As NBC drama The Black Donnellys gains momentum with TV.com users and other fans, the storyline is also picking up speed--especially regarding the seemingly doomed love affair between Tommy Donnelly and Jenny Riley. In a conference call with reporters, Donnellys actors Jonathan Tucker and Olivia Wilde took time to shed some light on their characters.
Although both actors grew up in relatively high-brow families, they manage to give convincing performances of streetwise, working-class characters. When asked about the kind of preparation needed for such a transformation, Wilde said, "I met with Barbara Moresco, who is Bobby Moresco's wife, before we shot the pilot, and discussed what it was like to grow up as a young woman in this type of neighborhood. I found it fascinating that so many difficult things--so many painful things--had happened in her life, and yet she didn't feel sorry for herself...she was very strong and resilient and I think that's what I try to take and put into Jenny."
When asked how the women in The Black Donnellys balance the tough and nurturing sides of their personalities, Wilde said, "I think it is a matter of survival. I think that's what they have to do in order to keep going in that world. I think that's what's so great about Kate [Mulgrew]'s character, is that she's sort of coaching Jenny in the ways of being a woman in this neighborhood. Even though she's grown up as one of the boys, now she's going to have to start covering for them." In regards to the moral struggle Jenny is dealing with, "she'll clean up the blood but she won't knowingly condone the violence. At least not yet."
"For me," said Tucker, "the truth that I was able to find in regards to that working class, Irish American experience, was very close to home. I grew up, as I joke around, in the 'People's Republic of Charlestown' in the city of Boston. And I was blessed to be raised right there, on Monument Square in Charlestown and every morning, I'd hop on the bus and go on a 45-minute ride out to the suburbs in Brooklyn for elementary school. And I got to have my seat, really, in both worlds."
"I have a younger sister--I'm actually here in DC right now surprising her for her 21st birthday--and, you know, I love her very much. I think that as much as this is a show that's specifically about New York City, about the Irish and the Black Irish, and the working class group of brothers, it is a universal story in regards to family and what you would do for a family. I don't have any brothers, but I really fundamentally can understand being put into a position where I have to make an extraordinary choice to take arms to protect the people I love."
The ideas of choice and protection extend beyond the Donnelly household and into the relationship between Tommy and Jenny. After years of suppressing their mutual attraction, the pair finally hits the sheets...only to part ways again at Jenny's insistence.
"It continues to be this very difficult decision," said Wilde, "of 'do we give in to our instincts or do we remember that this can't happen? A: Because I'm married, and B: because I morally object to everything that he's doing, and I told him not to do it, and he did it against my will.' And I think that's what really stops them. I don't think they're, you know, too shy. I don't think it's the fact that she's married...I mean, he knows her husband is dead and he doesn't have the heart to tell her. And she maybe suspects that, and she knows he's not coming back. But the stakes are too high to give in to anything just yet, I think."
"What we were really talking about on the set of The Donnellys was how we are fighting against someone," added Tucker. "And that's particularly true between Tommy and Jenny. We're fighting again, not sure how much we care about each other or to not show how much something hurts us or costs us emotionally. And in order to fight against it, you have to have a lot going on under the water."