Irish travellers depicted as ‘lowlife’ in American TV drama
The Sunday Times February 05, 2006

IRELAND’S travellers, used to dealing with criticism on their home turf, may soon have to defend themselves on a bigger stage. In a new drama for American television, Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard are to play the part of a married couple who travel across the country with a group of Irish travellers, swindling and stealing as they go.

Lowlife, which was co-written by Izzard, is being produced by Maverick TV, Madonna’s television company for FX Networks, home to hard-hitting adult dramas such as Nip/Tuck, the plastic surgery soap, and The Shield, a drama about crooked cops in Los Angeles.

The British comedian, currently based in Los Angeles, will play Wayne Malone who, following a crisis of conscience, decides to leave his life of petty crime behind.

When his wife Dahlia is released from prison, where she also battled a drug addiction, the couple and their three children settle down in a suburban community and go straight. Breaking away from their fellow travellers, they try to fit in among their middle-class neighbours in suburban Louisiana.

“It’s a show about a family and a show about America through the prism of so-called outsiders of normal American culture that infiltrate suburban life,” said John Landgraf, president of FX Networks in Los Angeles last week.

Traveller organisations are likely to say such a show would perpetrate negative stereotypes and myths about travellers. Madonna’s husband Guy Ritchie also depicted Irish travellers in his film Snatch, which starred Brad Pitt as a bare-knuckled fighter.

Izzard told BBC Radio that Madonna won’t be personally involved in the project but “she obviously encourages stuff to happen that’s hopefully leftfield and interesting. This is an interesting idea and that’s why I went for it,” said the 43-year-old stand-up comic.

The network, which has won Golden Globe and Emmy awards for its drama productions prides itself on making controversial subject matter for mature audiences. “We are looking for provocative and very different,” said FX Networks. “It’s dramatic and harrowing but it does have its lighter moments.”

In the show, which is described as “dark and sinister”, the Malones go on the run after breaking away from the travelling community.

“They had been involved in a lot of swindling and small-time thievery,” said a spokesman for the cable network. “They are trying to live life on the straight and narrow for the first time after Minnie’s character gets out of jail. They move to the suburbs and try and make an honest living.”

FX Networks said the characters were “very richly created and multidimensional. They are very complex and flawed characters. If this does go to series I am sure some viewers will be educated about (Irish travellers) who they will not have heard about. We like to bring different facets of this country to other people. Our main duty as a network is to entertain our viewers and Lowlife is very smart.”

Izzard’s spokesman said: “I wasn’t particularly aware of it, but there are modern-day travellers who go around America and have sites with thousands of caravans.”

Lowlife will be directed by Carl Franklin, who directed Devil in a Blue Dress, which starred Denzel Washington. The script was written by Izzard and Dmitry Lipkin, a Russian playwright. The pilot episode will be filmed in New Orleans, which will double for Baton Rouge, at the end of March. FX Networks will then decide whether or not to commission a full series.

The network said casting the lead roles was crucial. “It’s a very complicated marriage, and both characters are really strong, so we needed two actors who are perfectly matched up and can hold their own,” said Landgraf.

Izzard has been concentrating on his acting career in the past few years.

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