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Interview: Shameless star Gerard Kearns on The Smoke, Manchester & his Irish roots

Gerard Kearns with his co-stars in his new film 'The Rise'
Gerard Kearns with his co-stars in his new film ‘The Rise’

“IAM EXTREMELY proud of my Irish heritage. The Irish are great storytellers and acting is all about telling a story, that’s a huge part of it.”

Gerard Kearns is instantly recognisable to millions of TV viewers as the character Ian Gallagher from the hit Channel 4 series, Shameless.

The 28-year-old is currently on location in London filming a new £8m drama called The Smoke for Sky1 and has a new film out this month too.

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Kearns was born in the northwest of England but his family hail from Dublin and he’s proud to have Irish blood running through his veins.

“My grandfather Benny Kearns came over to Manchester to look for work. All of his family did, his sister, his brothers. He was raised in Donnybrook and they had the river Dodder at the foot of the back garden.

“Ireland is a fantastic place and I’ve always admired the way Ireland produces talent.”

Kearns’ CV boasts some impressive film and TV credits and already he has ticked off one major ambition in working with the acclaimed director Ken Loach. His big break came when he landed a role in Manchester-set family drama, Shameless.

“That was my first ever job. I had only done theatre and ‘extra’ work before that. I was actually on the dole when I got that part. I come from an academic family, my parents are both teachers, and they had this son who couldn’t concentrate or focus at school.

“I never got expelled or anything like that. All I wanted to do was act. I worked in a metals factory, a launderette and I washed pots. At this stage then I was on the dole. I had been for 18 auditions when the one for Shameless came up.”

He got the part and admits to learning a huge amount over the years alongside his co-stars in the gritty Channel 4 drama.

“The beauty of that role for me was that I was working with hungry, focused, disciplined actors like Anne-Marie Duff and Maxine Peake. I was 17, 18 years old and I wanted to act but I didn’t know the ins and outs of the business.

“My parents just couldn’t see it as a career, they just couldn’t. My mother said to me ‘right that job is finished, so what are you going to do?’ I just said to her ‘mother, this is what I do. This IS my full-time job’.”

Working on Shameless also gave Kearns the chance to get to know former Father Ted star Pauline McLynn, who turned to him for advice about the Manchester accent.

“Pauline was lovely, she’s a really nice woman. She was really worried about the accent but she kept listening to everyone. I told her not to listen to me because I’m not a true Manc!”

Gerard’s best known film so far is probably Looking for Eric, the 2009 Ken Loach movie that tells the story of a football-mad Manchester postman whose life descends into chaos.

He finds inspiration in the words of his United hero, striker Eric Cantona, who appears in the film as himself. Kearns plays the postman’s stepson Ryan, who gets mixed up with a dangerous criminal.

Kearns continues: “I had always wanted to work with Ken Loach, so that was just brilliant. I remember an actor friend of mine giving me a DVD called Sweet 16 and I was blown away.

“A few years later a friend told me that Ken Loach was doing a new film, so my agent got in touch and I went to meet him. We chatted and I got the part.

“He’s an amazing director. You meet people, you do your research and you still don’t know what’s going on. You turn up on set and you still don’t know what’s going on! He’s not bothered about the words, just so long as you are doing it.

“There was a lovely picture of Cantona on the wall on the first day and on the second day when I turned up he was sitting on the back of a lorry drinking tea. I said ‘bon appetit’ to him and he just smiled at me.”

Loach’s method of working meant that often the cast didn’t know what was happening next, his way of adding more reality to the drama. It led to one memorable moment for Kearns.

He adds: “There was a scene where my character had to handle a gun so I was outside with this gun in my hands, just figuring out how to hold it really.

“Next thing armed police burst onto the set and I was convinced someone had seen me with this gun and dialled 999! It was all part of the film. Ken doesn’t tell you anything!

“It was an absolute buzz to go to Cannes with Eric and his wife and Ken. Walking down the Croisette one day with them, just being amazed by everything and then the next day getting dropped off back onto the M62 in a van. It was insane.”

Kearns’ latest TV drama project sees him play the part of Little Al Sackett in The Smoke, which follows the adventures of White Watch, the crew of a London fire station. It will be screened on Sky1 next February.

He continues: “I hope it’s a series that people get into and actually follow. My ambition for it is that it’s received well by viewers, grows and lifts and becomes a success.

“The cast and crew working on it are very focused, very hardworking. It has been brilliant so far. I’m really enjoying it.”

Kearns’ new movie is called The Rise and is released in the United States this month, with a British and Irish release to follow later in the summer.

He adds: “It tells the story of four lads from Leeds whose friend has just come out of prison. He had been set up in prison. This lad wants to better himself but he has a criminal record.

“He gets offered the chance to buy into a coffeeshop business in Amsterdam but he needs £30,000 to do it. So he decides to rob this thug who set him up in prison. I’d describe it as ‘social realism meets Oceans 11, set in Yorkshire’.”

Away from the stage and the screen, Gerard enjoys boxing. He adds: “I like the discipline and the training, boxing gives you discipline. You need to stay in shape. I also like hiking and playing football.”

The Smoke starring Gerard Kearns, Jamie Bamber and Jodie Whittaker begins on Sky1 in February.

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