Domhnall Gleeson admits 'anybody who's been in love knows it is never all easy'

Alice & Jack premieres on Channel 4 on Valentine's Day

Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough in Alice & Jack. (Channel 4)
Domhnall Gleeson stars opposite Andrea Riseborough in Alice & Jack, a romantic drama about two flawed people trying to find love. (Channel 4)

Domhnall Gleeson's new Channel 4 drama Alice & Jack is not your typical romantic drama, the emphasis should be on the latter genre because it depicts love in all its complexities, just as it should be the actor tells Yahoo UK.

Alice (Andrea Riseborough) and Jack (Gleeson) are not perfect, that much is obvious from their first meeting where the former quizzes her date on his work as a research scientist and whether his supposed goodwill is genuine. Their flaws are laid bare over the course of the series, which follows the characters over 16 years, and Gleeson shares how he feels it presents a more accurate portrayal of love because of this.

"I think that a lot of love stories, if they're romantic in nature, they just concentrate on the good sides of romance, and maybe some of the hilariously difficult parts of romance," Gleeson says. "The truth is that anybody who's been in love for any length of time [know] it is never all easy all the time.

"I think that this [series] was grown up in showing how difficult love can be, like love will f**k you up and you will f**k up love."Domhnall Gleeson

Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough in Alice & Jack. (Channel 4)
Their flaws are laid bare in the series, which follows the characters over 16 years, and Domhnall Gleeson praised the show for being a more realistic portrayal of love than has been seen on screen before. (Channel 4)

"If it really matters to you that's what's going to happen, and this really dove into that and I think that that's a valuable thing to put on TV. I think it's a valuable thing to not sort out everything every episode and to really drive them apart, and to really have them mess up and have to deal with that. I think that's important, I think that's very dramatic.

"I think they'll both drive you mad at times —you'll just be like, 'what are you doing?' about both of them and 'why are you like this? And then 'you shouldn't be with her, this is terrible', 'she shouldn't be with you'. And yet every now and again when they come back to each other, they'll look at each other and they feel like they're home, and that's a hard thing to argue with."

Gleeson has worked on romantic films in the past, like Richard Curtis' time-travel film About Time, but what the actor found most interesting about Alice & Jack was that push and pull between the characters, the idea that they're meant to be together even if they keep being driven apart, either by their surroundings or themselves.

"There's something about knowing who you want to be with and not being able to be with them —whether that's unrequited love or whether that's a timing thing— there's something about that that I think everybody is familiar with," Gleeson reflects.

Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough in Alice & Jack. (Channel 4)
Of Alice and Jack, Domhnall Gleeson admits 'they'll both drive you mad at times' but then 'they'll look at each other and they feel like they're home, and that's a hard thing to argue with'. (Channel 4)

"Taking that to the extreme with two characters who awaken in each other something that they don't get from anybody else and don't get from themselves. Taking characters who have that with each other but who just aren't built to actually be together day-to-day and how they battle with that, there's something very profound about that as a notion.

"What's interesting in the show is it's incredibly messy, there's incredible fallout for Jack, even though he is ostensibly a good man, he really hurts people."Domhnall Gleeson

By that, Gleeson is referring to how his character's relationships are impacted by his continued love of Alice, including his wife Lynn who he meets, marries and has a child with in the years without his first love. The Ex Machina star goes on: "He doesn't want to but he really hurts other people even though he's not a bad person. I just thought 'OK, well, let's absolutely make a show about that', and let's absolutely do it with Andrea."

When Gleeson was first approached about the series, shortly after the Covid pandemic, he was given two scripts —the first and last— to get a sense of the journey Alice and Jack go on. It was the fact that it was about connection that most moved him, especially coming out of lockdown.

"The pandemic dried us all out emotionally," he says. "It took a lot away from everybody, some more than others, obviously, but connection was lacking and so doing something about connection, even though it's about the hard part of that as well... I just wanted [to work on] it."

Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough in Alice & Jack. (Channel 4)
Domhnall Gleeson enjoyed that the drama explores their characters faults, saying 'even though he is ostensibly a good man, [Jack] really hurts people' like his wife Lynn because of Alice. (Channel 4)

It took time before the project could come to fruition, though, as he worked on other shows like HBO's Run and Frank of Ireland —the comedy he co-created with his brother Brian and Michael Moloney for Channel 4. But once it came back around he jumped at the chance.

"Andrea had come fully on board and I was like, 'holy s**t, well if we can get it made, please, I'd love to be a part of it'. It was about trying to find the right home for it and make it the right way, and I think we do."Domhnall Gleeson

In the end they were able to, and Gleeson praises the way the series features a "true romance, not just a notional romance", one that isn't "just the trappings [of love] or the things that [movies] tell us". The idea that Alice and Jack had so many obstacles to face felt real to him.

He explains: "I think the notion of that it's slightly melancholic, but it's very real, and it's not melancholic in a way that deadens the emotion. It deepens your empathy for these people going through this stuff, I just found it a very empathetic journey."

Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough in Alice & Jack. (Channel 4)
Domhnall Gleeson added that when he learned Andrea Riseborough had joined the show he had to be a part of it, and then it became 'about trying to find the right home for it and make it the right way'. (Channel 4)

It's something that Gleeson hopes viewers will take to heart when the show premieres on Wednesday, 14 February, saying: "If people recognise it, I think that will be a lovely thing. Recognise it in a different way than they've seen done before in a TV show.

"Normal People was [for] a younger crowd and was just such an exceptional piece of work, there are similarities but [these are] more mature, older people that we meet. They're going through different stages of life and dealing with different challenges. So I think, following that, I hope people recognise themselves and feel seen."

Gleeson adds: "I hope they stick with it because where it gets to... you've got to walk through fire with this one, but it's really worth it when you get to the end."

Alice & Jack premieres on Channel 4 at 9pm on Wednesday, 14 February. The second episode airs on Thursday, 15 February, and will continue every Wednesday and Thursday.

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