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Mrs Brown’s Gay Boy

Mrs Brown’s Boys is a comedy sitcom on BBC One, created by and starring Irish writer and performer Brendan O’Carroll. Although Mrs Brown and her boys (and girls) is new to the UK comedy scene, the show has been around in one form or another since 1992, when it started life as a radio comedy soap opera. Now in its successful second series we sent Ryan Houston to catch up with one of the show’s most popular characters Rory, played by Rory Cowan.

How does it feel to be part of such an amazingly successful TV series?

I’m stunned by the size of the success of Mrs Brown. I knew it would be successful, because the live shows have been selling out venues in the UK and Ireland since 1999. North of Birmingham we were very popular, but the TV series has opened up the whole of the UK for us, and we are now doing much bigger venues than we did before. In most cases we are now playing 6000 seat arenas and before the TV series we were playing 1500 seat theatres.

Do you find it difficult working with the cast, as they are all quite close as a family?

I’m one of the few people that isn’t related to Brendan. Grandad, Mark and Dino are the other three. When Mrs Brown started off on radio Brendan used all the people who worked with him. It was just easier at the time to use people he knew. I was his publicist, Grandad was the roadie and ‘Mark’ was the sound man and Brendan met Gary, who plays Dino when they were in a Panto together in Glasgow. Everyone who worked with him was playing a character in the radio soap. So by the time we went on the road Brendan’s wife Jenny, a very experienced actress, was playing Cathy, Danny, his son was playing Buster, Fiona, his daughter was playing Maria, Eilish, his sister, was playing Winnie, Amanda, his daughter-in-law, was playing Betty and Marty, his son-in-law, was playing Trevor. Paddy, who plays Dermo was Danny’s best friend from school. Initially the BBC wanted to get experienced TV actors to play these roles, but Brendan insisted that the actors on stage had to be the same actors on the TV series and he insisted the F word was included too. He didn’t want people seeing the TV show and then going to see the stage shows and seeing different actors playing the roles and hearing strong language that they would not have heard on the TV series. He wanted the TV shows to reflect what the audiences would see and hear in the stage shows. And it was a good decision on his part to do that.

How do you personally feel about the character you play in the series?

I love that character Rory. He is such fun to play. Initially when Brendan wrote that character he based him on me. Now back in 1992 homosexuality was illegal in Ireland. Homosexuality wasn’t spoken about outside of the gay scene. Families with gay sons or daughters or brothers or sisters didn’t talk about it that much. It’s weird looking back because that’s only 20 years ago and homosexuality was very hush hush here and people weren’t coming out in any great numbers. But Brendan wrote the gay characters of Rory and Dino and they were likeable characters and they became very popular. At the time Brendan’s main job was as a stand-up comedian and the radio series got publicity for his stand-up gigs. We started to notice at these gigs that people were saying how much they liked Rory and Dino and how they had an uncle, brother, sister, who was gay but the family never talked about it. All of which I found very sad in a way. But by writing those gay characters into the soap people felt they were able to talk about homosexuality. Now Brendan didn’t do anything to legalise homosexuality, I’m not saying that, but he did push the envelope a bit to make people think and talk about it and accept their family members as being gay. So writing those characters did help change attitudes here in Ireland.

How did you decide to play his character?

Now of course the way I play Rory is to a stereotype. That was my choice and Brendan gives me great leeway in how I play him. I didn’t want to play him as a gay character that would be a surprise to the audience. I wanted him to be out there and I wanted the audience to know the character was gay from the minute he sets foot on the stage. And Mrs Brown plays the perfect mother for a gay son or daughter. It’s all comedy, but the message is always there that she wants her son to be happy and if being with a man makes him happy then that’s fine with her. When Rory and Dino are fighting she’s always working at bringing them back together because she knows they belong together as a couple.

In the series your Mammy refers to you as her ‘delicate’ boy, in the future series will she ever get to know your sexuality?

Ah, she found out in the first series. Rory was trying to tell her but it went right over her head. So the rest of the family decided to tell her that one of the family was gay and she was trying to think who it was. She went through them all one by one and when she was reading a book about homosexuality, that Cathy gave her, she came to the conclusion that it must be her, Mrs Brown, that was gay. In the book it said something along the line that gay women have a very close relationship with another woman. She thought that as Winnie was her best friend and were so close that it must be her that was gay. And all along she never dreams it’s her son Rory. He was the only one she didn’t think was gay. When she eventually was told she decided that she better explain to Rory that he was gay and she did it really well. She told him that he was her son and she loved him no matter what. In the end Rory didn’t have to tell her, she told him. Of course with it being a comedy, she then said to Cathy it was one of the hardest things she ever had to do, telling her child he was gay. And she hoped that Rory would never have to do such a thing with any of his children when he gets married to a woman and has a family of his own. So Mrs Brown knows Rory is gay, but she’s still trying to understand what being gay is.

You’ve also told me that Brendan (Mrs Brown) is currently writing the third series of Mrs Brown’s Boys… does this mean a third series for BBC One?

There will be a third series for BBC and we will be filming that in Oct and November this year. But before that we are on tour in the UK and I can’t wait to get back on the road. This is going to be a great year.

      Photo:  BBC/Alan Peebles