Kin Review: Charlie Cox Stuns In A Slow-Burning Crime Drama About Loss And Consequences
By Vanessa Armstrong/Aug. 30, 2021 12:07 pm EDT
AMC+'s "Kin," as its title suggests, is about family. An Irish family, specifically. An Irish crime family who live in Dublin and happen to run a drug dealing operation, to be more precise. It's understandable if you think this setup sounds a little bit like "The Sopranos;" all you have to do is switch out a couple of words and you'd have an accurate, albeit incomplete, description of the HBO show.
This description, however, doesn't scratch the surface of what either series explores. In the case of "Kin," the show is an epic tragedy, an exploration of how love and grief are entwined, how a horrific loss can shape you into someone else. A before and after. It's also about how such grief can twist and warp the family as a whole, and start an avalanche that will impact much more than a family's personal relationships. The series' co-creators — Peter McKenna and Ciarán Donnelly — succeed in conveying these themes within the packaging of a slow-burning crime drama.
The core of "Kin" are the Kinsellas. There are the two brothers — Michael (Charlie Cox) and Jimmy (Emmett J. Scanlan) — who have a strong bond and a complex history. There's Jimmy's wife, Amanda (Clare Dunne), who loves her sons. And there's Frank (Aidan Gillen), the head of the family whose son, Eric (Sam Keeley), is more hotheaded than smart. Rounding out the core family is the matriarch Bridget "Birdy" Goggins, played by the venerable Maria Doyle Kennedy and Eric's girlfriend, Nikita Murphy (Yasmin Seky).
Similar to many family dramas, the Kinsellas have secrets and make impulsive decisions that lead to misunderstandings that result in an unexpected loss. That loss leads to retaliation, and the Kinsellas make choices (or are compelled to make a choice) to do things they know are wrong. They do them, however, because it is right for the family — the whole rather than the individual. Except, of course, when it's not.
"You Have No Idea What You Started"
Kin - Charlie Cox, Ciaran Hinds
Grief is an isolating thing, even among the survivors who love each other. At its fundamental level, "Kin" is about how each character reacts to the trauma of such a loss — the show gives almost every Kinsella enough time and room to express that grief. This makes "Kin" an ensemble piece, although certain characters — and maybe not the ones you're expecting — move to the forefront as the season progresses.
The show touches on other dynamics as well. There's the role women play in this patriarchal world — off to the side but influencing power in ways the men are just beginning to fully appreciate. And the acting is outstanding, particularly Cox's Michael, a stoic man recently released from prison with a maelstrom of emotions roiling just beneath the surface.
The Kinsellas are also not the only family explored in "Kin." The show also delves into the familial ties of Eamon Cunningham (Ciarán Hinds), Dublin's drug lord that butts heads with the Kinsellas' relatively small-fry operation. As the season progresses, we see an unexpected side of Cunningham, which — admittedly having only seen six of the first eight episodes — seems to be too long of a detour from the core story.
In "Kin," no one can go back to how they were before, and who they become after has myriad implications, making for a solid drama series.
Kin Star Charlie Cox On How His New Character Couldn't Be More Different Than Daredevil
By Vanessa Armstrong/Sept. 10, 2021 3:08 pm EDT
The AMC+ series "Kin" is a slow-burning crime drama that follows the Kinsellas, an Irish family who runs a small drug operation. It's an ensemble show that explores what happens when a tight-knit family is hit with an unexpected tragedy, and how each family member has their own complex reactions that impact how things play out (read our review here.)
Charlie Cox ("Daredevil") plays Michael Kinsella on the show, the younger brother who starts out the season recently released from an eight-year stint in prison. Cox's Michael is a complicated character — he starts out the series quiet and reserved, though it's clear there's a lot of rage and violence just below the surface.
Film had the chance to interview Cox about his work in "Kin," including what attracted him to the project and what it was like shooting in Ireland.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
"Digging a Hole and Then Sitting in the Hole"
Kin - Charlie Cox, Sam Keeley, Maria Doyle Kennedy
I imagine you have a lot of choices in terms of what you work on. What drew you to "Kin" and made you decide to work on this project?
It's an interesting story with this one — I was actually scheduled to do something else. It was at the beginning of the pandemic and my wife is a producer for BRON Studios and she was making what she described as a small Irish TV show. I read it for interest and was blown away and incredibly moved, and a little jealous that I wasn't working on something like this material. And then the show I was supposed to do fell through. And suddenly, we found that this could be a really good opportunity for us as a family during the pandemic to all stay together and go to Dublin and make the show. So it was really a series of happy coincidences, but not to mention that the ball started rolling because I was so impressed by [showrunner Peter McKenna's] scripts.
Were you always interested in playing Michael? Were you considering other characters or is he the one that really jumped out at you?
I remember thinking about Jimmy [Michael's older brother, played by Emmett J. Scanlan] for a split second but I was drawn to Michael. There was something very exciting to me about Michael, which was that you've got this man who comes with all this gravitas. He's clearly built a reputation for himself and the rest of the family are incredibly wary of him. But when you actually meet him, he seems the opposite of that — he seems like he's this damaged, vulnerable, quiet, unassuming guy. I was interested to explore that and to see how within that you can find moments for the audience to glimpse the kind of person that he's been in the past and what he's capable of, the kind of violence and aggression that he has inside of him.
So I was excited about that, but there was a moment when I thought I was interested in the idea of playing Jimmy, the brother. Quite early on in the process, however, my wife showed me an audition from Emmett Scanlon and it was so good, and I was like, "Wow, that guy is incredible." It was so, so good. And any lingering thoughts I may have had about playing Jimmy were put to bed when I'd seen Emmett's Scanlon read those lines.
As you mentioned about Michael, for someone first watching the show and not knowing his complex past, you can still tell there are layers there. How did you approach playing a character like that, who on the surface seems buttoned up but just underneath, there's a lot going on?
I think you make sure you're very clear about what your character's thoughts are — if you've done your homework as an actor, you've really dug deep into who this guy is, what he cares about, what is driving him, what he wants, what he wants to avoid, what are the things that are important to him, where he's come from, all that kind of stuff. A friend of mine who's an actor describes it as digging a hole and then sitting in the hole. If you sit in that hole, you've dived long enough. And then when you're on set, you have those character's thoughts and hope that they read to the audience.
The writers also do so much of the work for you, more than we often realize. There's a line in the first episode script, where [Yasmin Seky's] character Nikita says to Sam Keeley's character, Viking, "Michael is not what I expected. He's kind of shy or something." And Viking says, "He's not shy if you cross him."
That line does a lot of the work for me because as an audience member, you're like, "Okay. So there's more to this guy then we realized, there's obviously a history there. He's obviously got a lot of aggression or he's got a lot of anger, he's got a lot of violence in him." It really allows me as the actor, playing Michael, to not have to try and do that as well. As long as it's lived in enough, it's there. The process is a combination of, "What do you reveal and what do you not?" The more you can live in the character, as long as the writing is as good as it is in "Kin," the more of the work is done for you.
"One of My Favorite Memories of the Past Decade"
Did you know Michael's full backstory going in or did you get later scripts and were like, 'Whoa, I didn't know that.'
I read the first two, then I started having conversations with Peter and we started talking about Michael and his history and, again, so much of the work was done for me. There was very little for me to invent. Once you've shot the first episode or two, you do have to allow it to breathe a little bit as it might not be exactly as people have imagined or even as you have imagined yourself.
One thing that happened is I got in contact with an amazing investigative crime journalist in Ireland called Nicola Tallant — I listen to all of her podcasts and I read her book, and there was a couple of chapters in her book about a father-son relationship. That was not something that Peter and I had talked about, but I found it to be so similar to what I imagined Michael had gone through that I encouraged Peter to read it. We used that as a little bit of a backstory and in later episodes, we hint at that relationship.
But also when I got on screen with Emmett, when it was clear to me what he was bringing to that brother relationship, suddenly a lot of things started to make sense — why Michael had been charged with the kind of responsibility that he'd been charged with prior to being incarcerated. Emmett's portrayal of Jimmy and how he approached his relationship with Michael was just so brilliant and helpful in that department.
You mentioned shooting in Ireland during the pandemic, which I'm sure was an interesting experience, and the rest of the cast, of course, are all very talented actors. Was there any particular scene you remember shooting that was memorable for good or potentially challenging reasons?
[Clare Dunne's] character, Amanda — I don't think it's a big spoiler or a secret, but she emerges as someone who, behind the scenes, starts to have a lot more influence on family matters. And there's a scene where her character starts to prod and ask questions that historically she would not be allowed to ask. And she just asked a couple of questions and it was chilling. I remember thinking, "Oh man, that's f*king cool." I think she's going to wow people. I'm really excited for people to see that. I think it's true of everyone. Sam Keeley as well — you can't not mention him. He's an extraordinary actor, and also someone that if you met in person, you would never think of as a Viking-like character, but he just ran with that.
What about shooting in Ireland? Is there any particular locations you enjoyed shooting at?
I absolutely loved it. I wish I'd got to see more of the countryside, but we weren't allowed to. There's a quite a long tradition of swimming in the sea in Ireland all-year round. And of course, when you get into January, February the Irish sea is really cold and there's a beautiful swimming spot in Dalkey called Vico. And me, Emmett, Sam and a few others would get in the car when we had a moment and drive down there and jump in this Irish sea and get very, very cold and then jump out. That will go down as one of my favorite memories of the past decade. But yeah, my only hope is, if we're lucky enough to do a second season, to get back there and to explore a little bit more. It's a beautiful city. And the Irish people were so friendly and fun and I'd like to get to taste a little bit more of that.
Going back to your character, I know we talked a lot about how you prepared for it, but given the other characters you played in the past, did any of those inform how you played Michael?
What I liked about Michael is that, whereas Owen [from "Boardwalk Empire"] and also to a certain extent Matthew Murdoch in "Daredevil" are actively looking for ways to participate and make an impact, Michael is doing the exact opposite. He's looking for ways to disengage. He's looking for ways to not be drawn in, to not have to put his head up above the nest and be seen. To take a similar character in terms of what they can do and what they're capable of, and then place him in a situation where he wants nothing to do with any of that, that was really fun for me.
I also got to explore playing a father for the first time on screen with Michael. I want the audience to see how emotionally charged his life was, but only around Anna, his daughter. Everything else just brushes over him, he's not interested. But what we learn about a family like the Kinsellas is that their bond is unbreakable. And it's just a given that if the family needs you, you show up no matter what the consequences are. Michael's great dichotomy is that he's being pulled between his birth family and his daughter. And what do you do?
Emmett J Scanlan learned so much from 'astonishing' Kin cast
"Myself, Sam [Keeley] and Charlie [Cox] lived in the same apartment block so we trained together, we swam together in Vico, or the Forty Foot, or Sandymount. It was a beautiful time."
The Dublin-born star was also full of praise for English actor Charlie Cox, who plays his brother Michael Kinsella in the show.
"Charlie Cox is the only Englishman on the set, with a fantastic Irish accent. The last time I heard an Irish accent that good was Normal People, Daisy [Edgar-Jones], I couldn't believe she was English," Scanlan said.
"Charlie is one of the most beautiful, gorgeous human beings that I've ever treaded the boards with. I was a fan of his from the Daredevil days, I thought he was astonishing in it. He takes his craft very seriously, I watched him on set and I learned so much from him."
"It was impossible to go onto this set and not learn from Maria Doyle Kennedy or Aidan Gillen, who side-note is one of the funniest human beings I've ever met, and Clare Dunne who is astonishing. To get to dance opposite people that I'm a fan of, I thought was great.
"This might sound cheesy but we were making Kin while shooting Kin, if that makes sense. We really became a close family.
Emmett Scanlan as Jimmy Kinsella
He had plenty of time to grow close to his costars, especially during the pandemic. Several of them had booked at the same apartment block, which meant that Scanlan, Charlie Cox, and Sam Keeley were sharing that "unchartered territory together," and they realized how blessed they were to be working at that time.
"In a time where everywhere was shut and you couldn't travel far, we had each other. And for a better word, we had our kin with us while making Kin. And it was lovely," Scanlan said before playfully suggesting that Cox named his son after him after seeing him act.
"I will say something that we did for fun, myself and Charlie. And that would be in the underbelly of Kinsella household, in Jimmy's house, he has a kind of a man cave. And in that man cave, that set was dressed with a pool table.
"So anytime myself and Charlie found ourselves shooting in that location, we would either sneak off, or in between takes, or in between setups, or turning around, or scenes or whatever, we went downstairs, and we played pool very competitively.
"I have to say, I think we racked over 200 games at least," he said.
Keeping up that playful side, Scanlan said, "I'll be honest with you, Carissa. It doesn't matter whether you win or lose. It's about partaking in the game, but you are definitely talking to the winner. I don't want to fucking brag, but you're definitely talking to the winner," he laughed.
"It's not about winning, but I'm the winner." Jimmy doesn't necessarily share Scanlan's sarcastic nature, but he does love his brother, and the family welcomes Cox's character, Michael, back into the fold with high expectations.
It's an interesting dynamic, and with the many layers of the Kinsella family, I asked about Jimmy's ambitions within the family and the business. "I don't really see Jimmy as ambitious. He's got his priorities set.https://www.tvfanatic.com/2021/09/maria-doyle-kennedy-embraces-kins-dysfunctional-family-dynamic-o/