Love/Hate garda: 'I love my day job but I was always meant to be in the arts'
ON THE BEAT: Love/Hate star, musician and garda Kieran O'Reilly talks to Chris Wasser about releasing his first album
Kieran O'Reilly was in the middle of shooting a music video when he decided to ask a nearby casting director for a TV audition.
A full-time detective at the Garda National Drugs Unit in Dublin Castle, O'Reilly had never acted before.
Police work? No bother. Music? Well, he seemed to be doing okay with his part-time band, White McKenzie. But the casting director was Maureen Hughes; the show, Love/Hate (then in its third season). Talk about chancing your arm.
"I was being a little bit of a rogue," smiles Kieran over tea at the Central Hotel's Library bar. "I was kind of saying 'I could act - I think I'd like that'. I didn't actually think [Maureen] would entertain it, but she said 'come down', so I did."
We all know what happened next. O'Reilly landed the role of Det Garda Ciaran Madden. His first scene involved Madden going undercover, posing as a drug addict.
This was the kind of stuff O'Reilly did for real in his day job, which may explain why some officers at the top (then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, included) were a tad upset.
An inquiry was ordered following his appearance on the show and O'Reilly was transferred to the National Immigration Bureau. Surely the thought must have crossed his mind, when auditioning for the part, that a real-life garda playing cops and robbers on the telly might not go down well with the boss?
"I can't go into too much about that," answers O'Reilly. "The only thing I could say is that I read for a couple of parts, so it was the dentist and the cop, and [the producers] felt I was better, obviously, at the cop.
"And so, when I got the part, I didn't think too much about it, because I know there had been other gardai acting in Love/Hate and that was it. It's not prohibited spare-time activity."
True, but it took a while time for O'Reilly to be cleared of breaching any regulations. Alas, any further queries about O'Reilly's controversial move into acting are met with blank stares.
Today, the 35-year-old Tallaght native has got a brand new bag to flaunt. White McKenzie is a thing of the past, its jack-of-all-trades front man having moved on to form Hail The Ghost, an accomplished alt-rock trio whose debut album, Forsaken, has just been released.
It's a dream come true for vocalist and self-taught musician O'Reilly, who continues to describe his various artistic endeavours as more of a hobby than a fully-fledged career path.
"I love my job," nods Kieran, "but I think that I was nearly always meant to be involved in the arts. The acting is something that, obviously, I stumbled upon, but it's fantastic. You know when they say, 'have you been bitten by the bug?' One hundred per cent, totally, but music is extremely personal."
"If I stopped to think about what's going on, yes I'd say it would be surreal, but I'm very bad at living in the present. I have really high expectations for myself, so in my head I'm thinking, 'yeah, [the album] is on the shelves, it's getting good reviews...but it could be better'," he smiles.
What's more O'Reilly is still coming to terms with how big a deal it was to be a series regular in Love/Hate.
"I'm slightly overwhelmed, in retrospect. I'm kind of looking back, going, 'Jesus that was amazing', but now I want to press on and do more, so I'm always looking to improve myself. Musically, I'm already thinking of a second album. The lads in the band texted me the other day and said, 'there's something wrong with you!'
"I find I've slept an awful lot less in the last two years, for lots of different reasons, but yeah, it's full-on."
Indeed it is. O'Reilly is also a member of the Bow Street Academy for Screen Acting, and recently finished shooting Little Bear, a short film due for release later this year.
He gets by with a little help from his friends, too, not least his LA-based Love/Hate co-star, Brian F O'Byrne (inset, with O'Reilly on the show), who shot the cover for the Hail the Ghost album.
"Brian nearly is a band manager at this stage," explains O'Reilly. "He calls from LA and we talk every second day. When we were filming Love/Hate, he was like, 'Get that fecking thing recorded. He came in to the make-up trailer one day and he was like, 'Wait till you see this - I have your album cover'. This is before half of the songs were even recorded!
"The gardai have been a great support," continues Kieran. "I think it's a very kind of unique job in that, literally, the support extends nearly nationwide sometimes, so I'm lucky to have that." Are his bandmates - guitarist Eamonn Young and pianist Ian Corr - happy with Kieran (who also co-produced Forsaken) being front and centre when it comes to publicity?
"I think they are in a way," he says. "Initially, it was expected that there would be some focus on me because of what I've done in the acting, but I kind of hope that might dissipate, and people might just focus on the fact that we're three people in a band."
Whatever the case, O'Reilly is still getting used to the media attention. "Strangely enough, I'd be kind of self-conscious in a way," he says. "So I kind of don't really like getting my picture taken, because I don't see myself as a very photogenic person."
Kieran is also keen to retain a little privacy. "Oh yeah, I have kids. I cherish my private side and my friends are everything to me, and I understand that there are things that go with the industry. But essentially, I think the most important thing for me is playing music, acting and rehearsing. The rest I could take or leave."
Would he be interested in participating in a possible sixth season of Love/Hate?
"Yes. I would take it because of [writer] Stuart Carolan. He knows no boundaries, creatively. If he did ring and say 'would you be interested' - if he was to decide to go forward, I think there would be no doubting the quality, because he wouldn't do it otherwise. At the moment, as far as I know, there is no Love/Hate."
And what if the music career was to take off - would Kieran ever consider giving up the day job? "It's not an option at the moment," he finishes. "My job is my job, and I suppose that's the kind of primary responsibility. But who knows what'll happen and when, you know, if anything?"
Forsaken is out now. Hail the Ghost play Whelan's on Thursday, April 2