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The other fall guy: Why John Lynch loves working with Gillian Anderson

The Northern Irish actor tells Maureen Coleman that tonight's episode of BBC2 drama The Fall features some very intense scenes between his character and Stella.

In his early career Northern Irish actor John Lynch played several notable characters who fell foul of the law. His haunting, Bafta-nominated performance in the 1984 film Cal saw him portray a young IRA man in love with the widow of a murdered RUC officer, played by Helen Mirren, while in Jim Sheridan's In The Name of the Father, he starred as Belfast man Paul Hill, one of four people wrongly convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.

These days, he's playing the hunter as opposed to the hunted, appearing as Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns in BBC2's crime thriller The Fall. Burns is the man responsible for appointing DSI Stella Gibson, played by Gillian Anderson, to head the investigation into a series of murders in Belfast. As such, his career could depend on the success of her special taskforce. Burns has also enjoyed some sort of liaison with Gibson in the past, which becomes more apparent in the current series of the drama.

Lynch, who has lived in the south of France for almost 10 years, was delighted to return to Belfast to shoot series two.

"It's the first time I've ever done a second series of something, the first time I've had the opportunity to have another run at a project," he explains, from his home in Nice.

"It was great to be able to explore all those relationships, especially the one with Stella Gibson. It's a very complex and important relationship in terms of the policing end of things, but also given their history together. That was hinted at in series one but is explored in the second series, so it was really fun to have another go at it and explore those details.

"Of course, working with Allan Cubitt as the director was an added bonus and I think that's one of the reasons we all loved coming back to it so much."

Lynch was working in Manchester when he first got wind of The Fall. There were whispers in acting circles about a new upcoming drama to be filmed in Belfast and before he'd even read the script, Lynch knew he wanted to be involved.

"I'd heard about The Fall before I was offered the part of Burns," he says. "I kind of knew even before I read it that I would be doing it. My instinct as an actor told me it would be something special."

His character still harbours intense feelings for Gibson and without giving too much away about tonight's episode, it's fair to say she does not reciprocate his advances.

"Burns has strong feelings for Gibson which have caused him a lot of pain," Lynch says. "I think he is still in love with her, or lust, but whatever happened between them, he's not over it.

"He sees qualities in her that he wishes he had. She has qualities that annoy him, too, but he admires her absolute dedication and the fact she doesn't deviate. It's more difficult for him because he is juggling many things, such as a higher position.

"Every time he comes up against Stella he brings so much with him. That's really interesting to play. He still has feelings for her, but he's her boss and also has to run this investigation. That's what I find so interesting about Jim. He is very human, he's a very well written character. And the good thing is that as the second series goes on, he starts to pull himself together. He takes it upon himself to investigate a lead about Spector, he brings important information to the table and starts to become a detective again."

Although his character may find it painful being around Gibson, 52-year-old Lynch thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working so closely with Anderson. The pair both starred in the BBC's 2005 adaptation of Charles Dicken's Bleak House, although they never actually filmed any scenes together.

"The Fall is the first time we have worked face-to-face," says Lynch. "We have a great facility with each other. She's great to work with. I think we work really well together. Technically, she's very impressive. Our scenes together are always interesting to play. She's very professional, a very startling presence. And we have great fun with her, too."

In the first series of The Fall, it is hinted that Burns is battling more than just his obsession with Gibson. He has turned to religion to fill a void left by alcohol. This inner demon also becomes more evident in tonight's episode.

For Lynch, showing this side of Burns was a case of life imitating art. The actor himself had a problem with alcohol in the past and turned to writing as his saviour.

But he hasn't touched a drop of liquor now in 15 years and in that time, has written two novels, Torn Water and Falling Out of Heaven, as well as appearing in numerous television productions and movies.

"Yes, I had a problem with drink," he says. "I mean, we've all made fools of ourselves at some point, well, anyone who drinks and I don't mean excessively. But we've all had moments of 'Oh my God, what happened last night? What did I do?' But I had to stop when I realised it was interfering with everything. I had a very dark life. I didn't find enjoyment in many things. So that's when I stopped and started writing instead. If I hadn't have stopped drinking, I wouldn't have written my novels.

"In the beginning, it was hard. It was very difficult. Alcohol is sewn into the fabric of daily life, especially here in France. People drink with their meals, they drink socially when they go out with friends. The first few years it was very difficult, not so much now."

Playing a drunken scene as ACC Burns was also more difficult than he imagined it would be.

"I was apprehensive because I wanted to do it justice," he says. "It's not in my life any more, I don't get drunk anymore. It was quite difficult but also quite funny. I kept saying to Al (Cubitt) 'How am I as drunk?'. I was trying to remember what it was like to be drunk and then I remembered this feeling of being out of control and life being a mess.

"To be honest, I just felt pleased and lucky that I don't drink any more."

Was Cubitt aware of Lynch's former battles with drink when he wrote tonight's scene?

"Yes, he was," says Lynch. "In series one we talked about why Jim (Burns) went to Mass. Obviously I'm not judging people who go to Mass all the time, but it seemed to me that Jim had a particular thing that he latched on to. Maybe he was trying to stay sober and was trying to do it through religion and faith.

"I said to Al 'I don't drink' and he said 'That's interesting'. Then bang, in the second series, I turn up drunk. But that's what's so good about series two. Everyone starts to fall. Everyone starts to crack."

Lynch hasn't watched any episodes of The Fall. He never watches anything he's been in, which is a pretty huge body of work he's choosing to ignore. Born near Newry, one of five children to an Irish father and Italian mother, he discovered a love for drama while at St Colman's College. His former English teacher, Sean Hollywood, encouraged his passion for acting and literature and helped him apply to drama school in London.

Lynch's younger sister Susan followed suit. She, too, has carved out a successful career as an actress, starring in films such as Nora and The Ten Commandments and ITV dramas Cracker and Monroe, the latter alongside fellow Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt. It would be easy to assume acting flows through the Lynch family's veins, but that's not the case.

"There's no history at all in the family," he says. "I actually resisted it for a long time. I was always taken with literature when I was young. I loved reading novels. But my English teacher was very into amateur dramatics and theatre and he pushed me towards acting.

"Looking back, when I went to drama school, it was 1981, right in the middle of all the darkness and horror at home. It was good to get away. Sean helped me to apply for drama school. He knew all the good drama schools in London. I did a few Irish plays with him, which I enjoyed. I got a buzz out of acting. I enjoyed escaping from myself, which is essentially what acting is about. I was able to leave my life aside for a bit. That's how I ended up in London and then Susan followed."

Lynch was still at London's Central School of Speech and Drama when he landed his breakthrough role in Cal. Following its success, he concentrated on stage work for a while before reappearing in front of the cameras in the mid-1990s. He starred in The Secret Garden, In The Name of the Father, teamed up once again with his Cal co-star Helen Mirren in Some Mother's Son and appeared in the award-winning Australian flick Angel Baby. He played Gwyneth Paltrow's cheating boyfriend in the 1998 box office hit Sliding Doors, and in Best, which Lynch co-wrote with his ex-wife Mary McGuckian, he portrayed the Belfast-born football legend George Best. On television, he starred in The Passion, The Nativity, Moll Flanders, Merlin and Shetland.

His dark eyes and brooding good looks can be attributed to his Italian heritage - his mother hails from Trivento in the Molise region of southern Italy. Lynch has visited the area many times and has even been offered honorary citizenship of the town, although he's not exactly sure what this entails.

His mother, he says, has had a huge impact on him. Growing up, he was always aware that he was slightly different.

"If you lived in Northern Ireland in the mid to late Seventies, everything was about religion and what tribe you were from," he says. "I knew my mum was from a different culture, where they produced artists like Michaelangelo and Da Vinci and great footballers, too."

On the subject of great footballers, it's not gone unnoticed on Twitter and Facebook that Lynch bears a striking resemblance to former Manchester United star Eric Cantona. Every time The Fall airs, hundreds of viewers take to the social networking sites to discuss the Lynch/Cantona comparison. So how does he feel about it?

Lynch laughs: "Well, there are worse people I could be compared to. It happens a lot, especially when I have the beard.

"It doesn't bother me at all. I'm a great football fan and a big fan of Manchester United.

"Cantona's a very good actor, too, and he's getting better and better. I've never met him, but I'd love to. And I could talk some French to him. It would be fun to do something with him."

While Irish actors seem to be big business in Hollywood - Liam Neeson, Michael Fassbender, Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy - Lynch says he's never been tempted to swap what he's got for life in LA. He enjoys living in Nice with his French partner Christine and dislikes the way everyone in LA is obsessed with just one thing - filmmaking.

"I was there with my ex-wife and a few times when I've done things connected with the US, it's been suggested I come over, but it's not for me," he says.

"I went for a period of time seven years ago and all I did was write my second novel when I was there. I could've been anywhere.

"No, I'd much rather be in France, riding around on my Vespa, thinking about the next chapter in my book."

In an upcoming movie project, Alleycats, he gets to ride around on a motorcycle, playing a father on the hunt for his daughter's killers. And he's starring alongside Ray Winstone in a new television three-parter for ITV, The Trials of Jimmy Rose.

"It's about a career criminal who gets out of jail and I play the detective who put him there," he says. "When he gets out, things have happened, I've misbehaved with his wife and it all gets very complicated.

"Again, I'm playing a detective. I seem to be getting more of those roles now. Playing Jim Burns in The Fall is one of my favourite roles to date. It's fun to be playing someone doing the chasing for a change, rather than the one who the police are trying to chase. I did a lot of that in my youth!"

  • The Fall continues on BBC2 tonight at 9pm

Brothers and sisters acting up...

John Lynch and his younger sister Susan aren't the only siblings who act. Hollywood has its fair share of famous brother/sister pairings who have both shared the limelight.

  • Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal - it's hardly surprising these two became actors when both their parents are film-makers and Jake's godmother is Jamie Lee Curtis. Maggie starred in The Dark Knight, Secretary and BBC2 television series The Honourable Woman, while brother Jake, with whom she starred in Donnie Darko, was nominated for an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain
  • Julia and Eric Roberts - as one of Hollywood's best loved and highest paid actresses, Julia has starred in countless films including Pretty Woman, Steel Magnolias and Erin Brockovich, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. Brother Eric is known for playing edgier roles and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the 1985 film Runaway Train
  • Joan and John Cusack - the quirky brother and sister duo of the 1980s, these two have starred together in several films including High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank, Say Anything and Sixteen Candles. John has carved out a career playing unconventional heroes, while Joan was Oscar-nominated for Working Girl and In and Out and Emmy nominated for her role on Showtime's Shameless
  • Jane and Peter Fonda - their surname is synonymous with Hollywood, as their father Henry was a legendary star of screen and Peter's daughter Bridget is an actress as well. Both Peter and Jane have received multiple Oscar nominations and worked together once in the 1968 movie Spirits of the Dead
  • Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty - these famous siblings are considered Hollywood royalty. Shirley has starred in numerous well-known films including The Apartment and Sweet Charity, and won a Best Actress Oscar for the 1983 tear-jerker Terms of Endearment. Brother Warren Beatty has been nominated for 14 Oscars, winning for Best Director for his film Reds

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