Bill in the tense Scottish whodunit One of Us was finally revealed to be the murderer of his daughter who he believed was in an incestuous relationship with her husband. But in his latest project, he's currently in Paris playing the husband of an ambitious businesswoman in a French language film currently called Numero Un, his second to date.

Within days of that wrapping up, Lynch will be off to Budapest for the next six months to star in US television channel AMC's new gothic noir series The Terror, which also stars his fellow northerner Ciarán Hinds.

The 10-parter tells the story of a group of explorers based on the story of the lost crew on the 1845 Franklin expedition in the Arctic; in this version the crew are terrorised one by one by "a thing on the ice" in a torrid tale of survival.

To say that the past year has been a busy one for the 54-year-old is an understatement as Lynch is also in the middle of finishing the first draft of his third novel.

"Last year was certainly very busy," he gently deadpans in a phone call with me from Paris during a break in filming of Numero Un. "It started off with me filming Pilgrimage at the start of the year before moving into The Fall and it called on me to speak Gaelic, something I haven't done since my teens so that was a bit of a challenge.

"One of Us was filmed last year and this year has also been busy – I have just been filming an Irish film called Kissing Candice."

In the upcoming Pilgrimage, Lynch plays a character known as The Herbalist (Brother Ciaran); it's a tale about a group of monks who have to transport a sacred relic across Ireland in a journey fraught with peril.

And in Kissing Candice, which was partly shot in Drogheda, he's back to a character similar to ACC Burns, playing the policeman father of a teenage girl who's out of control after the death of a young friend and who's in danger from a sinister figure.

But Lynch will be remembered for a long time for his role in The Fall as the brooding PSNI assistant chief constable who has a sexual past with the determined Gibson and gradually unravels professionally and personally in the hunt to catch Spector.

Some of the criticism of the slow-burning third series and Spector's gruesome death by his own act has been lost on Lynch as these days he lives in France with his partner Christine. But he does believe that the ending was the right one.

"What I thought was really good about it and what [series writer] Allan Cubitt had captured really well was that nobody got away in the end, or escaped unmarked in some degree with their contact with Spector," the actor says.

"And I think the only option open to him was for Spector to exercise the only part of control that he still had, of himself and his own life."

While Lynch feels that Cubitt might reprise the Stella Gibson character, he feels it's the end of the road for Jim Burns and Belfast.

"While I'm not sure, I certainly think that it could lead to Allan and Gillian [Anderson, who is also an executive producer on the show] doing something in a different situation, maybe at a different time, or even place. But not with Jim, – I would never presume that," he adds.

"And I could be wrong but I think that in terms of Belfast the story has been told."

Contrary to some reports, Lynch – the eldest of five children born to Fin and Rose Lynch – was not born in the townland Corrinshego outside Newry but he was raised there from the age of seven after the family moved from England.

He and his siblings, including the actor Susan Lynch, were very much children of their time and grew up with the Troubles as an ever present backdrop.

Coming from a nationalist, Catholic background, Lynch's "dynamic" as he puts it, is more complex as he's the son of an Irish man and Italian mother.

While he no longer lives in Newry, the spectre of that life is something he says he can't leave behind, either in his acting or writing.

Since quitting drinking 17 years ago after realising it was making him "miserable", Lynch turned his energy to writing, with considerable success with his debut novel Torn Water in 2005 and Falling Out of Heaven (2010) and, more recently, two radio dramas.

His first major acting break came starring alongside Helen Mirren in the 1984 film Cal, in which he played a young IRA recruit who falls in love with the widow a murdered policeman. Another high point was Jim Sheridan's acclaimed political drama In the Name of the Father (1993) based on the true story of the Guildford Four.

He says: "I will never, ever, like others of my age, be able to fully escape the shadow of that time. I really don't think so. And even as I'm writing my third novel at the moment, which is inspired by my mother's journey of leaving Italy in the 1950s to come to the north, still I come back to writing about here and the Troubles.

"I think I will always be coming back to those days. There's an inevitability about it as it was wounding."

He hopes to have this third, as yet untitled, novel finished next year – and, of course, it features the north.

Lynch adds: "I have two dynamics: I have the Irish and the Italian. And now I have the French as I live there now. I have mixed memories of home as I grew up at a time when Newry and south Armagh was a really difficult place to grow up in, not just for me but for many people of my generation.

"But I don't worry too much anymore about where I'm based, who I am and what defines me," he continues. "I enjoy writing and I think I will always be examining where I came from. We always look back, a lot of people say that there's no point in looking back but they’re lying: we all look back."

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