The Lovers: Roisin Gallagher on new Belfast-set Sky series

Lust, love and laughter combine in new Belfast-set romantic comedy The Lovers. Jenny Lee caught up with the two leads at Belfast’s Merchant Hotel and chatted on-screen chemistry, religion and customer relations

Roisin Gallagher and Johnny Flynn pictured at the Belfast premiere of The Lovers at The Strand Cinema, Belfast.  Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Roisin Gallagher and Johnny Flynn pictured at the Belfast premiere of The Lovers at The Strand Cinema, Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

FROM tales of death by dildo to a shotgun in the wrong hands and the temptation of a love affair, The Lovers – Northern Ireland’s newest comedy TV series – has hit our screens.

Set in Belfast, alongside a visit to the seaside village of Whitehead, Sky Atlantic’s new infidelity sitcom tells the story of self-absorbed political broadcaster Seamus O’Hannigan (Johnny Flynn) and Belfast supermarket worker Janet (Roisin Gallagher).

When Londoner Seamus is given his own Sunday politics show, he is sent to film it in Belfast. We get to see him shoot a trailer for his programme outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont; in an irony that won't be lost on Northern Ireland viewers, there of course hasn't been a functioning government there since February 2022.

With his mother being Irish he is told it will give him the opportunity to get in touch with his roots and in subsequent episodes, viewers will discover some hidden family secrets.

Media portrayal of Belfast is historically renowned for violence on the streets – writer David Ireland does indeed offer this, albeit through a gang of teenagers who object to Seamus's tiresome Troubles references.

So when Seamus literally comes crashing into Janet’s life after a chase through the back alleys of east Belfast's Newtownards Road, what follows is the start of an unlikely attraction.

Having watched the first three episodes of The Lovers, in my opinion, its success is the casting of the two lead characters.

Janet deflates Seamus’s ego on a regular basis, which is very satisfying to watch.

Janet leading him to despairingly shout from the rooftops “I’m Seamus O’Hannigan – does nobody in Belfast know who I am?”, which is hilarious.

Speaking to me in The Champagne Bar at Belfast’s Merchant Hotel – where a hilarious bedroom scene that features in the third episode was filmed – the actors reveal that the chemistry they felt during the reading part of the audition process was unlike any they had previously.

“The dynamic of the two lead characters is crucial. I don’t know if I’ve met any actor who loves being put on the spot with lots of people looking at you but it was so enjoyable running some scenes with Johnny,” enthuses Gallagher, who perfected her craft on the stage, before landing TV roles in The Fall and the BritBox/RTE series The Dry, alongside Ciarán Hinds.

The genuine appreciation for each other’s talents is mutual.“There is an emotional intimacy required for the show. So much of their relationship is sparky. Roisin came into that audition and knocked me over, she’s incredible” says Flynn.“Not physically because I didn’t know him then,” laughs Gallagher, with a sparkle in her eye – that was to come later during filming.Roisin was brought up in Ballymurphy in west Belfast, but her character in The Lovers comes from a staunchly Protestant working-class family in the east of the city.So how did she feel about filming in the loyalist district last summer in the middle of the marching season surrounded by red, white and blue flags and bands?“It was amazing. It was so nice to be surrounded by the culture you have never witnessed because you are in Donegal with the rest of west Belfast,” says the 36-year-old mother of two, who seems to share a similar dry wit to that of her on-screen character.

“There’s a lovely scene in Derry Girls where they are trying to get the kids to say the similarities between Catholics and Protestants and they end up with a blackboard of things they do differently.

"I think the only real different thing about Janet is that she keeps her toaster in a cupboard and I keep mine on the worktop,” laughs Gallagher, ecstatic when I tell her Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee is amongst the guests at the Belfast premiere of The Lovers.

“I’m delighted,” adds Gallagher, who is grateful to McGee for telling stories about the people of the north of Ireland, rather than the Troubles, and laying the way for sitcoms like The Lovers.

Although from different parts of the political divide, Gallagher tapped into her own background and roots of coming from a working-class, small-nit community, many of whom are struggling with mental health, for the role.

Like Janet, she also had some retail experience in her youth.

“I worked in Thorntons. I worked in a clothes shop called NV which is no longer around – nothing to do with me. There have been lots of wee jobs.”

Though, I’m sure her customer relations were a lot better than foul-mouthed Janet’s, I ask.

“It depends what day you got me on,” she laughs.

Read more:

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For Flynn, whose acting credits include the sitcom Lovesick and portraying David Bowie in the film Stardust, he enjoyed stripping down Seamus's emotional layers.

“I was interested in portraying him as an Andrew Marr or Robert Peston-type person and I was interested in how they create their identity in that world," he says.

"They make the viewer believe they are buddies with the politicians and are quite important, but as Janet shows Seamus that’s nonsense, and really they are no different to the reality television stars that Janet enjoys watching.”

Flynn, whose half-brother Jerome starred as Bronn in Game of Thrones, enjoyed working in Belfast.

“I fell in love with it. I just visited a few times for gigs, so I loved discovering it,” adds the 40-year-old, who is the lead singer and songwriter of the English folk rock band, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit.

Available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV, both actors are excited by the international reach the show will have.

“It will land differently in every place it goes to. People from Belfast will see and hear things differently from people in America and Australia,” says Gallagher, who is proud of the Belfast humour throughout the writing.

“First and foremost, I hope there is a sense of escapism and of being able to switch off your own reality and indulge in Janet and Seamus’s for a while and have a laugh.

“But one thing it did for me was it made me have a good look at people’s capacity for love and connection and maybe it might do that for some of the audience as well.”

So is there going to be more?

“I hope so, I would love to do series two of The Lovers and see what Janet gets up to next,” adds Gallagher, who despite her rise to fame is adamant she is continuing to base herself in Belfast: “My heart is here.”

The Lovers is available on Sky Atlantic and the Now TV streaming platform.