I spoke with Kevin Ryan about his new series on BBC America, Copper. Kevin plays Detective Francis Maguire in one of my new favorite shows. If you are not already watching Copper then shame on you because you are missing out on one of the best shows on television. It’s a wonderful series and I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with one of my favorites from the show, the brilliant Irish actor, Kevin Ryan. He was incredibly charming and yes, his accent is spectacular. Do not miss Kevin, Kyle Schmid, Tom Weston-Jones, Ato Essando, and the rest of the talented cast on Copper, Sunday nights on BBC America.
Lena: I love your show. The only thing I hate about it is that we only have a few episodes left.
Kevin Ryan: Thank you. I know. We should have more. I can’t believe that we are coming towards the end of it already. You shoot for five or six months and then it’s over.
Lena: It’s such a great show.
Kevin Ryan: It was a blast to shoot. It was just so much fun.
Lena: Poor Maguire keeps on getting his heart broken. Will he ever find true love?
Kevin Ryan: I hope so. Yeah, it was interesting and appealing to me when I read it, it was just emotionally challenging to play him. That appealed to me because there is such an imbalance in his life and it’s just fun to play. He just wants to be loved. He sort of has that idea of the early American dream in his mind to settle down and have kids, a more comfortable life than what he was having in Ireland. Yeah, he keeps on getting his heart broken.
Lena: I’m glad that Maguire found out about Mary (Joanne Boland) and they didn’t stretch that out for three weeks.
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, it was interesting and then the whole ledger aspect of it was betrayal.
Lena: Maguire did contribute to one of the best lines in the episode (“The Hudson River School”) when Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) busted in on him naked and upset to tell him that he’s in “a whorehouse and people are trying to concentrate.”
Kevin Ryan: I know. That line, the first time that he said that I just thought, what a ridiculous line. Between that and my other favorite line, “Ain’t this some Jew holiday?” It was funny, that was a good scene. I got to bare my soul, as an actor. On that day, I made a choice to do the scene naked because at that point he was in his comfort zone of where he had spent years, in the whorehouse, and he’s just at his weakest, most vulnerable point of his life. I thought if I could bring that vulnerability of having him naked, he expressed more of his soul having him naked at that point, so I chose to play it naked.
Lena: Oh wow, I was going to say that they apparently love getting you naked in the show but you through yourself into that one [laughing].
Kevin Ryan: I know, full nudity is crazy.
Lena: Well, it’s nice that it’s not just women [naked in shows] all the time.
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, I guess. Even the first sex scene, it wasn’t written naked. I was supposed to have long johns on or something like that and I was like, come on, I would rather be naked. You want to bring the truth and with my work I always want to bring the truth. It was funny because we would have jokes on the set where it would be like okay, we are going to walk down the street and I’m going to do it naked [laughing].
Lena: That’s fantastic [laughing].
Kevin Ryan: It was fun. I remember when we were shooting the first scene and I said I wanted to do it naked and all of the executives came on the set and we got it through them and they were like okay. Then there was this thing called the three thrusts rule that on the network you can only have three thrusts during an intercourse scene so we did like fifty at first [laughing] and I was like well, I have an idea. We were lying in bed and I was trying to explain the whole thing. What if we had someone rocking the bed and I’m on top so it is kind of a more caressing thing while the guy is shaking the bed so it looks like more is going on then there is. And then you still have the three thrusts for the final, if you want to say, execution [laughing]. And yeah, so we did that and it was very early into the shoot obviously being episode one and the guy that was shaking the bed at the bottom of it well, I had to get out of bed and walk around and he turns his head just as I’m walking by him and because we are confined with the cameras on the tracks and everything like that, he just turned around at the wrong time and all of my junk was right in his face. It was hilarious [laughing]. And then we had to do five or six takes of it so I spoke to him at the end of the show and he was like, “I don’t even know your name but your balls were in my face.” It was pretty funny.
Lena: [Laughing] So you didn’t cover up at all? It was just all out there?
Kevin Ryan: It was all out there, yeah.
Lena: Wow! You are very brave.
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, I mean I guess. You have to wear socks and all that other stuff unless the actress is fine with it. I always feel that if you have to wear something that takes you out of your head at the scene I try to avoid it. It’s like working with the guns that we were using. They would have plastic ones just because the real ones were very heavy but I like everything to be real. Like all my props, for instance, throwing knives, tobacco, paper, matches, notepad, and pencil; I would have them on me at all times. Even if I didn’t need them in the scene, I would still carry them on me.
Lena: It’s a bummer that they killed off Molly (Tanya Fischer).
Kevin Ryan: I know. I liked Molly. She was amazing to work with and just a sweetheart. She’s a great actress. We were trying to figure out a way to keep her on the show, to bring her back [laughing].
Lena: She could come back as a ghost.
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, or if we started doing flashbacks.
Lena: I interviewed her last year about another show [The Defenders] she did and she was so nice. That’s why I was so excited to see her in a new show and then…aw, no.
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, she got her throat slit. It was terrible.
Lena: Can you talk about Maguire’s relationship with Corcoran?
Kevin Ryan: They were friends for years and he came over earlier than I did. They were both boxers and Maguire was a very strong boxer at the time and he got an eye injury in his left eye. He was blind in one eye so he had to stop fighting, so he was training Corcoran as a boxer in New York at the time. Then they went off to the Civil War but Maguire wasn’t allowed to go because of his eye injury. At the time, they just wanted the strongest soldiers that they could get. There is a reference in episode one about the shit that they’ve taken now because of where they are in the war. They just need men in there fighting. There are a lot of interesting things that go on not just between Corcoran but also with Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) and Freeman (Ato Essandoh) where they are all working together and Maguire, which I wanted to bring an element of authenticity into the relationship and that’s why I keep my distance from Freeman. I also wanted to bring in a little bit of the racial card on Maguire’s side, there is little known about it in there. When he went away he asked me to look after his wife, which there are a few surprises towards the end of the season, which I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about. There will be a lot of surprises and a lot of regrets. The reason Corcoran went in and became a detective was so he could find out what happened to his wife and murdered daughter. We are very much best friends and there is definitely some tension in the friendship but they are very loyal guys to each other. We wanted to have that bond between them. We definitely thought it was very important. We wanted to have that they would basically die for each other. Tom Weston-Jones wanted to build that relationship off set and we would hang out, even in the development stages, and just go for a pint and we became really good friends. It sort of paid off for when we were shooting. We didn’t have to act. That was important to us.
Lena: That’s great. It seems like everyone got along.
Kevin Ryan: If you are doing like a twelve, fourteen, or sixteen hour day and afterwards you go for food and drinks and sort of hang out, that’s what you want. We very much had that with Copper, not even just with the cast but also with the crew, the writers, and producers.
Lena: Do you think that law enforcement was more effective in Five Points than it is now?
Kevin Ryan: No because they were constantly challenged. I approached the role as if the police were a gang. They were just another gang. Even politically back then they were just gangs. They were able to hold the power and be more forceful and sort of claim their positions rather than be voted into them. During that time, if you went out of your jurisdiction you would be challenged by other precincts and other gangs and in Copper you see that. What they were doing back then they just would not get away with today. Just the violence and what happens when they are going after the bad guys trying to get information; it’s pretty intense and violent.
Lena: Can you talk a bit about the clothing? Did you have any favorite pieces?
Kevin Ryan: I loved the hats and I loved the belts. Delphine White is incredible. The amount of work that I did, I did a phenomenal amount of work and research on this when I went to New York and I studied history, museums, societies, and anything that I could get my hands on. Delphine did all the same research so when you went in there everyone on the set had done their job so it made it wonderful to approach the look of your character. I had a lot of involvement in it in sort of what style we wanted to go with. We would spend time even down to the details of what we were going to put on the vest. I wanted it to not be matching because it’s an older vest and you would have it redone and then all of a sudden she would take out a tray with 20,000 buttons and it was like okay, these went here like that. It was funny because we were shooting in Canada and it’s supposed to be in New York when it’s very cold and you would put like five layers on and then it comes to like April or May and it’s 80 degrees and you’re like fuck [laughing]. I’m just going to wear one jacket in this scene because I’m only going out of the precinct for one minute. When we first got into character we had a heavy discussion about if we would display our badges or have it on the inside [of our jackets]. It was all very thought out. Another thing was hair and makeup. We didn’t wear any makeup in the show at all we wore dirt. We wanted to have that dirty, grungy, oily feel. You might wash once a week back then. You might get a bath. It was just a disgusting, wretched place at Five Points. The sanitary conditions were gone. You would have to whole tenant building or two using the same toilet, which was just a hole in the ground. There were corpses left on the ground, horses and dogs and everything. It was a vile place. It was interesting because when we were shooting one of the senses of an actor that is very hard to work on is smell and over the course of the time in the studio, from the amount of animals that we would have on the set, started to smell and I loved it. To have that environment to shoot in because it was something that I noticed when I was in the museum in New York, the smell of dirt. We kind of had that after a while in our studio [laughing].
Lena: Can you see out of that white contact that they make you wear?
Kevin Ryan: It was initially supposed to be a tired eye and there was supposed to be a patch but we decided to go with a lens. Even though it’s a lens and the eye is dead you can still see the emotion in that eye. The patch just kind of shut that off. It’s also great for intimidation and I use it for interrogation and if I’m challenging someone, I developed this sort of muscle movement that is different from my good eye. It’s great to play with. Yeah, I couldn’t see anything. It was like going under really cloudy bath water and I really couldn’t see anything. It was kind of cool because if I wanted to look at something on my left I actually had to turn my head a little bit more, so you had that realism as well. It was very interesting.
Lena: I was wondering if it was Tom’s idea to try to take away from your good looks?
Kevin Ryan: [Laughing] I don’t know.
Lena: They always try to mess up one guy in an attempt to make him not as hot as the leading guy [but it never works].
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, you obviously want to have an expected difference between the characters and have one of them a little bit dirtier with hair that isn’t as groomed and a wardrobe that is slightly different. I have longer coats, so yeah.
Lena: If you had to live in that time period right now what would you miss the most?
Kevin Ryan: Medicine [laughing]. I think so, medicine and a cell phone.
Lena: That scene with the tooth pulling was awful. That will give you nightmares.
Kevin Ryan: Yeah. It seemed more like a family in the five months. Some of the Irish there supported us. It’s the same way that they are today. The Irish have this way of reconnecting with their culture. The Irish just have that great family attitude.
Lena: Since you have a dance background will your character be using that in the show?
Kevin Ryan: We did a little jig in episode two. We were doing the scene and I was like we should celebrate here because it was a win. Barry Levinson wanted to know how we would celebrate and I said they would do an Irish dance. We were basically rehearsing an Irish dance for the show and it was hilarious. It was a lot of fun.
Lena: Hopefully, we get to see another one before the show ends.
Kevin Ryan: Hopefully, hopefully. You’ll definitely get more gunshots. There is a lot of blood boiling in the shower. There are going to be a lot of surprises. A lot of things unfold (on Sunday). It’s a very exciting episode.
Lena: Can you talk about working with the cast?
Kevin Ryan: The guys were great. Kyle’s amazing, Ato, Dylan, Tom…they are all great. We just had a blast. We would have these little guitar sessions and we would just sort of hang out. We had some great times out there. We had St. Patrick’s Day out there. We just had a lot of fun. We had competitions of how long you could hold your gun out straight. Then knife throwing, we spent two months learning how to knife throw. We would have knife throwing competitions, which were a lot of fun, with moving targets and all of that.
Lena: That sounds like a fun set.
Kevin Ryan: Yes. We would put a big piece of wood on a rolling chair and one guy would launch it and you would have to hit the center of the target. Whoever hit it would win. That was pretty much it.
Lena: What was it like being the only Irish actor on the set? Did people come to you for help with their accents?
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, yeah they did, the dialect coach as well. A lot of the actors would talk to me about it and ask for advice. I would try to coach them on phonetics. I just sort of bumped up my accent a little. It was a huge honor to be able to be the only Irish man on the show and to be the representation of the Irish people on the show.
Lena: Did you add anything to your character that wasn’t originally in the script?
Kevin Ryan: Yeah, quite a lot. Even the whole background, that was all developed with Tom, the glass eye, and how he approached the character and how he spoke very behaved. I wanted to bring in a boxer’s physique with the shoulders and that, so I did a lot of boxing and working out. I was working out three times a day. If you’ve seen the episodes with the kids and the community, I wanted to have a community feel in Five Points where we had boxing and stuff, and then the knife throwing thing and all that. Good question, you’ve got me thinking.
Lena: We definitely need a second season. Have they released anything about that yet?
Kevin Ryan: Maybe in the next week or two. The numbers have been great, thank God because we all want to go again. It was just so much fun.
Lena: You guys have a strong fan base.
Kevin Ryan: We’ve been really well received and at the end of the day if the numbers are good they’re good.
Lena: I can’t wait to see what is going to happen in these last few episodes.
Kevin Ryan: It goes mental. It goes insane, pretty much. We were all dying to read the scripts when we got them not to just see where the story is going but to see if we were going to be alive. Tom Fontana has a reputation of killing off his main characters so literally you would fly through the script no matter what you were doing. You would drop everything and just read it and be like okay, I’m alive so that’s good. What you’ve had in history in the last 150 years, in Europe’s that’s like maybe 400 years of history. That was something that I worked on, getting a deeper understanding of it. We touched on it a little in Ireland but not to the level of understanding that I needed to play the part. That’s the fun of being an actor, you get to play characters and learn about what the world was like during time periods of history. It forces you to learn about different cultures and time periods.
Lena: You also have a few other projects coming up.
Kevin Ryan: I do. I have a few films being released like Songs for Amy. It won an award in the Newport Beach Film Festival [Achievement Award – Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking]. I just restructured my team as well. I went with David Unger of ICM, Tory Howard, and David Matlof as an attorney. They are a really amazing team and are so respected in the industry. I was very lucky to get all of them on board. We’ve just been having a lot of meetings. I’ve just been reading a lot of scripts and I’m sure I’ll jump on something in the next month or so.
Lena: That’s great. We definitely need to see you everywhere and we need a second season of Copper.
Kevin Ryan: Yeah! The premiere of the show was great and I got to bring my family to New York. That was the first time that we were all together as a family in twelve years and that was another nice thing that has come from the show that made it really special. Then I have a little dog called Copper, which is always fun. When we were shooting I got a German Shepherd that was 10-weeks-old. She’s the show’s mascot. The costume department made me a collar for her that has my detective badge on it from the show.