"I'm just trying to keep up": Ciarán Hinds on new RTÉ series The Dry

Ciarán Hinds as Tom and his wife Hélène Patarot as Mina in The Dry
Ciarán Hinds as Tom and his wife Hélène Patarot as Mina in The Dry

"BASICALLY, I'm just trying to keep up," says Ciarán Hinds (70) of adapting to the faster-pace of episodic television for his role in The Dry, a new eight-part drama series which starts on RTÉ One tonight.

"I haven't done that much serial television," continues the Paris-based north Belfast-born actor, who was Oscar-nominated for his performance in Kenneth Branagh's Belfast.

"I was in Game of Thrones, but I only turned up once or twice a series in that. The Dry is eight episodes so it's probably the most continual TV I've ever done. Because we shoot it out of order, I'm just trying to keep up and hoping that my timing and attitude is right.

"But it is fun that you're not restricted to just two hours [like a film] because there is a whole skill to knowing the timing there, when to let loose and how to hold back. And of course the scenes are much shorter, so we're in and out of things very quickly, almost before we know they've happened. That's been quite revelatory as well."

Hinds plays Tom in the Dublin-set/shot, Nancy Harris-written series, which is directed by Paddy Breathnach (Rosie, I Went Down). He's the head of the Sheridan family, whose eldest daughter Shiv (Roísín Gallagher) has been living a wild life on the London art scene for the past decade and is now heading home while attempting to get sober.

However, Shiv finds that being on 'the dry' around those who know exactly how to push her buttons – including her mother Bernie (Pom Boyd), her younger more successful sister Caroline (Siobhán Cullen), younger brother Ant (Adam Richardson) and old flame Jack (Moe Dunford) – is going to be a real challenge.

Ciarán Hinds and Roísín Gallagher in The Dry
Ciarán Hinds and Roísín Gallagher in The Dry

Moreover, Shiv's not the only one with problems in the Sheridan family.

"They're quite a feisty family, with three kids all in their mid-20s or early 30s," says Hinds of his on-screen brood.

"He was hoping they'd all be sorted out and grown up by now so that could just quietly get on with his life – but that proves not to be the case."

"Tom's a straightforward guy, but because of the fact that he and his wife Bernie lost a child some years before, they've both suffered terribly. He's managed to pull himself out of the grief, but his wife is kind of still stuck there and he's kind of worn-out now trying to raise her back up."

As Shiv discovers, Tom has sought solace in an affair with Mina, his acupuncturist, played by Hinds's wife Hélène Patarot.

"That's why he's having this open relationship," explains the actor.

"The kids are saying that he's having a mid-life crisis, but actually he's telling them that they are the ones in crisis – even if they don't realise themselves that they're actually in the middle of their lives yet."

With an adult daughter of his own, Aoife – also a successful actor – the Belfast star reveals that he was able to draw on his own family life when it came to defining the dynamics between Tom, Shiv and Caroline.

"There's a thing with fathers and daughters about wanting to take care of them, but also wanting to let them 'fly' – and I think Shiv has been given many opportunities already," he offers.

"Tom believes she's gifted, but they've been supporting her financially for quite a while. And he hardly connects with his middle daughter Caroline, who seems to be very successful in her own right. I think he's glad that at least one of the kids seems to have things figured out."

Ciarán Hinds and Pom Boyd in The Dry
Ciarán Hinds and Pom Boyd in The Dry

With Aoife having recently landed roles in Liam Neeson action movie The Commuter and hit TV shows like Derry Girls and Normal People, she seems destined to follow in her famous father's footsteps.

However, the Belfast man reveals that he and Hélène actually did their best to dissuade their daughter from "risking her life in this business".

"She came to it late, despite all our exhortations to stay well away from it," he chuckles,

"She was studying international relations at LSE, then went travelling for a bit, and at the age of 23, she suddenly announced that she wanted to have a go at acting and did a post-grad course in theatre.

"I had no idea she had any interest and I worried that she was already well behind, compared to other kids who'd been acting from a young age. But, in the end, you have to follow your bliss and take the consequences."

On that note, it seems that Hinds himself never actually planned on becoming an actor, despite the fact that theatre was already in his blood thanks to his mother, Moya.

"She was a very good amateur actress who stopped doing it so much when we were kids to bring up the family with my father [Gerry, a teacher]," he tells me of his early years in north Belfast.

"But she encouraged us in the arts through Irish dancing, poetry and drama, and I did school plays – so I guess it was always around me. But it wasn't something I thought of seriously as a profession.

"There was no epiphany at the age of seven or anything. I was just getting on with life in Belfast, playing a lot of football and Gaelic and stuff like that. Then it was A-levels and on to university, because that was what you did."

When a law degree at Queen's University Belfast began to go off the rails – "Eventually, they realised that I should perhaps take myself somewhere else," he recalls – Hinds finally turned towards the arts.

"Somebody said 'why don't you just apply to a theatre school?'," he explains.

"But there were none in Ireland in the early 1970s – so I had a go and got very lucky when I was accepted [to Rada] and went on from there."

Ciarán Hinds as Tom and Roísín Gallagher as Shiv in The Dry
Ciarán Hinds as Tom and Roísín Gallagher as Shiv in The Dry

This was the first major stepping stone to a brilliant career in film, theatre and television which has now spanned over 40 years and included stints working with Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, and acclaimed directors such as Sam Mendes, Michael Mann, Kenneth Branagh and Steven Spielberg, the latter of whom cast Hinds in his excellent 2005 thriller Munich.

"It was an extraordinary experience for me," the actor recalls.

"It was such a thrill to meet the man first of all, with his warmth, and to watch him film was extraordinary. He had this incredible knowledge [of film] without displaying it. He had a mind that moves so fast and moved between so many references that it was hard to keep up with him.

"The great film-makers can already see the film in their head almost before it's shot. And great directors will take their time, but they won't waste time. I remember one particular day of filming [with Spielberg], there was one scene I was in where he told me 'It's two pages and it'll take five hours to shoot. I can't see where it will fit with the rhythm of the final film, but I'm going to shoot it anyway – because I love the scene.'

"So, he knew he wouldn't actually use this, but we went ahead and did it just for the sake of creating something that he wanted to see."

Having recently worked with both his wife and daughter on screen – Hinds is quick to point out that "I've never felt nepotistic towards my family" – he's starting to suspect some sort of conspiracy is in play.

"Weirdly, I just worked with my daughter in a small film in which we were cast independently, and now in The Dry I'm working with my wife – which nobody mentioned until after she was cast," the north Belfast man reveals.

Jokingly, he adds: "It's a great pleasure working with them, but I am wondering whether they're now just sending the family along to help wrangle me in my old age."

:: The Dry starts on RTÉ One tonight at 9.35pm with all episodes streaming on RTÉ Player.