Mark O’Brien Talks ‘Republic Of Doyle’ and the Importance of Being Earnest
How many people can not only say that they love their job, but also that they get to work in their hometown, surrounded by family and close friends, going out to bars and hanging out on weekends and off set with the crew? Well, that’s the case for Mark O’Brien.
Born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, this 30-year-old clever chap, in true Canadian fashion, had ambitions to become a professional hockey player — but we are so glad that didn’t pan out (no offense, Mark). Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to witness his raw talents in films like Grown Up Movie Star (2009) or Dennis (2014), or in his breakout TV role in the mini-series Above and Beyond (2006). And let’s not forget possibly his greatest accomplishment thus far — stealing the hearts of many with his loveable, albeit naïve, character Desmond “Des” Courtney on the hit CBC series, Republic of Doyle.
Set in Newfoundland, the show focuses on the father-son investigative duo Jake and Malachy Doyle, taking on the bad guys and solving crimes together – although, not all of their escapades are on the right side of the law. This quirky comedy-drama would not be the same without O’Brien, whose portrayal of honest, innocent and earnest Des is nothing but endearing. But with Republic of Doyle entering its sixth and final season this October, O’Brien must say goodbye to this fun-loving character — something he admits hasn’t quite hit him yet.
Don’t feel too bad for him, though. O’Brien is someone who likes to keep on his toes, never settling down in just one project at a time, and always looking to expand his range and try something new and different — after all, isn’t that the point of being an actor? The blue-eyed boy-next-door, with auburn hair that reminds you of fall, has been heavily involved in theatre productions such as Butler’s March and Until June, and dabbles in directing as well. Short films, especially, seem to be his cup of tea — his film Kathy (2011) offers a particularly interesting take on the life of gossiping high school girls, and won him the William F. White Award for Best Comedy at the Lakeshorts International Short Film Festival — and he even challenged himself to directing the second episode of Republic of Doyle’s final season.
Whether it’s the stage, television set or director’s chair, O’Brien has no problem fitting into any mold. The chameleon-like actor can next be seen in the feature films The End of Days at Godfrey Global Inventory and Len and Company, both currently in post-production and slated to be released in 2015.
With all of these projects going on at once, and looking to get his hands dirty in something new, it’s a wonder O’Brien had the time to talk with GALO about all of his endeavors. Nonetheless, he was generously able to share with us how he fell into acting, how forgetting your lines keeps things interesting, and why everyone always roots for the good guy.
GALO: Growing up in Newfoundland, what made you get into the arts? Was it something that you always had an interest in or more like something you just fell into?
Mark O’Brien: I think maybe because my sisters were all singers and actors and stuff like that — I only wanted to be a hockey player. That’s all I did, all I wanted to do, play hockey, hockey, hockey. And then failing that career, I was like, “I’ll be a baseball or basketball star…” [But] I think from watching movies so much, [that’s how I got into acting]. I was always really goofy, the class clown, and so, I think that from watching all that stuff, I eventually just gravitated toward it.
We were at an age, luckily, when we had access to a camera. You know, our parents had cameras and stuff and we used those to make movies. It was also a good age because as I started to get older, editing software started to become available. I was very fortunate in the timing of it all.
There’s a very artistic community in Newfoundland; everyone supports one another and you can wear a lot of hats — like, you can write something and try to get it made, you can act in plays and such. So there’s a very supportive community there as well, and that all kind of led me to doing this for a living.
GALO: You got your start in the WWII mini-series Above and Beyond, and have since starred in films likes Grown Up Movie Star and Beat Down. All three of those projects are extremely diverse, from war, to an intense drama about growing up and exploring your sexuality, to a comedy about wrestling and finding your dreams. What sort of characteristics do you look for in films and roles that make you attracted to them? Do you feel that as an actor it’s important to take on diverse roles and expand your range?
MO: If you don’t want to do that, then I don’t understand why you’re an actor. To me, it’s like why would you just want to play the same person over and over [again]? I guess there’s a certain level of fun to that to a certain extent, but the reason why I wanted to become an actor is because I wanted to challenge myself. Every time I do anything, it’s like, ‘how can I make this better?’ It feels like you at the end of the day. It’s still Bruce Willis up there on the screen, no matter what character he’s playing, or someone like Christian Bale, who plays a lot of characters — it’s still Christian Bale. There’s a way of doing it so that you serve the actual script or story, because that’s what comes first. You can’t put yourself above it by trying to do something different. But I think within that you can try to do something unique, and it’s a lot easier to do that if you do projects that are diverse and different. And you can come at them in a way that’s unique or unexpected from what it is on the page.
I think it’s really important as an actor to lift something off the page and make it great, because even with great writing, you can do something with it that may not be there. You can make it your own. One of the best examples of that is what Jake Gyllenhaal did last year in the movie Prisoners. I’ve always thought he was a great actor, but what he did with that character…you see what he does and you can picture that part in the script in a certain way, but he lifts it off and makes it his own — like Christian Bale in American Hustle or Meryl Streep in any movie. The reason they’re so good is because they are making it their own thing. I think that’s why I wanted to go into acting — it’s a challenge ya’ know.
GALO: You are best known for your role of Des Courtney on the comedy-drama Republic of Doyle, for which you were nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award. Des is almost like a comedic sidekick in a way, but his naivety is so endearing that audiences seem to love his character for his innocence, and were especially worried when you got shot in season three. What is it about Des that made him stand out in your mind, and why do you think audiences are so invested in him as well as his relationship with Tinny?
MO: I think he’s earnest. We all like someone who is earnest and someone who is genuine and is trying to be good. When you fail at trying to be good, I think people like you even more for it. [For example], if I was going to meet a girl with flowers, and on my way I slipped and fell and hit my head, somehow the audience would be like, “Oh my god, that poor guy! He screwed up!” [laughs]. People love humility and earnestness — I’ve never seen acting that has affected so many people that don’t know someone; I find it so interesting. According to social media and television, everyone was [affected when Des got shot]; it was shocking. But that man is just so earnest, genuine and warm, and I think people in general like that. I think they turn to that; it’s just something you’re automatically attracted to — it’s goodness. So the naivety of Des is what I liked. When I first read it, I saw a sweetness [in him], like, “Aw, he doesn’t quite get that thing.” I think that’s one of the reasons why people wanted Des and Tinny together. She’s a strong character and then they like him because he’s trying so freaking hard [laughs]. I think people are attracted to people who mean well.