Commanding presence

Commanding presence

By Michael Pickard
February 12, 2024


Named a European Shooting Star for 2024, Irish actor Éanna Hardwicke tells DQ about some of the key roles in his career to date, including his turn in acclaimed BBC drama The Sixth Commandment, and the task of portraying real people on screen.

For Irish actor Éanna Hardwicke, choosing opportunities between television and film is a lot like trying to eat a balanced meal. “If you’re lucky enough to make those decisions, you want to have a bit of both every year,” he tells DQ.

In his fledgling career, Harwicke has certainly made some good decisions so far. He appeared in standout BBC drama Normal People, based on the novel by Sally Rooney, and last year took a starring role in the pubcaster’s acclaimed true crime drama The Sixth Commandment.

Other small-screen credits include Paramount+’s The Doll Factory and RTÉ thriller Smother, while cinematic roles have come in Lamb, Sparrow and 2022’s Lakelands, in which he plays a Gaelic footballer coming to terms with a career-ending injury suffered when he is attacked on a night out.

For his trouble, Hardwicke has now been named as one of the 10 hottest stars in Europe after being recognised in the 26th edition of European Shooting Stars. Backed by European Film Production, the initiative aims to showcase up-and-coming on-screen talent, with the reward being a trip to the Berlin International Film Festival.

Hardwicke is in good company. Previous Irish recipients include Ruth Negga, Domhnall Gleeson and Andrew Scott, while other notable Shooting Stars include Carey Mulligan, Alicia Vikander, Maisie Williams, Riz Ahmed and George MacKay.

Éanna Hardwicke as murderer Ben Field in The Sixth Commandment

“It’s a lovely honour to get,” he says. “They really mean it when they say they want to nurture young talent.

“I’m really glad about the European element as well because the borders between countries and where films get made are being blurred. I’ve always loved that kind of storytelling that doesn’t feel bound to one place, so it will be really great to feel a part of that.”

At a time when traditional television is fighting for audience attention against the global streaming giants, it was The Sixth Commandment that proved to be one of last year’s most talked-about shows.

The four-part series explores the deaths of Peter Farquhar (Timothy Spall) and Ann Moore-Martin (Anne Reid) in the Buckinghamshire village of Maids Moreton and the extraordinary events that unfold over the following years. Hardwicke plays Ben Field, the charismatic man who built relationships with, manipulated and gaslit both elderly people before their untimely deaths. Field was later jailed for Mr Farquhar’s murder and defrauding Ms Moore-Martin.

In a notable departure for the genre, The Sixth Commandment largely focused on Mr Farquhar and Ms Moore-Martin, before switching to the police investigation and Field’s subsequent court case, rather than shining a spotlight on Field himself. It is a Wild Mercury and True Vision production for the BBC.

Hardwicke’s co-stars in the BBC true crime drama included Timothy Spall

It was a perspective Hardwicke quickly recognised when he picked up writer Sarah Phelps’s scripts. “As soon as I read this, I felt it was coming from a really good place and a very thoughtful and considered place,” he says. “It’s only four hours of TV but somehow Sarah and Saul [Dibb, director] manage to encompass so many lives – the police investigation, the court case, the families of Peter and Ann, and Peter and Ann themselves. He managed to fool them all, and playing Ben was one strand of that story. It’s remarkable she managed to hold all that in four hours of TV but I was struck by the writing as soon as I got the audition in. It was a different approach to the genre. It was a very fresh approach.”

Playing a real person, Hardwicke says he let the script guide his portrayal of Field, though he also watched documentary Catching a Killer, which inspired the drama. He also talked to people connected with the case, but found Phelps had already carried out extensive research.

“She lived with this for two years and went through everything in meticulous detail, so I felt in really good hands just to follow what she had created,” he says. “You owe it to the story to get that detail right and to present [Field] as he presented to Peter and Ann. That was the most important thing for me, because that needs to feel truthful and plausible, because that’s what happened. I definitely did my due diligence.”

Hardwicke has previous experience of being in a series that caught the cultural zeitgeist, having played a role alongside Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Normal People, a BBC and Element Pictures adaptation of Sally Rooney’s similarly acclaimed novel. He starred as Rob, a close friend of Mescal’s Connell.

“Making it, I looked around and it was that strange, surreal feeling of the book being exactly as you imagined it happening around you,” the actor remembers. “When I watched Paul and Daisy film those scenes, they were just perfect and exactly as I’d imagined them.

The Irish actor played Rob in fellow BBC hit Normal People

“In a way, that is such an outlier of a project because that was a story about our times, about a particular moment in young people’s lives, moving into college. And it was filmed in the city I lived in and the university I went to, so there was a strange serendipity in the air the whole time. Then everyone who was in it, I knew or was friends with or had gone to college with. I was very proud to be in a story that I felt was about modern Ireland and that we maybe hadn’t seen before.”

In the series, Rob’s suicide leads Connell to struggle with his mental health – a storyline that contributed to a wider discussion about male depression.

“I was really pleased, really proud and really fortunate to be in that storyline because even when I read the book, I loved that character,” Hardwicke says. “I loved Rob, and Sally’s so good that even in just a paragraph, she can set someone up and really bring you inside their headspace. He’s the kind of guy who seems like he’s at the heart of the party and is great fun and can be a bit bold, can be cheeky. But he has all of this going on behind closed doors, and it was something I really wanted to play. When it became part of a wider conversation, I was really glad that conversation took place, because it doesn’t happen enough. The reaction to it was really positive.”

For his next role, Hardwicke is playing another real person in A Very Royal Scandal, Prime Video’s three-part series that dramatises BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis’s now-infamous interview with Prince Andrew. Michael Sheen plays the royal, while Ruth Wilson is Maitlis. Hardwicke plays Stewart Maclean, the political show’s editor. It comes as Netflix has lined up a film version of the same story, with Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell in the main roles.

His other roles include Paramount+ period drama The Doll Factory

“This is from another brilliant writer,” Hardwicke says of Jeremy Brock, who has penned A Very Royal Scandal for producer Blueprint Television. Julian Jarrold is directing. “Jeremy has done a three-part look at that story from inside the BBC and inside the palace. I loved making it. You’re getting to watch Michael Sheen and Ruth Wilson do their thing every day. It was a real thrill.”

When it comes to portraying a real person, the actor says it’s no different from playing a fictional character because in every case, you play them as vividly as possible. “If anything, what it’s taught me is to bring the detail of the real people you meet into the fictional characters you create,” he says. “But it’s definitely a tightrope because people talk about that thing of ‘You never want to do an impersonation.’ You’re capturing an essence of someone, which is all you can really do – and I enjoy that process.”

Away from acting, Hardwicke has a keen eye on the work of a director, as he understands that learning what they do is a way to ensure he can do his job better. But rather than holding aspirations to become a director himself, he prefers writing.

“Acting and writing are a bit more like kindred spirits, and I’ve had friends who’ve gotten to put an idea to paper over the last few years and they’ve got into development with films,” he says. “The barrier between those professions is blurred a little in a helpful way. That said, one of the things I just adored about working on The Sixth Commandment was you were in the hands of a truly brilliant writer, someone who you knew had honed their skills for 25 years.”

Unsurprisingly, he says The Sixth Commandment has been one of his most memorable roles so far, and a particularly special one as he got to work alongside Spall and Reid. “I also spent a lot of that summer with Connor MacNeill (who plays Martyn) and it just felt there was a lot of care that went into that story and a lot of attention to detail,” he says. “That made for a really positive working environment.”

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