Matthew Rhys, who stars with Jamie Dornan in BBC2 period drama, Death and Nightingales, set in Northern Ireland, talks about his character and why he became attached to his facial hair!

Matthew Rhys is appearing alongside Jamie Dornan in Death and Nightingales, a BBC2 drama set in 1885 Northern Ireland. Matthew plays Billy Winters, a Protestant landowner whose stepdaughter Beth (Ann Skelly) decides to run away with Catholic merchant Liam (Jamie).

What’s On TV met Matthew to hear more about his role, the fun he had working with Jamie Dornan in Northern Ireland and why he became  quite attached to his character’s facial hair!

What’s On TV talks to Matthew Rhys about Death and Nightingales…

What’s On TV: Tell us about Billy… 

Matthew Rhys: “He’s a very staunch and proud Protestant landowner who’s raised stepdaughter Beth as his own, but the way that came to pass and his marriage to her mother are besieged with a number of obstacles from the past that Billy is still firmly anchored to.

“He’s lived a relatively work-obsessed life where in a physical sense it’s just him and Beth, which hasn’t helped the more complex emotions he feels towards her. But in general he’s a very fair man and level headed. He doesn’t let religion, or politics certainly, cloud his judgment.”

Matthew Rhys as Billy Winters

Matthew Rhys strikes a brooding figure as Billy Winters

WOTV: What did your friends and family think of the sideburns and moustache you grew for the part?

MR: “They’re not enamoured. It is a  great source of comedy in our house. I actually might keep it now, just out of spite!”

WOTV: How was it working with Jamie? 

MR: “There was a lot of cooing on set whenever Jamie’s name was mentioned – mainly from me! I think they kept us apart filming so I didn’t fall in love with him!”

Jamie Dornan, Ann Skelly, Matthew Rhys

Death and Nightingales promises to be a brilliant watch

WOTV: Did the two of you enjoy any fun nights out on the town during filming?

MR: “My family were with me during some of filming which meant I didn’t go out as much and was very disciplined! I missed THE big night out because I’d taken the kids to Formanagh, which was probably a good thing otherwise I would definitely have been out. The children loved exploring. We had three days together there hanging out on the waterways and lochs there.”

WOTV: The drama is based on novel by Eugene McCable  which is a  modern Irish classic. Is it different to the book?

MR: “Nothing sweeping, I think those who’ve read the book will definitely know it’s the same story. I suppose the luxury of the book is in having that time and space to establish the great complexity of the characters, where we have a few hours really. There’s parts from the book where you go ‘Oh, it would have been great to have brought that in,’ but you have to use the canvas you’ve got.”

WOTV: The village the characters live in is a hotbed of gossip, isn’t it? 

MR: “In the smaller communities there’s not that much going on, so the gossip becomes paramount. There are a lot of curtain twitchers and wicked whispers. It’s all good juice, and it all adds to a ripping yarn.”

Matthew Rhys and Ann Skelly

Billy Winters (played by Matthew Rhys) and Beth Winters (Ann Skelly) in Death And Nightingales

WOTV: Did you enjoy working in Northern Ireland?

MR: “I enjoyed the craic and the irreverence was  greater over there. Your craft isn’t treated as a religion, which I think is very healthy. It’s just a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the banter enormously.”

WOTV: You’ve done quite a few period dramas over the years. Do they appeal more to you than something modern day? 

MR: “For me it always starts with the character and the script. So if that’s interesting I’m not really too worried about when it’s set. I enjoy period dramas and the exotic nature of them. I was raised on them so I have a great nostalgic fondness of them and we do them so well in this country.”

Death and Nightingales starts on BBC2, Wed 28 Nov, 9pm