Love/Hate stars dish the dirt on the ever present fear of being killed off

Four of our favourite Love/Hate stars don their Sunday best before chatting to Eoin Butler about the rise and rise of the TV drama.

Mary Murray is not a household name. Nor, in person, does she much resemble the hard-nosed brothel madam she plays in Love/Hate. It is her husky, inner-city drawl, the actress admits, that usually gives the game away.

"Taxi drivers always clock me. They notice me accent first. One or two sideways glances. Then, 'Did I pick you up before?' 'I don't know.' 'You seem very familiar?' 'Do I?' Eventually, the penny drops. 'Wait a second, aren't you...?'"

Janet? "'Nidge's bit on the side' more like," she laughs. "Or 'that slapper'. Then they're mortified in case I might be offended. But that's fine. Janet works in a brothel. You're allowed to call her those things if you want. It's my character. It's not me."

Series four of RTE's phenomenally popular gangland drama concluded last year, uncharacteristically, on somewhat of a bum note. A much-anticipated showdown between the cops and robbers fizzled out in anti-climax. Series five debuted this month to stratospheric ratings (976,000 viewers, a 56pc audience share) but, initially at least, also tepid notices.

It wasn't until this season's barnstorming second instalment, in which Fran (played by Peter Coonan) finally learned Nidge (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) had been responsible for the pipe-bomb attack in which Fran's late wife was disfigured, that the series came roaring back to life.

As cast members gather for our photo shoot the morning after the episode airs, #lovehate, #nidge, #trish and #fran are still the top Twitter trends in Ireland. The looming Nidge v Fran showdown is seemingly being dissected by every major radio show in the country, while newspaper polls speculate about which major character is next for the chop.

For Aoibhinn McGinnity, who has played Nidge's gorgeous partner Trish since the show's inception, this level of public enthusiasm is not something she ever takes for granted.

"Sometimes as an actor," she admits, "you can be part of a production where it feels like your friends and family kinda..."

She pauses.

Turn up out of a sense of duty? "Exactly. It happens. But with Love/Hate, the enthusiasm is real. My flatmate was genuinely excited watching the show with me last night. My mom rang me afterwards to say she thinks it was the best episode ever. And that's amazing. To have an arc in such a huge, popular drama is something I'm very appreciative of."

In a break from tradition, the cast did not get to see this season's episodes before they aired. "We'd read the scripts in black and white," McGinnity explains. "But this is the first time seeing the finished product on-screen at the same time as the rest of the country. The editing is amazing. Although, you're still always very anxious about your own performance."

As for the fate of their respective characters in this series, that is not information the stars of this morning's photo shoot are at liberty to divulge. "To be honest," grins Lynn Rafferty, who plays Nadine, the girlfriend and drug-smuggling partner of Aido, one of Nidge's trusted lieutenants, "I'd love to tell you.

"What I really like about Nadine," she continues, "is that she has this amazing, dry Dublin wit. But she's also her own woman. She does have a big storyline coming up this year that'll show us the extent to which she is prepared to stand up for herself. I can't wait for everybody to see it. But unfortunately, I can't say any more about it for now."

She can confirm, however, that Nadine's big episode is the fourth in the current series, which airs tomorrow night.

As a child in Dublin's inner city, Rafferty would have accompanied her father, Mick, a prominent community activist, and his friend, the late Tony Gregory TD, on numerous anti-drug marches. Is she concerned the show, whose online fan-base is currently split into rival #teamnidge and #teamfran camps, risks glamourising gangland feuding?

She isn't unduly concerned.

"I guess because it's on TV, some people are always going to say that. But every week someone is being shot. Someone's looking over their shoulder and watching their friends die. I wouldn't call that glamour. Personally, I've never met anyone like the gangsters on the show, and I'd probably run a mile if I ever did."

Mary makes a similar point. She recalls a scene in which two prostitutes working for Janet died of heroin overdoses. Janet wanted the girls' families informed, but Nidge refused. "That's the moment," she says, "when Janet realised this life wasn't all sunshine and lollipops."

(We're interrupted by photographer Mark Nixon, who is hanging lights nearby. "Spoilers, please!" he protests, but Murray is having none of it. "This was last year," she retorts. Nixon explains he's currently working his way through the box set. "Well, put your earplugs in," she chuckles.)

So why is Janet drawn to Nidge, I ask? "I think there's an attraction to Nidge's energy and ambition and power. But at the same time, she also thinks she's tapped into his vulnerability. Like a lot of women, she thinks she can change him or mould him to her satisfaction. Whereas in reality, Nidge is his own man. He does his own thing and everyone else will suffer the consequences."

Aoibhinn was cast as Trish before Love/Hate ever aired. Murray's Janet and Rafferty's Nadine were both minor characters who grew in prominence as the show progressed. Of those present today, only newcomer Johnny Ward (who plays suave enforcer Paulie) signed up fully aware of the whirlwind he would be stepping into.

A part-time drama teacher, he had been invited to audition for a part on season one, but turned it down to appear in Kirsten Sheridan's film Dollhouse, alongside Jack Reynor and Deirdre O'Kane.

"That was kind of a pilot season," he recalls. "It wasn't until the second and third series that Love/Hate really exploded.

"I mean, it wasn't just on the TV and in the newspapers. It was all over the internet. I play astro [soccer] twice a week and it's all anyone was talking about there. I'd be sitting in traffic and I'd see it on billboards. People would say, 'You should think about getting on that show.' And I'd say 'Jesus, I wish it was that easy.'"

Eventually, he got a call from a casting agent. He auditioned six times for the part of Paulie and was euphoric when he secured the role. For the season premier, Ward even organised a viewing party at home.

"I invited friends, relatives and neighbours over. But half-an-hour before time, I said, 'Lads, actually, do you mind if we leave it another night?' They all wanted to party, but I was just too nervous."

According to one online news source, Ward called off the vi