Whether it’s pol­i­tics or crime, the Caff ee broth­ers aren’t afraid to play dirty. Guy Davis spoke with Ja­son Isaacs, the star of Brother­hood.

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The gritty pay-TV drama Brother­hood has never re­ally been what you’d call feel­good tele­vi­sion. Over two sea­sons, the story of ca­reer crim­i­nal Michael Caff ee and his younger brother Tommy, a politi­cian on the rise, has been marked by be­trayal and bloody vi­o­lence, dis­il­lu­sion­ment and dou­ble-crosses.

The two men are ruth­less and un­com­pro­mis­ing in their cho­sen fi elds, with both men bend­ing and break­ing the law to achieve what they want pro­fes­sion­ally while strug­gling and of­ten fail­ing to main­tain some sense of per­sonal in­tegrity and hon­our.

Add to this a rich gallery of three­d­i­men­sional sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, such as Michael and Tommy’s shrewd, feisty mother Rose, Tommy’s strong but un­fulfi lled wife Eileen and Michael’s crim­i­nal co­horts, and you get an en­sem­ble piece that’s driven by com­pelling plot­lines and fas­ci­nat­ing per­son­al­i­ties.

So even if it doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feel­ing, Brother­hood does off er the kind of brac­ing sen­sa­tion that the best se­ri­alised tele­vi­sion pro­vides.

As it be­gins its third – and prob­a­bly fi nal – sea­son, the show isn’t light­en­ing up.

Every­one is fac­ing a chal­lenge or a cri­sis, whether it’s Tommy ( played by Aus­tralian ac­tor Ja­son Clarke) try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a lu­cra­tive real-es­tate deal that’ll lift him out of the po­lit­i­cal rat race, the preg­nant Eileen ( Anna­beth Gish) strug­gling to bal­ance fam­ily life with her ca­reer am­bi­tions, or Rose ( Fion­nula Flana­gan) an­grily deal­ing with the eff ects of old age.

But Michael may be do­ing it hard­est of all. A sav­age beat­ing at the end of the fi rst sea­son left him with a brain in­jury that aff ected his men­tal fac­ul­ties, his short-term mem­ory and his per­son­al­ity, and he’s been fi ght­ing to keep con­trol of his il­le­gal en­ter­prise ever since.

“ He’s on a ter­ri­bly self-de­struc­tive path,” said Ja­son Isaacs, the Bri­tish ac­tor who plays this very Amer­i­can hood­lum. “ He’s lost his sense of self, re­ally. He’s some­one who ar­rived so cool and col­lected and in con­trol of his am­bi­tion and his vi­o­lence, and he’s just lost it. The walls are clos­ing in on him.”

And as for Isaacs, per­haps best known to audiences as the wicked Lu­cius Mal­foy in the Harry Pot­ter fi lms, that’s a ter­rifi c set of cir­cum­stances to por­tray.

“ It’s a fan­tas­tic jour­ney,” he said. “ Most of my peers who have done TV se­ries com­plain all the time – they’re in cop shows where they wake up in the morn­ing and ask them­selves ‘ OK, am I wear­ing the blue suit or the black suit to­day?’ With Michael, though, there’s this great, epic, Shake­spearean-tragedy arc.”

The brain in­jury that has made his char­ac­ter both more help­less and more danger­ous cre­ated an act­ing chal­lenge for Isaacs. “ Be­cause of the in­jury, Michael has no idea about the di­rec­tion of his life – ev­ery­thing is an ex­er­cise in im­pro­vi­sa­tion for him,” he said. “ I could only play the mo­ment.”

It also had an un­fore­seen eff ect among the res­i­dents of Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land, the town where Brother­hood is both set and shot.

“ It’s al­most ex­actly as you see it on the screen,” said Isaacs. “ Every­one knows each other – the politi­cians, the gang­sters, the priests, the cops, the real-es­tate moguls. They all went to school to­gether, their kids go to school to­gether, they live on top of one an­other and their his­to­ries are all en­twined.

“ And af­ter a while, every­one wanted to come and talk to us. I had gang­sters com­ing up to me, want­ing a high-fi ve! Or the big crim­i­nals would be sit­ting in the back of restau­rants, and they’d send some­one out to say they’d love to meet me. So dur­ing the fi rst sea­son, peo­ple wanted to take me out on bank jobs – not some­thing I was keen to do, by the way.

“ But once Michael suff ered this brain in­jury and be­came a bit of a loser, I be­came less at­trac­tive to them.”

Isaacs has noth­ing but fond mem­o­ries of his time in Rhode Is­land but his rec­ol­lec­tions of fi lm­ing three sea­sons of Brother­hood are less pleas­ant. Not be­cause of the cast, crew, scripts or sto­ry­lines, but be­cause Michael was such a dark char­ac­ter to play for such a pro­longed pe­riod. “ He was a frus­trated, para­noid man. So it was very bleak. I’ll miss it, though. But it reaches a nat­u­ral end­ing at the end of the third sea­son. If there were never to be any more Brother­hood, you would still feel ut­terly sat­isfi ed.”

Play­ing happy fam­i­lies: Michael Caff ee ( Ja­son Isaacs) en­joys some time away from his usual crim­i­nal an­tics with brother Tommy ( Ja­son Clarke inset, right).

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