Interview: Colin Donnell Tells Us All About His New Peacock Series, Irreverent
Donnell plays a mafia fixer on the run who disguises himself as a priest in a small Australian beach town.
You hear the premise of the new Peacock series Irreverent and you think it could be a hard-hitting crime drama. The central character is an American con man on the run from the Chicago mob and is forced to hide out in an Australian beach town after all of his loot is stolen. Then, you hear the back half of the synopsis — while in Australia, he's forced to pose as the town's new reverend — and you realize that you're in for a quirky comedy.
Irreverent, shot on location in 2021, stars Broadway and TV vet Colin Donnell as said con man, and you can sense his enjoyment of playing the character's many personas in every scene. Here, he tells us about the work it took to land the part, and what it was like to uproot his life to head down under.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
I imagine there are far worse jobs than shooting a TV show on the beach in Australia for eight months.
It was awesome. For the first 10 weeks, we were up in Mission Beach in North Queensland, which was so spectacular. Not only was it a beautiful setting and a beautiful time of year, but the community was so sweet. It had its funny little quirks. There were five or six restaurants and nobody knew when they were going to be open. The grocery store was closed on Sundays, but it was alright because there were these little markets, and you walk around, meet people, hear music, have Thai food for breakfast; it was delightful.
How did this show come your way?
It was a regular audition. I think I first read the script and put myself on tape in June 2021. I loved it. The script was great and the character is really fun, but you throw the sides away, metaphorically, because you don't want to get your hopes up. A month later, and I'll never forget it, because it was the weekend of my daughter's first birthday party, I got a call from my agent saying that the producing team wanted to have a session with me the following Monday. I think it was a couple of days after that when I got the call saying I got it.
It was very complicated; basically, when I got the call, they said "It's yours and you're going to be leaving next week." Not only did we have to pack up our entire lives, but because of the circumstances with Covid and everything, if [daugher] Cecily and [wife] Patti [Murin] did not come at the very beginning, they wouldn't be able to come at all. We packed furiously, we had to figure out who could look after the dogs. We were all ready to go, had our tickets, and then there was a delay because my paperwork had come through, but Patti and Cecily's hadn't. Our bags sat by the door for another week, and then we got delayed again. I texted the team when we were finally in the air, and apparently there was a huge standing ovation in the production office.
The tone of the show, upon reading the description, seemed so different from what the finished product actually is — it sounded like a gritty crime drama, but instead, it's light and fun. Was there a point where you realized that it wasn't a Breaking Bad sort of show?
It was pretty clear from the very beginning that there was humor in the script, but when you first read the logline, you get one impression of what it's going to be. Some of the audition scenes were dark, but there was always an underlying current of humor that made it palatable. I could tell that there was something more than just another crime thriller television show. Paddy Macrae and the production team really wanted to lean into the comedy of it, which felt totally right. Everything was played honestly, there's no shtick or doing laughs for laughs. The comedy is born out of this bizarre situation that this guy finds himself in, and he reacts to things in the most honest way possible.
The cool thing about the character is that he morphs on a dime. He has this ability that served him well in his previously life of being able to be whoever he needed to be in any given situation. It was fun to play with that within scenes and be like "who is he talking to and who does he need to be right now?" Is he charming? Is he cracking jokes? Is he threatening?
Looking backward, with all it took to get into Australia, and the time it took to shoot, what is it like for you to experience and watch the finished product?
It's huge and honestly scary. It's the first time I'm leading a show. I want it to succeed, sure, for myself, but also for Paddy Macrae. It's the first show that he's running on his own and it's a very personal story to him. I want it to succeed for all the people on our crew and in our cast who gave so much throughout the time that we were shooting. We had such a blast doing it, and I think that comes across. I just want it to be worth everybody's time. I hope people laugh and get invested in these crazy characters, and that they see a show that does what we intended it to do, which is to show a community that is striving to be better.