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As Kin returns, Sam Keeley catches up with Deirdre Reynolds about the show’s impact, what it’s like to play hard man Eric Kinsella and what we might expect from season two
With his tightly-shorn head and feral beard, there’s no mistaking Eric Kinsella as he Zooms into Magazine+ HQ all the way from Iceland.
That is until Kin cast member Sam Keeley begins speaking about his role in the runaway TV hit.
A native of Tullamore, Co Offaly, the gently spoken actor is worlds away from the Dublin hard chaw he plays in the returning gangland drama, in manner if not looks — something he admits can be a huge source of disappointment for super-fans of ‘Viking’, as his volatile character is better known.
“Big time,” the 31-year-old jokes. “It’s a very distinctive look for sure. I get shouted at, ‘Viking, Viking, Viking!’ in the streets. It’s very funny.
“People don’t know I’m not from Dublin, they don’t know that I’m not a madman, so people are either really surprised or really disappointed when they meet me.
“Some people are really excited to meet the crazy person, and I’m just like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’, shaking hands with people. And they’re really like, ‘Oh, OK’. That’s fun — I’m enjoying that aspect of it.
“It’s a lovely thing to be able to come home to Ireland and make a story like this that people respond to in such a huge way.
“People know what it is when they see us in the street, and they know what we’re filming and there’s a love there. We feel like we’ve been accepted.”
Viewership figures show the modest actor definitely isn’t over-egging the pudding. Despite inviting inevitable comparison to Love/Hate when it premiered in September 2021,Kin went on to shatter records for the national broadcaster with 2.1m streams, becoming a global word-of-mouth smash in its own right.
For those still to catch up on the RTÉ Player, the tense series followed two rival gangland clans — the Kinsellas, headed by Frank (Aidan Gillen), and the Cunninghams, led by Eamon (Ciarán Hinds) — who go to war after Frank’s nephew, Jamie, is shot dead by a Cunningham cartel thug in a botched drive-by.
The twisty Kinsella family tree also includes Emmett Scanlan and Clare Dunne as Jamie’s vengeful parents, Jimmy and Amanda; Daredevil star Charlie Cox as Jimmy’s brother, and ex-lover of Amanda; Maria Doyle Kennedy as family matriarch Birdy; and, of course, Frank’s volatile son, Viking, and his glamorous girlfriend, Nikita, played by Yasmin Seky.
“It’s mad,” begins Sam, who got his breakout role in another Irish drama, Raw. “We’re in the middle of Dublin filming this kind of Shakesperean-style drama.
“There’s definitely pinch-me moments on that set, because you’re surrounded by such talented actors, Peter McKenna’s an incredible writer... it’s super exciting.
“It’s hard to believe that the show did as well as it did. We knew that the scripts were great, and we knew that the cast was great, but even if you have all of those elements, sometimes it still doesn’t all come together in the way that you want it to.
“Gangland drama has a place in our hearts for some reason; we’re addicted to seeing that kind of world. I think the fact that we were able to stand alone a series in that genre from Ireland, considering the shows that have come before us, is a huge thing. Y’know, there’s a little bit of pressure coming back for season two, because — how do you top that?
“But I think we’ve managed to do it. We’ve managed to double down on what we were really good at in season one. I think everybody’s going to be really happy with season two. It’s a better, more refined season.”
A tense cliffhanger saw kingpin Eamon Cunningham gunned down by Michael, and Frank overdose as his older brother, Bren, is released from prison, with grieving- mum-turned-mobster Amanda poised to take over as the head of the crime family.
Fans last saw Viking banged up — quite literally, after smashing his head against a wall while in solitary confinement in prison — over his attempted murder of Cunningham foot soldier Caolan Moore.
Treading carefully around spoilers, however, Sam hints that the livewire could give Amanda a run for her laundered money to become top dog of the Dublin underworld.
“I think it’s anyone’s game,” he teases. “The fact that we have Ciarán Hinds’ character being killed off, that leaves a huge vacuum there to be filled, and I think that you’re going to see a lot of people vying for that position — particularly within the Kinsella family.
“I can’t say much, but I will say prison has given (Viking) the time to really reflect on his actions and think about his position within the family and the type of man that he wants to be.
“I think he’s got big aspirations for himself in the future where he sees himself going. I think he’s got a perfect mix: he’s got a very forward-moving energy. If he’s able to control his raw aggression and hone that, he could be a very powerful figure in this world — and I think he’s starting to realise that himself.
“Physically, it’s tricky because he’s definitely a guy that burns the candle at both ends,” admits Sam, of buffing up for the part. “He trains very hard to keep himself strong, and he also parties very hard to keep himself relevant and current within the world. I think he’s got a big engine.
“It’s a lot to be playing it. But on the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to play him as well because he’s got no filter. He just says whatever pops into his head and does whatever he feels.”
With his character now facing a long stretch on the inside, or possibly an even more fateful decision to turn informer, the show couldn’t be accused of glamorising gangland crime, although some have tried.
As well as working with a dialect coach to nail the Dublin accent, Sam reveals he turned to the pages of the Sunday World, and investigations editor Nicola Tallant, to get under the skin of drug lord Viking.
“Nicola was a great touchstone to be able to go to. She’s really got her finger on the pulse in that world.
“There’s no shortage of reading in Ireland, unfortunately. We are plagued by a lot of these issues, and a lot of people are affected by this on a day-to-day basis.
“I think it’s important to look at the violence of it and to look at the ugliness of it — because that’s the reality of it. It doesn’t make for light reading all the time, but I think it’s necessary in order to be able to give a full portrayal of these characters, particularly Viking.
“It’s my job as an artist to be able to look at the realities of those situations, and somehow try and articulate them in an artistic way so they can be palatable for people.”
Of course, behind every good kingpin is a queen, so viewers will also be keen to discover whether Nikita will stand by her man should he end up behind bars, as season two gets off to an explosive start tonight.
“I hope so!” jokes Sam. “We could have so easily gone down the road of this semi-toxic, almost borderline emotionally abusive relationship, and I think both of us really wanted for that to not be the case.
“It was important to both me and Yasmin that they really loved each other and I think, in that Bonnie and Clyde kind of way, they’re always going to be together despite everything. They’re certainly being tested... and I think you’re going to see more of that — the two of them pushed to their limits and how much they’re willing to sacrifice for each other.”
Currently working on his own script for a TV series, the rising star won’t be drawn on who winds up sleeping with the fishes by the time the trigger-happy show’s finale rolls around in eight weeks. Long live Viking?
“It’s a rare thing to have a spoiler less social media and media presence these days,” he gives a sideways smile. “So I think it’s good that we’re keeping it under wraps from everybody. But I’m definitely up for a third season!”
Kin returns to RTÉ One tonight at 9.30pm