TV & Movies
Con O'Neill Was Connected With Sarah Lancashire Long Before Happy Valley
Here’s everything you need to know his journey to TV stardom.
With BBC One’s gripping drama Happy Valley growing tenser by the episode, Olivier Award-winning actor Con O'Neill is also finding a new audience as the show’s Neil Ackroyd. First joining the cast in Season 2 as an old school-friend who’s trying to start over again in Hebden Bridge, Neil becomes a part of the family when he starts dating Catherine Cawood’s sister Clare, and later comes to play a pivotal role in how things unfold between Catherine’s grandson Ryan, and his murderer father Tommy Lee Royce. But who is the actor, and what else has he starred in?.
Born in Weston-Super-Mare, O’Neill was raised in Up Holland, a Lancashire village near Wigan and Liverpool, and is famed for his distinctive voice as an actor. O’Neill was first offered his role in Happy Valley after the show’s writer Sally Wainwright was impressed by his turn in Cucumber, an LGBTQ+ drama written by It’s A Sin and Doctor Who’s Russell T Davies. “I hadn’t seen the first series when the offer came through so I sat down to watch it to see if it was my kind of thing,” he told Northern Soul. “I didn’t leave the sofa for six hours. I think it’s some of the best acting I’ve ever seen, and without a doubt some of the best writing I’ve ever read.”
Funnily enough, Happy Valley isn’t O’Neill’s first time working alongside the show’s lead Sarah Lancashire — back in the ‘90s, they both starred in Willy Russell’s play Blood Brothers, and O’Neill later won a Laurence Olivier award for his portrayal of Mickey. From here, he went onto star in Dancin' Thru The Dark, a TV adaptation of another Willy Russell play called Stags And Hens, and continued to juggle classic Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller stage parts with TV roles.
Outside of Happy Valley, you’ll also find the actor starring in Davies’ latest show Nolly. O’Neill portrays a Crossroads producer in the ITV drama which sees Helena Bonham Carter as soap legend Noele Gordon. Elsewhere, he’s appeared as Izzy Hands in pirate rom-com (yes really) Our Flag Means Death, starred in the historical miniseries Chernobyl, and played Mackenzie Brock, chief of Gotham Police, in 2022’s The Batman.
The latter made for an especially full-circle life moment. “When I was 15 I told my careers advisor I wanted to be an actor she replied 'you can't.’” he recounted on Instagram. “So I became an usher [at] the Empire Liverpool [cinema[ and studied people who could. 30+ years later [I’m] outside the same theatre filming The Batman. It wasn't always easy but it's worth it.”
Though O’Neill keeps a relatively low profile on Instagram, you’ll find plenty of snaps of his beloved rescue dog, as well as this great National Coming Out Day post with his Our Flag Means Death co-star Nathan Foad.