An interview with Paul Howard

“The year is 2022. Ireland is in the midst of an unexpected economic boom. The country’s debts have been repaid in full, the people are once again selling houses to each other for five times what they’re worth and Bertie Ahern is set to become Taoiseach again at the age of 71. Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is entering his middle years without a care in the world. He’s got a son who’s a professional footballer, a career-minded wife who’s about to land the job of her dreams – and, like good Cognac, his looks just keep improving with age. For Ireland’s most eligible married man, life is good. Until his teenage daughter arrives home from Wesley one night with the captain of the Blackrock College rugby team – and Ross is forced to face up to the lesson that you must reap what you have sown”.

Paul Howard is bringing Ross O’Carroll Kelly back to stage in his new play, ‘Breaking Dad’. This is his third play and follows, ‘The last days of the Celtic Tiger’ and ‘Between Foxrock and a hard place’, that centres around the D4 self proclaimed rugby jock. I caught up with Paul to talk about the upcoming show and Ross in general. Up at five and getting to bed at twelve, Paul is a busy man, rehearsals during the day and writing at night would take it’s toll on most but when Paul speaks about Ross, there’s an energy in his voice, an excitement like a proud parent speaking of his child. ‘Breaking Dad’, is set in the year 2022 and with Ross in his forties, I ask Paul has he matured. “No, no I don’t think Ross ever will, I think physically he has matured but I think that mentally and emotionally, he’s regressing. In some ways he has grown up, fatherhood has changed him, when Ronan came into his life, that was a huge turning point for the character. He’s still feckless and all those kind of things, he’s failed at everything in life but I think that he’s a good father. He’s still an idiot though, I don’t think there will be a day when the light bulb goes on and he will suddenly become a responsible member of society”.

As Ross is again brought into the domain of ‘real life’, Paul acknowledges the importance of finding and keeping the cast that makes this work. He compliments each and every member of the cast. “I just got lucky and every time that they agree to do the next show, I get lucky all over again. To keep that cast together, because they are all incredibly talented actors. This is the third play and for every run we get them back, Rory Nolan as Ross, I couldn’t see anyone else playing Ross because Rory has made the character so much his own. It’s the same with Lisa Lambe, Lisa is an extraordinarily talented person not just as an actor but as a singer also, when you hear Lisa’s voice, she is just jaw droppingly good. Then you have Philip O’Sullivan as Charles, Laurence Kinlan as Ronan, we are just so fortunate to be able to keep this cast together. We don’t have Susan Fitzgerald this time which we are all very sad about, Susan passed away last year, she played Fionnuala and that’s why I didn’t write Fionnuala into it as I couldn’t see anyone else playing her. When I write about Fionnuala in the books, I think of Susan and that happens when an actor makes a roll their own. We have two new cast members this time round, Caoimhe O’Malley is playing Honor as a seventeen year old and you know what she’s like as an eight year old so you can only imagine her at seventeen and then Gavin Drea, who was also in Love/Hate and he’s playing Trailough, who is Honor’s love interest and they are kind of like a young Ross and Sorcha”.

The last play, ‘Between Foxrock and a hard place’, had a recession theme, so this time Paul wanted to do something different. “Bertie is about to become Taoiseach again, so I suppose the theme of the play if it has one, is that one generation repeats the mistakes of the generation before and it’s all about the renewal but not necessarily in a positive way”. For those Ross fans that are worried that Paul has given too much away by going to the year 2022, have no fear; he is adamant that this is a one off. “The next two or three Ross books aren’t going to necessarily lead to where this play is because firstly it gives too much away and I don’t want to be a hostage to this future that I’ve written, I’ve accepted a long time ago that the plays, the books and the columns are all Ross in sort of different worlds”.

Ross O’Carroll Kelly has been going strong now since 1998 and there are no signs of him riding off into the sunset just yet. Paul is working on, non-Ross, related material but has no plans to shelve the ‘legend’, just yet and he still enjoys it. “My job of writing Ross requires me to think like an idiot for eight or ten hours a day, people ask me, is it hard to get into the character? There are some days that it’s hard to get out of the character”.

I asked Paul about the ultimate rugby accolade that Ross was honoured with recently, a plaque above the urinals in Kielys. “Yeah, that was funny, Ross had always fantasised about what way they might commemorate the fact that he pissed all of his talent into the trough of Kielys, so they just rang me one day and said that they had put the plaque up and would I come in and launch it, so I was thrilled”. I finished by asking what three items Ross would bring, if he were stuck on an island. “Ross stuck on an island? I’ll tell you what he’d bring, he’d bring a rugby ball and the two Seoiges”.

So what’s next for Ross? Breaking Dad, a Landmark production in association with MCD is running at the Gaiety Theatre from the 25th April to the 17th of May. There are rumours of further dates and even further away venues so be sure not to miss a very talented cast of actors and a very talented and funny writer. The next book in the Ross series is due out next October as the adventures continue in, ‘Raiders of the last Dork’ and if that isn’t enough, Paul also mentioned another project, ‘Copper face Jacks the Opera’, so there’s a lot more to look forward to from Ross O’Carroll Kelly and Paul Howard and long may it last.

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