Ciarán Hinds: ‘The impulse to drink is deep in the Irish psyche. It’s steeped in the notion of sin’

Actor Ciarán Hinds
Actor Ciarán Hinds - Rii Schroer
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“For many years, we were a priest-ridden country, steeped in the notion of sin. So the impulse to drink and to let go is deep in the psyche,” says Ciarán Hinds.

He is talking about The Dry – the hit Irish comedy following the life of 35-year–old Shiv Sheridan, who is trying to resist the drink in one of the booziest countries in the world. Hinds plays Tom, Shiv’s emotionally evasive father, a lugubrious, taciturn man who absorbs the gradual fracturing of his family into thick unhappy silences. By season two, which returns to ITVX next week, he and his wife Bernie, also a recovering alcoholic, are fully separated.

So, can viewers expect another sex scene like in the first season, in which a horrified Siobhan finds her father against a wheelie bin with his on/off mistress Mina (played by Hinds’s real life partner Hélène Patarot)? “Definitely not. I think everyone has had enough of that. I got far too much stick for it,” Hinds says playfully over Zoom from his home in Paris.

The Dry is a beautiful piece of work, excellent on the hidden pain of family life, tensely funny, spikily true. Hinds – who is perfect in the role, his drooping features as eloquent as a soliloquy – enjoys a drink himself. “I’ve got a great appetite for drinking. But I’m not reaching for one at three in the morning. I’m much more careful now. The body can’t take it. I’ve never been to a gym in my life.”

Hinds is 71 and, along with his good friend Liam Neeson, is a venerable member of the Irish acting old guard. He’s the sort of actor who steadily mixes an impeccable stage pedigree (he and Patarot, 70, met during Peter Brook’s legendary 1985 epic play The Mahabharata) with reliably excellent big-budget supporting performances: Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Road to Perdition, Munich. In 2022, Hinds, who grew up Catholic in Belfast, was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age film Belfast.

Reaching out: Hinds and Pom Boyd as a separated married couple in The Dry
Reaching out: Hinds and Pom Boyd as a separated married couple in The Dry - Mark Sheen

All the same, he’s in awe of the new wave of swaggering Irish talent led by Paul Mescal and Barry Keoghan, both of whom received Oscar nods last year at a remarkably tender age: Mescal is 28, Keoghan 31.

“My generation of actors, we had fear. We thought: when are we going to get rumbled? But this lot – they just do the work.” He puts it down to the radical shifts in the way Ireland thinks about itself. “Before we joined Europe, we were all living hand-to-mouth. And then during the Celtic Tiger years in the 1990s, it was as though the entire country was led into a sweet shop and stuck its head inside jars of sweets. It became vulgar and all-consuming.” Now, he says, the country is bubbling with self-confidence.

“When I was growing up, very few people spoke Irish. But now there are huge numbers among the young who speak it. And they do it out of pride. It’s the feeling of, it’s OK. It’s the spirit of a joyous kind of being.”

He thinks the current explosion in Irish creativity across the arts, including the seemingly unstoppable number of outstanding Irish novelists, is a compulsive expression of this new Irish modernity. “It’s true we are no longer hidebound by the dominant, sterile, controlling [Catholic Church],” he says. “Now it’s about people’s right to find their own selves. Be it their own sexuality, politics or their own confusion.”

The Dry: the hit Irish comedy returns to ITVX next week
The Dry: the hit Irish comedy returns to ITVX next week - Mark Sheen

Hinds is no longer a practising Catholic. “But I still have loads of guilt. I don’t know what about. I just do.” He was 16 when the Troubles started in 1969. He remembers most of all the thrill.

“I knew something was happening, but I wasn’t very informed. There was a mixture of danger, but also the thrill of it. That’s probably a very male thing, the thrill of something happening. There is crackling in the air. There is violence, people marching.” The contrast with life before, whereby under the oppressive yoke of the Church, outside activities were outlawed on the Sabbath, was dramatic. “You have to remember we went to that from growing up in a country where the parks and the swings and roundabouts were padlocked every single Sunday. You just had to stay inside.”

Working with Protestant-raised Branagh on Belfast, in which Hinds plays the grandfather of nine-year-old Buddy, growing up during the 1970s, brought some of it back. “Although not the worst bits, the loss of life in all directions. That never goes away.” Hinds has lived for years in Paris with Patarot (the couple have a daughter, Aoife, who is also an actor), but he is cautiously optimistic about the restoration of the new power-sharing agreement in Stormont, which in February saw Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill become Northern Ireland’s first nationalist First Minister. What does he think of O’Neill, who has previously defended the IRA’s murderous bombing campaign during the 30-year Troubles by arguing that, until the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the Republican cause had “no alternative”?

'I'm wary of extremism because I've seen where extremism leads'
'I'm wary of extremism because I've seen where extremism leads' - Rii Schroer

“I’m wary of extremism because I’ve seen where extremism leads, but I must say I’m impressed by O’Neill. I like the way she acknowledges that there will be people who don’t agree with her and her emphasis on talking it out. That’s so healthy, as opposed to a more male, entrenched ‘my terms or no terms’ kind of position.” Was he shocked by the riots in Dublin last November, which were fuelled by far Right anti-immigrant unrest? “We’ve seen this alt-right sentiment raise its head in Ireland before. It’s about a kind of purity of being Irish. It’s scary. We have to find a way of surviving together.”

Hinds has an innate open-minded tolerance about him, which he partly puts down to learning Irish dancing as a child in Belfast – a teacher encouraged children across the religious divide to participate. He has always been outward-looking: after graduating from Rada in 1975, he cut his teeth at the Glasgow Citz under the visionary director Giles Havergal, who mixed British premieres with Russian and European classics.

“They were doing Mikhail Lermontov, Beaumarchais, Genet, the sort of plays no one was doing, plus Brecht and Seán O’Casey. The ethos was, ‘there’s no point in us giving people what we think they want. Let’s give them what we want to do and see how they like it.’ It was a heightened European theatre, but working-class people came.”

Fine and dandy: Hinds with Amanda Root in 1995's Persuasion
Fine and dandy: Hinds with Amanda Root in 1995's Persuasion - Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

He joined the RSC in the 1990s and began his Hollywood career after Steven Spielberg cast him in his political thriller Munich in 2005. For many, though, he is indelibly associated with the dashing Captain Wentworth in Roger Michell’s 1995 TV adaptation of Persuasion, widely believed to be the greatest Austen adaptation ever made. Hinds acquired a sex-symbol status as a result, which he finds very amusing indeed.

“I guess if you put any guy in a sailor’s frock he’d become a sex symbol. That whole look, the shape of the clothes, it was so manly! I was quite surprised to be offered that role because it’s quintessentially English, but then they cast Fiona Shaw [who was born in County Cork] as my sister so I figured it was OK.”

He’s pathologically self-deprecating. When I suggest he has rarely been out of work, he laughs. “I’m no workaholic! I sometimes think I’ll have a lie-down. Then someone asks me to do something and I think, ‘Oh, that sounds fun.’”

The second season of ‘The Dry’ begins on ITVX on March 14

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