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macabre humour Eileen O’Higgins says she is proud of 'dark' but 'funny' new RTE drama Dead Still


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OLD WORLD STYLE: Aristocratic Brock
Blennerhasset's freespirited niece Nancy Vickers (Eileen O’Higgins)

OLD WORLD STYLE: Aristocratic Brock Blennerhasset's freespirited niece Nancy Vickers (Eileen O’Higgins)

OLD WORLD STYLE: Aristocratic Brock Blennerhasset's freespirited niece Nancy Vickers (Eileen O’Higgins)

There may be no tricks, but there's still at least one treat this Halloween weekend, Dead Still star Eileen O'Higgins has promised.

Starlet Eileen, from Co Down, may have missed out on ghouling up or going door to door for All Hallows' Eve.

But the actor-in-the-ascendent more than made up for it on the set of RTÉ's macabre new series set in 1880s Dublin, starting tonight.

"I have the most incredible costumes," beams Eileen of her Victorian frocks. "Just wait until you see them!

"Every day I got a new costume. I was walking around like I came from money, which is the absolute antithesis of the truth.

"I walked into the hair and make-up truck one day with this gown on, and I just looked at them all, deadly serious, and went: 'I look amazing!' I just don't think I can play poor again - I really, really don't!"

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Michael Smiley plays aristocratic Brock Blennerhasset, a pioneer in the field of mortuary photography

Michael Smiley plays aristocratic Brock Blennerhasset, a pioneer in the field of mortuary photography

Michael Smiley plays aristocratic Brock Blennerhasset, a pioneer in the field of mortuary photography

Appropriately dropping ahead of All Souls' Day, the pitch black comedy - filmed here before Covid-19 - focuses on a renowned memorial photographer called Brock Blennerhasset, who is drawn into a string of apparent murders seemingly linked to his work.

The words 'mystery', 'drama' and 'gallows humours' have been used to hype the six-part series, premiering tonight on RTÉ One.

Beyond that, its stars are saying about as much as the snapper's recently deceased subjects.

"I don't want to say what happens, because it genuinely would spoil the plot for each of these episodes," teases Eileen, who plays Blennerhasset's niece and aspiring thespian, Nancy Vickers.

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GHOULISH: Michael Smiley stars as grim snapper Brock Blennerhasset

GHOULISH: Michael Smiley stars as grim snapper Brock Blennerhasset

GHOULISH: Michael Smiley stars as grim snapper Brock Blennerhasset

"The premise of them is so ridiculous that it's brilliant.

"I've genuinely never seen anything like this. There are no archetypal characters or relationships that are standard to what you would expect to see, and the tone of it is really dark, but it's funny.

"Basically, it's a period drama set in Dublin with incredible Dublin character on the full social spectrum, from the uber-rich landed gentry to the people in [historical red light district] the Monto.

"It's really normal people interacting with quite unbelievable things."

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BEST FRIEND: Eileen was Saoirse Ronan’s date to the Golden Globes and BAFTAs in 2018

BEST FRIEND: Eileen was Saoirse Ronan’s date to the Golden Globes and BAFTAs in 2018

BEST FRIEND: Eileen was Saoirse Ronan’s date to the Golden Globes and BAFTAs in 2018

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Stage regular Eileen is, of course, no stranger to costume drama after getting her big break in BBC mini-series Emma in 2009 before making her film debut alongside best pal Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn in 2015. So, ironically, it was Nancy's modernness that attracted the London-based star to the role.

"Nancy has come from quite a strict kind of family," explains the 30-year-old, who won rave reviews for her turn as a young pregnant woman in play Hold Your Tongue, Hold Your Dead.

"She's left the country estate to come down to Dublin to try and be an actress, and live with her uncle, [who] understands her the most.

"She's quite a colourful character, and a very progressive sort of feminist, really.

"She's very liberal in her views and in her thinking and what she wants to achieve."

Put another way: "She's like a Victorian Kardashian," jokes co-star Michael Smiley, who plays the upper-crust photographer.

The Kill List actor leads an incredible ensemble, which also includes Jimmy Smallhorne (Love/Hate), Peter Campion (Derry Girls) and Martin Donovan (Big Little Lies).

But the true star of writer John Morton's show is Dublin herself, according to 57-year-old Smiley.

"What really attracted me to this series was it was unapologetically Irish," says Michael.

"It wasn't tugging its forlock to the UK; it wasn't pretending to be a drama set in Victorian London.

"It's written by an Irish man, there's real Irish characters and real Irish buildings. To shoot this in London, you'd probably only have two or three streets that you could do it [on] from different angles. Here, you've got a plethora of choice - the architecture's just amazing.

"So I find that really interesting, and hopefully the viewers will too for those reasons."

While his Dead Still alter ego is obsessed with the burgeoning medium of photography, dad-of-two Michael is more preoccupied with today's growing trend for cinematic television.

"People aren't watching television like they used to," tells the fellow Co Down native, best known for playing detective Benny Silver opposite Idris Elba in Luther. "When I grew up there was three channels - now we've got so much choice.

"I think there's more television than film now, because there are so many different platforms.

"If we're having a family night together, I'll be on my laptop, my wife will be on her laptop, the kids will be on their screens - we'll be watching four different things and the TV will be on.

"What that does I think is it dictates quality because if you're watching something, you can go, 'Nah', and turn it over or go onto Netflix or Amazon. Having said that, I really love film as much as I love television."

Viewers in Europe, the US and Canada are already dying to see more of Brock and Nancy after the Irish-Canadian production was snapped up worldwide.

Mary Queen of Scots star Eileen has even had a brush with awards glory after accompanying bestie Saoirse to the Golden Globes in 2018.

"That was an interesting one," jokes Eileen of being name-checked during the Carlow star's Best Actress acceptance speech for Ladybird.

"It was brilliant. It was really lovely to see one's friend achieving something so well deserved, and I've been very lucky to work with her twice.

"To be honest, the two of us are such good friends, that is who you'd nearly expect sitting next to you.

"It's like anything - if you watch your friend do really well in something, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, you really deserve that'."

⬤ Dead Still starts on RTÉ One tonight at 9.30pm

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