Esther McCarthy: Irish cocaine comedy lined up for success

Alex Murphy and Chris Walley
Alex Murphy and Chris Walley

THEY used flour for cocaine, their leading stars were mistaken for criminals in Cork’s English Market and they staged a drugs raid so convincing that the neighbours thought it was real.

Welcome behind the scenes of raucous cocaine comedy The Young Offenders – where some of the antics on set were almost as funny as what unfolds on the big screen. 

Destined to be a major hit when it’s released in cinemas next week, the movie is inspired by the notorious real-life cocaine haul worth €440million off the coast of Cork in 2007. 

The haul was discovered after bungling criminals capsized one of the boats as they were approaching the shore. 

The boat had cut out after one of the gang put diesel instead of petrol into its motor, and 62 bales of cocaine ended up in the water. It was the biggest seizure in the history of the State at the time. 

Writer and director Peter Foott  – who previously gave us The Rubberbandits’ Horse Outside video and TV comedy Republic of Telly  – thought the story would make a great starting point for a comedy. 

The movie tells the tale of two ambitious, but inept, teenagers who head on a road trip across West Cork to find some of the cocaine, which they plan to sell to better their lives. 

“I have friends who live in the area and got talking about the case and how €440m worth of cocaine ended up floating in the sea,” said Foott. “It was the talk of Ireland at the time and they said people went down to try and find some. 

“I thought this was hilarious, the idea of someone out walking the dog, hoping to find some cocaine.” 

It was also, he said, partly inspired by his own escapades as a teenager, when he went to West Cork with his friend and “everything that could go wrong did go wrong”. 

“It’s about that time in your life where your friendships are very close, where you’ll do anything for your friends.”

It’s a hilarious comedy that’s poised to become an instant classic, but some of the shenanigans that went on during filming almost rival what emerges on the big screen. 

For example, a drugs bust staged for the cameras was so realistic that horrified locals were talking about it in the local shop afterwards, while the cast and crew had to grapple with filming a road movie in the summer of 2015 – one of the wettest in recent memory. 

The Young Offenders even fell victim to young offenders, when one of the crew’s cars was broken into as they filmed in West Cork. 

The crew also stocked up with bags and bags of flour to double as cocaine. 

“It’s impossible to get off and takes a couple of showers,” said Peter. “We needed two extras to film a scene involving two guys fighting over a bag of cocaine and we thought, ‘who are the crustiest looking people on set?’ 

“That was me and Paddy Jordan, and we filmed the scene where we kicked the crap out of each other.” 

While the film is set in glorious sunshine throughout the county, the crew revealed they struggled with one of the wettest summers of recent years and were even forced to reshoot a scene on Three Castle Head when the Irish weather refused to play ball. 

“I wanted the film to look sun-drenched, to show Cork at its very best, but it lashed rain every other day. We used to shelter together under a tarp and film scenes whenever the sun came out. We ended up having to go back to shoot a big scene on Three Castle Head after nearly being blown away.” 

The movie is set to make stars out of its two young leads, Alex Murphy and Chris Walley, who are hilarious as bungling thieves Conor and Jock. Both of them are now studying acting, but this is their first movie role. 

Alex joked that he had to spend a family holiday in Spain covered up to convince as the pale-faced Conor. 

“It was for continuity. You can’t be pale in one scene and brown in the next scene,” laughed the 18-year-old. 

“That’s all well and good when you’re in Ireland and it’s cloudy, but I went to Spain for 10 days! I was that pale kid in the corner, wearing factor 50, behind a tree, while everyone else was out playing. 

“I think my mum’s just glad I’m not Chris. He drew the short straw – he’s in his jocks in a big 50-foot poster in Cork city. We were working with comedians every day, people like Hilary Rose (his mum in the movie) and PJ Gallagher (a criminal the boys fall foul of), so every day was a proper belly laugh. We had great craic.” 

PJ gets trimmed for his role in the movie

He revealed that a hilarious scene of the duo clinging to each other for warmth was actually for real, as the boys were freezing after filming a scene in the water. 

“It was summer, but the water was freezing. Me and Chris started hugging each other for warmth, we were so cold, and Peter shouted: ‘Get this on camera! It needs to be in the film!’”

Chris (21), discovered he’d landed a place in prestigious London acting school RADA while filming the movie and considers himself fortunate to have had such a fun experience. 

He recalled how, while doubling as security during filming in Cork’s English Market, members of the public were convinced he was a real-life young offender and he needed to reassure them. 

“Now I’m seeing myself up on billboards, almost completely naked. Alex did just as many shots in his underpants, but obviously Peter, as some form of punishment, put me on the billboards,” Chris smiled.

“I’m getting a slagging from my friends, but I find it all very funny.”