Tucker and Wilde discuss the subject matter of the show, the relationship between their characters, and working with writer/director Paul Haggis

With The Departed taking the Best Picture honors at this years Academy Awards, the time certainly seems ripe for a show about an Irish American family to grace the small screen. The Black Donnellys follows an Irish family living in New York in a crime-ridden neighborhood. The Donnelly family includes four brothers who are very close and protective of one another. The show is filmed in New York City, and is based on the background of Bobby Moresco, one of the series' executive producer-creators.  The other executive producer/creator who also directed The Black Donnellys pilot is Paul Haggis. Moresco and Haggis are the Academy Award winning co-writers of last years Best Picture Crash.

We recently sat on conference call with Jonathan Tucker, who plays Tommy Donnelly and Olivia Wilde, who plays Jenny Reilly on the show.

Jonathan, how do you get prepared for a scene? Do you listen to the Dropkick Murphys? Do you watch The Departed?

Jonathan Tucker: I do use music a lot for my acting and I do have a personal playlist that I create. iTunes has been great for that because it allows me to personalize the scenes. I don't do the Dropkick Murphys because they're not on iTunes. I've been doing Flogging Molly which is a wonderful band for the Irish stuff.

Since there's a lot of testosterone on the set, Olivia, do you play any pranks on the guys to hold your own?

Olivia Wilde: They play enough pranks on each other so there's no room for my pranks. They are such a pleasure to work with that I never really feel outnumbered. I guess I feel like one of the guys and they feel like one of the girls.

Do you two find the duality of the characters interesting? They're nurturing but at the same time they're also very tough on the outside?

Olivia Wilde: I think it's a matter of survival. That's what they have to do in order to keep going in that world. I think the women have to remain incredibly strong and sort of turn the other cheek, pretend they're not seeing a lot of what's going on, and yet keep everything going and nurturing.

Are either of you worried about playing into the stereotypes of Irish Americans with these roles on this show?

Olivia Wilde: Because we're working under the guidance of Bobby Moresco who grew up in Hell's Kitchen, I feel like there's absolutely no creative license we're taking with who these people are and their essence. I don't think there's any negative stereotypes being drawn on the show. I think the most important thing we're showing is that this is a community that sticks together no matter what. It's a very isolated community but it is very difficult to extricate yourself from it and move beyond it. I hope that no Irish people take offensive at any of the statements being made in the show. Of course, it's very different from Irish Americans and I think we're making a point of showing that.

Jonathan Tucker: The show is about contrast. We try and show it as fully and as richly as we can in the stories that there is violence, there is alcohol, and there's this sense of impetuousness that you see with young boys but there's also tremendous love and family values and great humor.

Olivia, do you ever envy that the guys are the ones who get to walk around with the guns?

Olivia Wilde: Oh you just wait, Jenny gets tougher and tougher. I love her restraint. There's a few times when you think, "If I were Jenny, I would blow up at that point or I would break down." She has learned to practice extreme restraint and self control. I think that makes it really fun for me as an actress to give sort of the opposite reaction that you think she should. She does get tougher and tougher. The only reason she doesn't fight as much as they do is because she knows it's usually not a good idea.

Jonathan, you come from a dance background. That's an interesting contrast. Did that help with the fight choreography or anything?

Jonathan Tucker: I wish I could give you a good answer and say that it did. It really really helped when I was younger... with punctuality and the ability to listen and take direction, that was invaluable.

What is the big obstacle now with your two characters getting together?

Olivia Wilde: Basically, the difference between this show and a normal television drama is that when it comes to love interests and the love story, we don't have the luxury of dwelling on the ups and downs and flirting and all of that business. There's too many life or death things to be worrying about. The stakes are too high. I think that they both realize that. Even though Jenny would have loved for Thomas to not get in that elevator, and to stay with her... that wasn't because she wanted him to be with her. She's trying to save his life. She sees him going down that road of his brothers, of losing his way out of the neighborhood and losing his life.

As far as their romance together, it continues to be this difficult decision of "Do we give in to our instincts?" Or, "Do we remember that this can't happen?" A) Because I'm married, B) because I morally object to everything that he's doing. I told him not to do it and he did it against my will and I think that's really what stops them.

Jonathan Tucker: I think Olivia's response to that is where we all are as actors in terms of the conversations that we're having with each other. You think about acting kind of as an iceberg where you've got that 5% that you see... but in order to have that 5%... you have to have another 95%. What we were really talking about on this set was how we're fighting against something. That's particularly between Tommy and Jenny. We're trying to not show how much we care about each other. Or, not show how much something hurts us or costs us emotionally. In order to fight against it, you have to have a lot going on under the water.

What's it like working with Paul Haggis?

Jonathan Tucker: This is their show and they were day to day workers. So it was a very intimate relationship that was created between all of us. Paul is a beautifully complex person with an incredible sense of empathy. You feel when you're working with him, both behind and in front of the camera that he's right there next to you. Sometimes, he's even right there next to you. He can be very close to you and walk you through things and talk you through things. You feel like he's sculpting you in some ways. He's a huge part of the performance.

Olivia Wilde: I agree he sort of became my mentor after we shot the pilot. I think a lot of people assume that he's not really around and he just slapped his name on it. That's really not the case. He not only directed two episodes. He supervised the writing and editing on all of them and was always available to us, and was open to my very early morning calls about "Would Jenny be standing behind the counter at the diner again?" Or, "Would she say this?" Or, "Would she kill this person?" He's very hands on and a wonderful person.

The Black Donnellys airs on Monday nights at 10pm on NBC.

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Evan Jacobs