Skins star Jack O’Connell plays a violent young gangster separated from his sweetheart in Sky1’s new Martina Cole adaptation The Runaway.

The six-part series follows two childhood friends, Eamonn Docherty and Cathy Connor, who are plunged into a life of crime, gangsters, seedy nightclubs, corrupt policeman, arms dealers and IRA terrorists. The action switches between London’s East End, Soho and New York from 1959 to 1977.

What is the story behind the drama?
“It is quite a heartwrenching romantic love story between the two leads – Eammon and Cathy. The viewers will buy their love from the off and be convinced by them because you see them grow up together in dubious circumstances – she’s the daughter of a prostitute, who’s in a relationship with his abusive widowed dad. At the time, in the 1960s, its very gossipy and nosey so they are never left alone to be together properly, so it is quite frustrating.”

What’s your take on Eamonn – he’s quite violent isn’t he?
“Eamonn’s not just a two-dimensional violent nutter, there are reasons why he does the things he does. I found his world fascinating. Ambition drives him, but he doesn’t have a lot of options in life, so he goes for it the only way he can.”

What was the appeal to you of playing Eamonn?
“I’m so fascinated by the 1960s and 1970s. In British culture it’s a world famous era and it was key for me to embrace that and adopt the mannerisms of then. I had to detach myself from any influence of today. I was born in 1990, so when I grew up it was decades away. It was was about looking towards my granddad’s era and the older generation and doing the research there I found most fascinating.”

How did you find the boxing scenes? You’ve made Eamonn look pretty useful in the ring…
“I box myself, so it would annoy me to see somebody do this part who doesn’t know what they’re doing when it comes to a fight. My family are just glad I’m doing all this violent stuff for cameras, and being paid to do it, rather than ending up in a police interview room!”

Is his temper his downfall?
“Yes I think it’s inherited though. I had to take on board how his life had been. By the time I have got to be him at 16 or 17 he must have seen his dad fly off the handle countless times and there are times when we see his dad Eamonn Sr and Cathy’s mum Madge having major blow-out rows. It’s a way of life for them.”

Later in the series, it will bring in things like his involvement with the IRA. How does that work?
“Yes in terms of the significance and the history events the drama follows a timeline so that people who were around at the time will be able to relate to these things. I had flares and big bouffant hair in the 1970s to make that era come to life.”

How was filming in South Africa?
“It was weird as I was filming down in South Africa, but they made it look like the Britain of that era so much. My mates came out to see the World Cup with me – the England v Algeria match – and they were extras on the set. I heard all this mad Derby twang behind me while I was trying to maintain Cockney accent in a crucial scene. There was so much to get distracted by especially when you are that far away from home.”

And some of the action takes part in New York. That must have been even more weird to film in that South Africa?
“You’d surpised how easy it is to double New York with a couple of yellow cabs, that is all you need.”

Why do you think people love Martina Cole stories?
“She obviously knows that world, she would have seen it, I guess, when she was growing up. We seem to come from a similar society group I reckon even though in terms of where I live and the timeline, I guess the estate I live on could be similar to where she comes from because she was working class English. There is rhythm to what Martina writes because she knows the culture so well.”

*Martina Cole’s The Runaway begins on Sky1, on Thursday, March 31 at 9pm