Kin’s Emmett J. Scanlan Reflects on the Consequences of Violence

Having starred in both The Fall and Peaky Blinders, Irish actor Emmett J. Scanlan is no stranger to balancing performances featuring emotionally charged sequences and unflinching violence. This synthesis is especially apparent in Scanlan’s latest project, the Irish crime drama Kin. Streaming on AMC+, Scanlan stars as Jimmy Kinsella, an enforcer in a low-level crime family based out of Dublin. The Kinsella family is rocked by a tragedy that pushes them to see revenge against a much larger criminal syndicate with plenty of bloody consequences.

In an exclusive interview with CBR, Scanlan shared how the cast and crew of Kin became especially close given the circumstances of filming during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed how he prepared for the role of Jimmy, and reflected on his portrayal of Lobo on Krypton.

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What was it about Kin and the character of Jimmy that really attracted you to this project?

Emmett J. Scanlan: The fact that I was available and they asked! [laughs] There’s two things I love the most about doing a job. One of them is finishing the job: when I’m finishing the job, I love that uncertainty and unknown of where my next job is going to be and what’s going to happen next. I love marinating in that uncertainty because, in that uncertainty, magic can be and chaos often lives and I love that part. The other part that I love about my job is reading the script. It’s my favorite thing. The script that I read and the film or TV series that I see in my head while reading that script is what I sign up for in the first place. I thought Peter McKenna’s writing was so beautiful, layer, subtle, and didn’t rush anything and I thought there was a lot of bravery when it came to that sort of thing.

Also, you have to take into account we were headed straight into the pandemic lockdown of 2020. The jobs that I had lined up previously to this all fell through and rightfully so when everybody was wading through uncharted territory together trying to navigate this crisis. When Kin presented itself, once I read the script and scenes, this was something I would really like to do, if the gods permitted it. I knew Ciaran Hinds and Charlie Cox were attached at this point. I love Charlie and love Ciaran in absolutely everything. So that was something I absolutely knew I wanted to do, should it be offered to dance with these guys. What drew me to it was the universe fucking presented itself to me in my very lucky lap.

We shot Kin for five months in Dublin and I had a lockdown baby with my beautiful wife and the chance to sail over to Dublin with my wife and my son back home, when I knew I wouldn’t be able to get home and see my parents because they’re high-risk, [but] but to see them as often and safely as I could, really turned me on. It was the perfect storm, all the pieces fell into place and let the cards drop where they may and it was just beautiful.

We were talking before we started rolling about this show being unapologetically Irish about its references and that there’s a hunger for this kind of content. What do you think it is about Irish culture that lends itself so well for this show and story?

For such a small nation, our reach is global and we’re renowned storytellers. You yourself have Irish links and you report on those stories. I think it’s in our nature. I hope the Americans love this. It is unapologetically Irish, visceral, and doesn’t pull any punches. Its cast and production and scripts are all proper. I hope it captures your nation’s attention, because, when I was reading it, it certainly captured mine. It’s set in gangland Dublin, I think it’s a different kind of animal and I can’t wait for you guys, who I have such affection for, to see it and draw your own conclusions from that.

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There is a sense that Jimmy has a lot going on under the surface and can lash out at any moment but always knows what he’s doing. Was there a line that helped crack open the character for you?

No, but I’ll tell you what it is. Jimmy owns exotic snakes. I remember when that was part of his thing and I watched a lot of documentaries about snakes and delved myself into that. I came across this incredible quote by Nietzsche that said, “A snake that cannot shed its skin must perish.” And I kept saying that over and over again. That’s what Jimmy is. He’s probably the most adaptable to situations, depending on where he is. He sheds his skin to whatever environment presents itself. It’s just the way he is and it saves him more times than it doesn’t. I like what you said, that he’s vicious and you probably don’t want to fuck with him; but, at the same time, he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s ferociously vulnerable and that’s in the writing and how I see this guy.

There were times, where I would find myself defending Jimmy because I fell in love with the character, but he was difficult to play because of the vulnerability and how visceral that was. One of my favorite quotes about acting is, “Acting is about standing up naked and turning around very, very slowly.” It’s a wonderful quote about stripping away the masks and putting yourself on this pedestal to be poked and prodded. By my very nature, I feel vulnerable, but when you’re playing a character on top of that who is equally or more vulnerable, you love and defend that character.

At the start of this shoot, I had conversations with Peter discussing certain scenes and I realized I was imposing myself on this character rather than letting him breathe and live. Playing Jimmy was very cathartic and therapeutic for me. Was there a moment where I think I found Jimmy? Still, no. I finished the first season and I’m still finding the guy and dancing with that character and allowing whatever happens to be okay.

This was already the story about a close-knit family but given the nature of production, it feels like you all grew closer and it shows on-screen. How was it having someone like Clare Dunne as a scene partner for your more emotional scenes?

It was very interesting. At no point did we come in with a preconceived notion of how a scene should go. At every point, we just sat down in that scene and allowed it to use us. It was beautiful, heartbreaking, and laugh-out-loud at times. When I arrived in Dublin, I didn’t know Clare at all but I texted her and we met up at Stephen’s Green, a park at the city center, and we walked the circumference of that park talking about life, careers, the show, and we laughed and bonded, really. I think that was very important to do. By the time we got on set, we had gotten a feel for each other and knew each other’s energy. She’s lovely, generous, and a remarkable actress so it was lovely to dance with her on set.

When you’re in a situation like that on set, especially during the height of the pandemic, at some points, we were the only show in Ireland shooting. Thanks to the vigilance of the show, we were able to get tested multiple times a week and continue shooting without interruption — and that’s thanks to the heroes behind the camera. That said, that backdrop and intensity put you into a situation none of us have ever been in. We had gotten really close and, without sounding wanky, we were shooting Kin while making our own, it was that kind of family-knit group.

On a completely separate note, when I sailed over with my wife and three-month-old son, we booked an apartment in the city center of Dublin and, by sheer coincidence, Sam Keely and Charlie Cox booked into the same apartment block as well. We had each other. I think we needed that. I don’t know whether that comes across when you watch it but we felt very comfortable with each other which was a beautiful and cathartic experience.

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The last time I saw you take on a violent character, it was Lobo who seems to constantly revel in the violence whereas Kin is all about the consequences of violence.

So true. It’s about the consequences of violence and trauma, how individual deals with trauma, and how we all deal with trauma collectively and the consequences of violence and mistakes. Lobo… Cam Welsh was the showrunner on [Krypton] and he’s since become one of my closest, closest friends and we’re going to be working together again very soon. Playing that character is still the most fun I’ve ever had just in between scenes.

A character like Lobo, where your limitation is only your imagination and you can go fucking anywhere, no matter how big or small — oh my god. Two of my favorite characters growing up were Wolverine and the Joker. I always said that Lobo was Wolverine and the Joker in a blender smashed together. [laughs] It’s funny that you bring that up and always make me smile and it’s shame that it died a premature death.

What are you especially proud of now that Kin Season 1 is done and you can share it with the world and your performance as Jimmy Kinsella?

I don’t know what my performance as Jimmy is like, if I’m to be honest. I throw myself into the scripts and do a lot of research, devour the scripts ferociously so, by the time I get to set, I have no homework to do except play and dance with my scene partners and let scenes fly and see what happens. That kind of buzz that I get on that set is beautiful and remarkable and I kind of leave everything there. Once I get off the set, it’s in the hands of the editors and directors as it’s cut and put together in a different way. I don’t watch my stuff. I stopped watching my stuff when I did Season 2 of The Fall, so I don’t really know what I’ll be proud of the most.

I feel very blessed and lucky that the powers that be were inebriated enough to say yes to me. I thank them profusely for that. I feel very proud of the fact that I got to bring Peter McKenna’s scripts to life and work with Bron Studios and I’m working with them again. The only thing better than working with people that you admire is being invited back to work with them again. I’m really proud to be working with them, AMC, and a cast and crew that I hadn’t worked with before. It was a hard, hard job in some unprecedented times and it was worth it every single step of the way.

Created by Peter McKenna and Ciaran Donnelly, Kin is available to stream on AMC+, with new episodes released on Tuesdays.

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