Who is the man behind the mask?

The final episode of series one of The Young Offenders aired this week on our TV screens. Don O’Mahony talks to the Cork actor who was central to all the drama, Billy Murphy.
Who is the man behind the mask?
Shane Casey who stars as Billy Murphy in The Young Offenders. Picture: Miki Barlok

IT was an audaciously action-packed programme and a worthy climax to the energetic comedy series... but last night’s episode of The Young Offenders finally put centre stage a character who had maintained a quirky background presence throughout.

The television series reprised an ingenious device from the film, the deceptive mask that our titular heroes use to confound their nemesis Sergeant Healy, and the season finale focused on the face behind the mask, local thug and nut-job Billy Murphy.

As with the film, and despite having a limited screen time, actor Shane Casey has managed to maintain an ongoing presence.

“I’m always there and always in mind because of the mask,” he said. “So inadvertently I’m in nearly every episode in a way and my character is always there in the background.”

A professional actor for close to 15 years, Casey regards The Young Offenders, and the last episode in particular, as “the most creative and best fun I’ve ever had.”

Billy Murphy (aka SHANE CASEY) in The Young Offenders. Picture: Miki Barlok
Billy Murphy (aka SHANE CASEY) in The Young Offenders. Picture: Miki Barlok

In the episode, a misunderstanding results in Billy becoming an accidental bus-jacker and a fugitive from the law. Filming of the scenes on the double-decker bus lasted just over a week and took place near Watergrasshill.

“Each episode is a couple of weeks [filming], but we were on the bus for over a week, going up and down the same road,” recalls Casey.

“Just driving in circles all day long for eight or nine hours every day, on this bus doing these scenes. And it was just the best craic ever. It was great, great fun. And Peter [writer-director Foott] had nine or ten extras but he padded out the extras with local actors from Cork. And we just had a ball really.

“And the bus driver is a bit of a legend in fairness to him, because he was an actual bus driver, but he was acting in it as well,” he added.

The series had already featured a memorable scene where the characters burst in to song, singing U2’s With or Without You in tribute to Jock’s mother, but the finale brought a totally Cork moment when Billy unexpectedly began singing The Frank And Walters anthem After All, although a case could have been made for their track Happy Busman!

Casey was thrilled to do this as he once shared a house with the band’s guitarist Rory Murphy and had worked on promotional gigs with their drummer Ashley Keating.

Casey said: “When I was told that the song was going to happen I rang Ash and I said ‘I’m assuming you’ve heard about this. I’m the one who’s singing it — I just want your blessing.’”

The seeds of Casey’s interest in acting were planted during his time as a pupil at Coláiste Chríost Rí.

“I used to kind of just do impressions and stuff when I was in school and the teacher used to say to me if you just shut up for 10 minutes or if you shut up for most of the day I’ll give you 10 minutes at the end of the week to do something. It’s kind of the teacher says ‘I’ll let you do your bit if you’ll be quiet,’” he relates, painting a school experience that wouldn’t be too dissimilar to Jock and Conor’s.

Billy Murphy (aka SHANE CASEY) in The Young Offenders. Picture: Miki Barlok
Billy Murphy (aka SHANE CASEY) in The Young Offenders. Picture: Miki Barlok

“I wasn’t particularly good at sports, and I wasn’t particularly strong at school either, so drama was my thing,” he said.

Leaving school early to take up an apprenticeship on a building site, Casey eventually found his way to the acting course at Coláiste Stiofán Naofa where he found his calling. His time there overlapped with Hilary Rose. Casey’s and the actress and screenwriter’s paths would cross again when he played her character Handy Sandie’s boyfriend in a couple of episodes of Republic of Telly, in sketches shot by Peter Foott. But Casey’s heart wasn’t in the part, so when Foott contacted him to shoot a similar sketch he declined.

His theatre roles at the time had seen him play certain working-class characters, such as Pig in Disco Pigs, and a hapless felon in Evening Echo reporter Liam Heylin’s Love, Peace and Robbery, and he was wary of being typecast. So he was pleasantly surprised when Foott contacted him about the role of Billy Murphy in his feature debut The Young Offenders.

“I thought he might have shut the door on me but in fairness to him he was like ‘no,’” Casey confides.

“And then he sent me out the script and I thought it was really, really good. And I was like, yeah, I’m up for this.”

Casey has relished the chance to develop the character in the TV series and show the mobile-phone-robbing Billy’s softer side, too.

“He’s not a bad guy,” he insists. “He’s a guy who’ll give you a dig in the stomach but then try to become friends with you, you know. He’s a bit of a head-the-ball.”

And he’s also enjoyed the public reaction to Billy Murphy, citing the example of an encounter with a young fan on Paul Street.

“He must have been 11 or 12 and he was really excited to see me. He was like ‘Are you the guy?’

“His dad asked for a photograph and I said ‘Look, you’ll have to stick up your fingers and stick out your tongue,’ and we took a crazy photograph.

“The next thing he was ‘Give me your f**king phone!’”

Casey cackles proudly.

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