Domhnall Gleeson can’t stop laughing at his brother’s jokes. Throughout our interview, the actor shrieks with laughter whenever Brian Gleeson delivers a dry quip (which is often). When I ask Domhnall how he’d feel if his Star Wars character General Hux was ever digitally de-aged in the distant future (as The Mandalorian opted to do with Mark Hamill), younger brother Brian interrupts: “I thought you meant only a few years younger; in which case, I’m your man.”
“You look more like Ewan McGregor than you look like me, Brian,” Domhnall counters, when he’s recovered his breath. (Answering my question, he adds: “I don’t know if they’d be allowed to do that. Hopefully, they’d have to talk to me first…”)
It’s the same when Brian later cracks a joke about their father Brendan Gleeson’s hair parting, causing Domhnall to break into giggles. Oftentimes, it feels like I’ve stumbled onto a Friday night Zoom catch-up between the brothers.
Instead, they’re here to chat about their new comedy Frank Of Ireland, co-written by Brian (Peaky Blinders), Domhnall, and Michael Moloney (Your Bad Self). The Gleeson brothers play best friends in the Dublin-set comedy: Brian is the wisecracking Frank, a 32-year-old struggling musician still living at home, while Domhnall plays his more sensible hype-man, Doofus.
I ask whether any of the show’s comedic bits were based on their real-life, shared humour. “I think running in-jokes, definitely. Stupid little voices we do, for sure,” Brian says via Zoom. (In keeping with his character, he’s sitting on what looks like his unmade bed.)
Domhnall (sitting at a neat table) adds: “I’ve known Brian, obviously, since he was born, but I’ve known Michael since I was, you know, 14, 15 years old. Like, they’ve always really made me laugh, the two of them, in totally different ways as well.” He continues that the show is “based on the sort of stuff that makes us all three laugh”.
Frank Of Ireland is quite clearly a family affair: Brian and Domhnall lead the cast, while their brother Fergus provides the unexpectedly deep singing voice for a prepubescent cowboy character. And the show wouldn’t be complete without a guest appearance from their father, Brendan Gleeson (“Mad-Eye” Moody in the Harry Potter franchise), who pops up later in the series.
“Having Dad involved was just an absolute pleasure,” Domhnall says. “It was such a great thing to have him involved in the big final episode… I just thought Dad nailed it.”
Brendan’s character (whose entrance I won’t spoil) provides a counterpoint to Frank in the show. “Dad doesn’t normally have a parting like that with his hair, but he did it [to look similar to Frank]. So that was lots of fun,” Brian says.
The pair don’t need much prompting to launch into anecdotes about their father’s time on set. For a visual gag involving a tin whistle, Brendan apparently insisted on bringing his own instrument.
“I remember trying to talk him down. [He brought] the biggest whistle you’ve ever seen,” Domhnall remembers, laughing. “It like, slowly got to a reasonably sized tin whistle. And he was more like, you know, [wanting] a bassoon or an oboe or something. He was absolutely brilliant.”
When it came to stunt scenes involving a physical fall, Brendan was equally irrepressible. “We hired him on condition that he not do his own stunts. But he did them anyway,” Domhnall says. “We did have a stuntman who did the bigger falls and the bigger stuff but Dad is too game and insisted on tumbling off a couple of times, right? It was great fun. It was a real rush.”
In preparation for the brothers’ exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com, I binge-watched the six-part series – and found it hysterical. The Gleesons’ approach to script-writing reminds me of The Goes Wrong Show, which aims for a joke every six seconds. Throughout Frank Of Ireland I struggled for breath, with no let-up between the slapstick, the visual gags, and the one-liners.
“Here’s a little ditty for God’s sickest woman,” Frank yells out during an impromptu (and unpaid) funeral gig. Doofus, watching from the back of the pews, hands out Frank’s ‘merch’ during the service (“EPs with you”).
I ask the Gleeson brothers whether there are any comedic references that only Irish viewers will understand.
“I do think it’s definitely Irish, because myself, Brian, and Michael are Irish… [We] are born and bred and raised in the place that it’s set, and it’s coming from us. So yes, we have a lot of shared references, myself and the boys,” Domnhall says. “There were lots of little nods to kind of literary things or Irish songs or just small things that maybe Irish people might get more than people who don’t have that home knowledge, you know.”
In Ireland, last year’s most ‘liked’ tweet was Paul Mescal’s declaration “I’m Irish”, a clapback at journalists who mistakenly labelled the Normal People actor as ‘British’. Domhnall has had a similar previous experience, when various media titles mistakenly called Gleeson ‘British’ in 2018.
“If a person makes a mistake and calls you British or doesn’t quite understand the difference between British and Irish, and it’s a genuine mistake, then if you inform them, and they say sorry, and then don’t do that again – I’m not going to hold that against anybody. I think there’s something frustrating that happens if it happens over and over and over. If somebody makes the same mistake over and over, I can imagine it becoming frustrating,” Domhnall says. “If it is indicative of a larger sort of agenda or something like that, then of course it’s not so great, but no, I never dwelled on it.”
Brian adds: “I would say Irish actors are doing quite well, you know, for the most part, I think, because they’re the best in the world, OK… [But actors like Mescal] definitely shouldn’t not correct them [journalists], absolutely. Absolutely you should say, ‘Here are the facts’.”
The series is supremely silly, but it also has bite, and flashes of black humour (like an open casket gag in episode one). Do the brothers hope that viewers emerging from lockdown will respond well to humour with more edge?
“I hope so,” Brian says emphatically, causing Domhnall to giggle. “I think when it’s a little bit on the edge – that’s maybe where you get the biggest laugh. So you know, I don’t think the show takes itself too seriously. Definitely not. Definitely not. Just think of some of the stuff…” (Here the brothers descend into laughter, clearly remembering some of the show’s sillier jokes.) He continues: “So yeah, all we can do is hope people even respond to us. It’s definitely not a guarantee or anything like that. Yeah, just fingers crossed, you know?”
Brian and Domhnall may not think their show is guaranteed success, but I’m certain of one thing: the Gleeson brothers’ particular brand of humour is exactly what we all needed.
Frank Of Ireland is coming to Channel 4 in the UK on 15th April at 10pm, and will be available on All4. The series is set to air on Amazon Prime Video from 16th April 2021 in the US, Canada, and Australia.