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Derry Girls: ‘We did the last series for the fans. Our major ambition is to say goodbye to these characters in the way that they deserved’

Nicola Coughlan, Louisa Harland and Dylan Llewelyn on the final series of Derry Girls

Derry Girls is back for a third and final series. It’s been quite the ride. As well as talking to the show’s creator Lisa McGee, we have interviewed all five Derry Girls.

So here are Nicola Coughlan, Louisa Harland and Dylan Llewelyn, aka Clare, Orla and Jamie – talking about the legacy of a series that is arguably the finest depiction of the intensity of teenage friendships since records began and has changed the narrative on life in Northern Ireland during the 1990s, towards the end of the Troubles. 

The Big Issue: Did it feel different this time?

Nicola Coughlan: It was delayed three times, which was insanely, insanely stressful. There were points when we were like, are we even ever going to be able to make this? And then filming with Covid is no fun. It’s really strict and we had a Covid shutdown right before Christmas. So it was it was really challenging.

Louisa Harland: It was a three year gap. So it was a really long time. But we all desperately wanted to do this and finish it – and I think it is a really lovely final instalment.

NC: It’s funny, there was such a long gap that there is a fear that you’ll go back and not know how to play them anymore. But the characters are just there. They lie dormant in us. Then, the moment we step on set… I mean, personally, I was filming Bridgerton. That wrapped on a Friday and I started Derry Girls on the Monday. It’s all mental muscle memory. It’s just there.

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Derry Girls is obviously properly funny – but it’s a very profound series as well. Could each of you describe what you think the legacy of the show is?

NC: It’s great to have a show that allows women to be funny and allows them to have voices. And also portraying Northern Ireland in such a positive light has been such a huge thing. What it’s meant for people and the way people connect to these characters is so special. We really did the last series for the fans. Our major ambition is to say goodbye to these characters in the way that they deserved.

LH: Telling the story of the political aspect of it, running the story up to the Good Friday Agreement was very important as well. To share that whole story, through the eyes of the Derry Girls which focuses on the humour and the family aspect that people clung onto during these very tough times. So it is a really nice view of such a tragic time.

Dylan Llewelyn: I feel like Derry Girls has been a lesson about Ireland to the British, and to England in general. Because we don’t get taught about The Troubles. Derry Girls has shown the world the important things that happened during those times. But it is also great having these female led comedies. Even though I’m not female I’m proud to part of it, proud to be a Derry Girl.

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How important is it that the show takes teenage friendships seriously – even as it plays them for laughs?

NC: Those types of friendships you have at that age – it is actually really mismatched. They are really different characters. But it is nice that it is coming to an end, because it is that time in their lives that it is really heady, they are really involved, and it does show the resilience of young people. What is going on in the background is so insanely difficult but their lives and their little dramas are the most important things to them. It is a time everyone relates to, and they have such innocence in the face of such terrible things going on. I feel they are not as clued in as young people are these days.

LH: Young friendships are that intense. My best friends from school are still my best friends today. It is crucial. Like Nicola said, young people are resilient, even in this tough time of Covid and restrictions and going to school in such a different way, they will find a way. I’m sure their friendships will guide them.

How would your characters have coped with lockdown and being kept apart?

LH: Orla would probably have really loved it – she would have probably been disappointed when the restrictions were lifted.

NC: Clare wouldn’t have coped. She would have been carrying round a two-metre stick for people to keep away from her, her hands would have been red raw from hand sanitiser – it would have been a full nightmare for her.

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DL: I think James would have been bingeing a lot of Doctor Who. But I think he would be enjoying it as a bit of a holiday.

Do you feel the show has changed the narrative on life in Northern Ireland during that time?

LH: The people of Northern Ireland never lost their ability to laugh and they never lost the importance of family. It is a true depiction of the time – through a certain lens, of course.

What are your favourite memories of making Derry Girls?

NC: Series one is a really precious memory. It’s a time when you don’t you really don’t know what the show is that you’re making. You don’t know if anyone will watch it. I look back on that as the happiest time because it was a naive time for us as well.

DL: The first day as well – I’ll always remember that cafe scene, where we’re prepping for Jenny Joyce’s party. There were loads of others in that scene as well – Anthony Boyle was in it. I remember being scared we were going to get fired because we thought we did an awful job.

LH: I really love getting to work with my mother, Kathy Kiera Clarke. I loved building the relationship of mother-daughter. But season one we were all so fresh and buzzing and terrified. But this time we all really truly knew our characters this time around and there’s such enjoyment and ease in this.

Does it feel right to bow out on a high after three series?

NC: I love when something has a beginning, middle and end. So it’s sad. And it is bittersweet. But I feel like I’ve put on Claire’s Doc Martens for the last time. I just want to leave it as it is. I mean, I would love to see movie with the family. I’d love to see their characters. An Uncle Colin film I would watch!

Dylan: It feels like a good time to end. It is perfect the way it is. It works.

LH: In terms of the political timeline it is perfect. Hopefully the audience feels the same – it is the perfect time to close.

How has being a Derry Girl changed your life?

NC: It’s completely changed our lives. I got the job when I was 30. I had always wanted to act and nothing happened up to that point. Getting that script was like getting a little piece of gold. And then for it to have been such a hit from the off and the way people connected to the story and the characters – it’s a massive privilege. We might be done playing the characters, but we’ll always be Derry Girls.

DL: I was thinking about packing in acting. It was so quiet for me, I hadn’t got work for a while. I was thinking about getting into photography, which I still am, but I got a call about Derry Girls and wow – they pulled me back in. And it has been life changing.

LH: I can only echo what the two of them have said. To be in a show, especially an Irish show, that will stand the test of time – you couldn’t ask for anything more. Growing up, watching Father Ted. To think there are similarities and that I’m in a ‘Father Ted’ is amazing. It has changed all our lives.

What are your Big Issues at the moment?

Nicola: I feel like there’s a lot of negativity at the moment towards trans people. I feel like in this show, I was very privileged to play a gay character. And it was done intentionally, Lisa said, with rose tinted glasses. She doesn’t think that if Clare had come out at that time in real life that she would have been as accepted. But it’s fiction, so she was allowed to be. And I feel like the homophobia of old is repackages transphobia. So if the world could be a bit more loving it’d be a nicer place.

LH: When we filmed Clare coming out, it was still illegal in Northern Ireland. So I echo that.

DERRY GIRLS is on Channel 4 on Tuesday nights and on All4

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