In Conversation with Mark O’Brien

In the wake of the closing of beloved series Republic of Doyle, Mark O’Brien has emerged as the next rising star to elevate himself in the at-times cutthroat world of film and television.
In Conversation with Mark O'BrienMuch like his friend and collaborator Allan Hawco, St. John’s born and bred actor Mark O’Brien hasn’t experienced a post Republic of Doyle hangover. Quite the opposite in fact.

Having portrayed the role of fan favourite Des Courtney on Doyle for six seasons, O’Brien landed a recurring role on AMC drama Halt and Catch Fire, an internationally renowned series on one of America’s most successful networks. Factor in a slew of high profile film and television credits to his resume, and O’Brien stands firmly among the list of those to keep an eye on in 2016.

“It’s been good, really good. I have no complaints,” O’Brien tells The Herald from Los Angeles.

Having dabbled in filmmaking to coincide with his acting credits, O’Brien discussed the noticeable shift to strong storytelling in television. We asked his preference between the larger commitment to a television series as opposed to filmmaking. An admitted film buff, O’Brien admits that if you had asked him that question years ago, his devotion would rest near completely to the silver screen. But now?

“I’m a film lover originally. I love films, I watch a movie a day … I still love movies, but television is a great venue for actors, writers and directors because it’s so open now,” he shared. “I like the pace of getting into scripts, figuring out what’s going to happen next. It’s a continuing story and it’s a challenge for an actor, because it’s not just 100 pages of a script and you know exactly what it’s going to be. You don’t know what it’s going to be and you don’t know what’s going to happen next, so you’re on your toes at all times, which I really like … once you have a bit of choice you it’s interesting what you gravitate towards.”

O’Brien’s most recent, and perhaps one of his most impressive castings comes in the form of an adaptation of the final unpublished work of iconic writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon. O’Brien will star alongside A-listers Matt Bomer, Lily Collins, Rosemarie Dewitt and television heavyweight Kelsey Grammer.

“It’s huge,” O’Brien said of the casting. “F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my heroes, I’ve read everything he’s ever written, except for The Last Tycoon because I didn’t want to read it because he didn’t finish it! I feel weird reading something or watching something that the person who created it didn’t get to finish, because I know how much the people revise the material and change it … It’s just such a celebrated piece of work so it already has a pre-awareness for the audience, because they’ve heard of the title before, if not the story. That time period is really cool, 1930s Hollywood … I feel really lucky to get it.”

O’Brien’s most prized film credit for the year, acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve’s (Sicario, Prisoners) sci-fi epic Story of Your Life, will see O’Brien rub shoulders with Academy Award nominees Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner.

“I can’t talk too much about it, because it’s kept pretty tightly under wraps, but I will say that Denis Villeneuve is at the top of his game in absolutely every single way,” O’Brien said about the project, which is currently in post-production. “He is also one of my favourite directors. To work with someone like that, with such confidence, it makes your job so much easier and fun because you know you’re in good hands. It’s also cool to get to work with your heroes. When you get that opportunity, you forget that you’re working with them, and it’s like I won a contest to go meet with them and forget that i actually have a responsibility while I’m there … Thsee people are really good at what they do, and they listen to you to, work with you. It’s a great honour – a privilege really.”

Given the high caliber of actors O’Brien has had the pleasure of sharing screen time with, it should come as no surprise that some of the star-shock has worn off. He still has his fan moments, but working alongside such seasoned professionals results in a more polished product and experience. Steel sharpens steel after all.

“I ended up reading with Al Pacino at his house a couple of months ago, which was really wild,” O’Brien recounted with a laugh. “We read a play together, just me and him. It was a very, very interesting experience. I was nervous going in, because you’re like ‘This is Al Pacino! This is Tony Montana,’ but you come away thinking it’s easier, because they’re so good at what they do that it makes the job easier. I’ve experienced a lot of that on Doyle as well. When you have a cast that’s really strong and an actor that’s really strong that you’re playing off of, your job is easier. It’s like building a house with someone that has been doing it for 30 years. You’re going to do a better job because they know what they’re doing. It ups your game.”

O’Brien still keeps tabs on the comings and goings of his home provinces film and television scene. It was where he got his start, after all, which is is far from shy to share with current and future collaborators.

“The whole reason I’m an actor or in this scene at all is because of the artistic community in St. John’s and Newfoundland as a whole,” O’Brien shared. “A lot of the other filmmakers from home I keep in touch with or at least keep tabs on what’s happening, because that’s my roots and what I’m interested in and I want to tell stories from Newfoundland too. I’m pretty up to date, which is good I think. It’s so cool, when I tell people from the States that I’m from Newfoundland and I started acting there people say ‘oh yeah’, and its like no, you don’t understand. Everyone in Newfoundland is an artist. Everyone is an artist to some regard. It’s like the best place to learn and continue your craft, because everyone is so supportive and wearing different hats.

“Republic of Doyle I think plays a huge part in that,” O’Brien adds, breaking into a discussion of the changing perception towards Newfoundland and Labrador as a new attraction for filmmakers. “We became real to the rest of the world. People saw us and who we were and where we are, how beautiful it is and how cool the people are. Once people started to know that they wanted to be a apart of it more. When people don’t know about something, their opinion is not going to matter, because they don’t even know what it is. Having them actually know and see how wonderful it is, they want to be a part of it, and I think we’ve been opening ourselves up to the world in a really cool way in the least ten years or so.”

O’Brien is currently living out his dream, and will be adding a new ripple as he embarks on directing, writing and producing his own feature films. He shared that becoming acclimatized to multiple avenues of the entertainment industry which he has come to embrace is crucial in becoming a notch above his current self.

“I really want to direct my own films. I want to write and direct my own films and I’ve wanted to do that my whole life,” O’Brien shared at the interviews conclusion. “I have a couple of films in production that I’m working on. Sometimes it just takes going out with a camera by yourself and getting it done. That’s how I made short films, how I learned about directing and that’s how I’m going to continue to do it. If I’m not acting or spending time with my wife and family an friends, I’m writing all of the time. Just trying to get better, because I have a lot of practice at acting and now I want to try to get better at the other things in this industry – learn about producing, learn more and more so you can get better, because it’s good to know everybody’s job on a film set, so you can really communicate what you’re trying to … It’s great to be a master of as much as you can in that world.”

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