Dust off your flat caps — Peaky Blinders is back. This weekend, the boys from Birmingham are set to come crashing back onto your television screens in a well-dressed whirlwind of shoot-outs, shouting matches and — for the first time — Westminster politics.
That’s right, Cillian Murphy’s indomitable Tommy Shelby is a newly minted Member of Parliament, and is heading away from the Midlands to cause trouble down in the Big Smoke. In his absence, the boss will leave more junior gang members to run Birmingham — meaning that Steven Knight’s award-winning series is putting more emphasis on its younger cast than ever before.
Earlier this year, Gentleman’s Journal rounded up three of the show’s younger actors and asked them: what does it take to become a fully fledged, hard-nosed, tough-minded Peaky Blinder? Birmingham native Harry Kirton has played Finn Shelby, Tommy’s brother, since season two. Jack Rowan punched his way into the cast for season four, playing boxing champion Bonnie Gold. And Daryl McCormack, the latest Irishman to join Peaky Blinders, this year takes over the mantle of Isaiah Jesus.
So do the actors feel the pressure? Does the responsibility of pleasing such an ardent following weigh heavy? Not according to the young actors. In fact, bolstered by acting veterans, sturdy scripts and incredible production design, they assure us they’re not intimidated by the job at all. On the contrary; they’re having a blinding time.
Jack Rowan is fighting for the right to Peaky
During the last season of Peaky Blinders, Jack Rowan’s boxer Bonnie Gold was given a flat cap by Tommy Shelby — his official induction into the Birmingham gang. This time around, the 20-year-old finds himself more embroiled with the criminals; as Rowan puts it, he “becomes more Peaky”.
“Last season I stuck out,” says the actor. “I was this gypsy kid who didn’t have any tailored clothing. But I’ve gone up in the world now — I’ve even got the suit.”
Rowan, who is an amateur boxer in real life, has 27 competitive bouts under his belt. But most Peaky fans know him for another victory — his character’s win against ‘Goliath’ in a fight orchestrated by Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomons.
“I’ve gone up in the world now — I’ve even got the suit…”
“My role is special,” says Rowan, “as it combines my two passions. It was really just a bonus that the series had already been so successful — because the only thing that really separates me and my character is the era; he’s just a kid who likes to fight, and so am I. But Bonnie as a character, isn’t really a talker. It’s not the meatiest acting role I’ve ever done. It’s more about the look and the attitude.”
And Rowan likes the look. From the costumes to the set design, the actor’s favourite part of being a Blinder is stepping back in time. “One of my dreams would definitely be to take a time machine back to some of the old fight nights,” he laughs. “I like the old days when it was just about fighting. Even if I still boxed seriously, I wouldn’t be one for the flashy shorts — and, back in the day, it was just about basic boots and leather gloves. I loved trying that out.”
“That’s part of the excitement,” he adds, “being able to dress a certain way or have a certain haircut. There’s no genre or era I wouldn’t want to try as an actor — from the Wild West to the 1950s.”
And there’s our first mention of the now-iconic Peaky Blinders haircut. In his capacity as a fringe character last season, Rowan escaped the razoring that most cast members must endure. But, now he’s taking a more prominent role in proceedings, the scissors are out.
“I always like the haircut!” he cries. “Even before I really knew what Peaky Blinders was, I tried different haircuts growing up. I had everything from a mohican to a number one all over. And, because the Peaky Blinders cut looks good with dark hair, I tended to always have it at school. Look back at old pictures, from before I was on the show, and you’ll see I had that haircut already.”
Harry Kirton is a fast member of the Peaky family
Harry Kirton was just 15 when he filmed his first episode of Peaky Blinders. The young actor is also the only cast member actually from Birmingham and, as a result, has been the unofficial accent coach on set for the last five years. But he’s more than happy to help — and knows how lucky he is to have grown up on the show.
“Before Peaky Blinders,” smiles Kirton, “I didn’t really even think acting was an avenue I could go down. But I’ve grown with it, and learned with it. Finn and I have aged together — and my whole approach to acting has changed.”
Kirton likens the show to a cousin — someone he may not see often, but is fast friends with when he does. “It is like being in a family!” he says. “And seeing the other cast is like coming back to aunties and uncles. But everyone has different approaches to acting, and you soon learn that. In my first series, I remember feeling so ready for it, but I soon become overwhelmed on set, and convinced myself that there was no room for error.”
“It is like being in a family…”
“Then Tom Hardy,” adds Kirton, “who I was shooting a scene with at the time — and who I was terrified of getting in the way of — took me aside and said: ‘Just do you’. It was one of the many times that the older actors have really helped.”
In season five, Kirton reveals, Finn Shelby finally comes into his own. Over the years, the young criminal has shifted and transformed, but always remained sheltered and protected by his older family. Now Tommy’s out of the picture, Finn is ready for a challenge — and will finally earn his title of Peaky Blinder.
“Because Finn never went to war,” explains Kirton, “he feels like the only one of them without scars.”
Unlike Jack Rowan’s similarities with his boxing character, Kirton shares very few qualities with his on-screen persona. But the 21-year-old self-proclaimed “vegan hippy” admits that he has occasionally wheeled out the Finn character in real life.
“I don’t really go out — and I certainly never go out maliciously looking for a fight like the Peaky Blinders. But I have used the ‘Finn look’ on nights out when people are trying to start something. I just throw it out there to save my own skin. And, I think on some level, we all enjoy being seen as a threat sometimes.”
The hair likely helps. Unlike Rowan, Kirton has never managed to escape the short back and sides treatment. But, the actor shares, he considers it a key part of his performance.
“It really helps to build the character!” Kirton laughs. “And Finn’s hairstyle has evolved. There have been trends and evolutions of the style across the series. For me, the minute you’ve done my hair, I’m Finn. That’s where it starts for me. I enjoy the individuality of it — it really shapes you.”
Daryl McCormack is the new Peaky on the block
Isiah Jesus, the son of Jeremiah Jesus — the street preacher who fought with Tommy Shelby in the war — was played by actor Jordan Bolger in the last two seasons of the show. This season, Irish actor Daryl McCormack takes over the role as an adult Isiah muscles further into the business of the Blinders.
“I had a really intense three weeks before we started shooting,” says McCormack, who won the role while performing alongside Aidan Turner in the West End’s Lieutenant of Inishmore. “I binged so much Peaky that, by the time I got on set, it felt surreal. It took a while to realise that I was actually there.”
As a new face on an established series, McCormack admits that he felt pangs of ‘imposter syndrome’. But, the actor adds, the stunning detail of the sets and costumes help vanquish any nerves.
“You get to step into someone else’s world,” he smiles. “It’s such a nice gift. Putting on the fitted suit, you feel instantly like a boss — it’s so well-tailored. That definitely lends itself to getting into character. And walking onto the set, even on location, it’s just so detailed.
“You get to step into someone else’s world. It’s such a nice gift…”
“There’s the yellowy-brown papers, the old woods and the stained glass. You really can’t escape the world once you see the set. It just helps you to get into the mindset so much. Even though it may be a bit daunting, it’s an incredible world and you want to just jump straight in!”
The softly-spoken McCormack couldn’t be further from his character. But the 26-year-old still found certain similarities between Isiah and his real-life personality.
“I consider myself quite gentle in nature,” the actor laughs. “But this character is involved in gangs and does illegal things — he’s willing to shoot and kill people. I do think I share his hunger and determined energy, however. He’s exceeded what his working class background should have let him be — and he’s excited about that.”
McCormack, who first saw Cillian Murphy on screen in 2006’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley, also admits that the prevalence of Irish actors on set made him excited to go to work.
“I’m so proud to be an Irish actor,” he claps. “Just look at all the incredible things that Irish actors go on and do. But definitely coming onto this, and getting to work with Cillian, was a high point. Lots of young Irish actors look up to him, so to get to work with him? So cool.
“There was one scene,” the actor adds, “where I’d just worked with Aidan Gillen, and then went on to shoot with Cillian and Brian Gleeson. None of us play Irish people, but we’re all Irish. It was nice to see that we were all just there for our talent.”
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