“Arrival” Actor Mark O’Brien Talks Working With Amy Adams And More
As Captain Marks in Denis Villeneuve’s Academy Award-nominated film Arrival, 32-year-old star Mark O’Brien plays a military captain alongside Amy Adams’ leading lady Louise Banks. While the St. John’s, Newfoundland-born actor may be gracing the silver screen with Hollywood A-listers, he remains a down-to-earth Canuck boy at heart. In fact, he credits his experiences on Canadian TV for launching his acting career.
O’Brien, who also starred as Des Courtney on the popular CBC series Republic of Doyle, is certainly set for a breakthrough 2017. Following his recent role in Arrival, he will be appearing in the movies Kin and Anon this year. Real Style sat down with the humble and down-to-earth actor to learn more about working on Arrival, his burning passion for cinema and his upcoming projects.
Real Style: How was your experience working with Amy Adams in Arrival?
Mark: When Amy Adams is attached to a film that you’re going to be in, the first thing that comes to your mind is “that’s really exciting.” The first thing that I thought (outside of the excitement, of course) is that this is going to be a really great film. How many scripts does she get sent? If she chose this, it’s going to be something special. Then when you read the script, you’re like “This is amazing.” You start working with her, and you see her and how she works. You know that it’s going to get seen, and you know that it’s going to be top quality. Having those three people together [Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker] is something that gave me a lot of confidence in the project itself, because they are so talented.
Real Style: Tell us about meeting Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker on the set of Arrival.
Mark: Jeremy is funny, he jokes around, but he really impressed me with his knowledge of camera and movement. Forrest is this gentle, quiet man with this easy presence that makes you really comfortable and really safe. Ultimately, it was a really quiet set, and I think that’s the way that Denis [Villeneuve] runs the set. He’s very quiet and about his business. I actually like that, because it was a really good professional working environment, where everyone was just doing their job.
Real Style: Speaking of Denis Villeneuve, he’s such an iconic Canadian director. What was it like to work with him?
Mark: Denis is one of my favourite directors in the world, and I was the only Canadian actor [in Arrival]. He makes it really simple. Going into it, I kind of thought what it would be like, because I was a major fan of his. But then you get in there, and you realize that it’s normal, the way it should be. Great directors don’t come up like “Do it like your mom just called at you and you’ve been up all night.” It’s very simple- “No, I think you’re a little apprehensive here.” He’s a very easy director who knows his story so well that he makes it very simple. I’ve noticed that when you work with people who are at the top of their game, it’s very simple.
Real Style: What set this role apart from previous roles that you have done?
Mark: It was very difficult in the sense that I don’t say that much. It’s all internalized. A lot of what is happening with the actual performance is internal. He’s holding this whole thing in, he’s apprehensive about this whole situation. A regimented lifestyle in the military doesn’t deal with aliens. They deal with absolutes, generally. For me, without saying much and without taking away from the main story and the main emotional element of the film, which is Amy’s character, I have to do my own thing. That was the challenge, I thought, because a lot of things I’ve played in the past were very on the surface. This was beneath the surface.
Real Style: Who are your biggest acting icons?
Mark: There are so many. I love Christian Bale; I think Christian Bale is incredible. Daniel Day Lewis and obviously Meryl Streep. Then going back, there’s this actress Maureen Stapleton, she’s one of my favourite actors of all time. Rosalind Russell (that’s going back to the 1940s), Barbara Stanwyck, Montgomery Clift, James Dean. There are so many different styles, looks and feelings that actors give you; it just goes on and on.
Real Style: What is your dream role?
Mark: It’s tough because you need to see it on the page. It’s an interesting question, because you can see it on the page, someone can tell you about it, but then what you’re going to do it is going to be different. A role comes out of the director, it comes out of the script, it comes out of the rest of the crew and the other actors. For me, I’m always looking to work with people who are really good at what they do and passionate- the role comes from that.
Real Style: Tell us about breaking into the business as a Canadian actor.
Mark: I started in Newfoundland, doing a lot of theatre. I did Republic of Doyle for six years, so that helped a lot. I started doing more and more in Canada, and then I went to Los Angeles. It’s funny; it’s always kind of piece by piece, covering ground. In Newfoundland, I did really well there; it’s a good artistic community there. Then I went to Toronto and Los Angeles, and I never turned my back on Canada. I just laid some groundwork in the States as well. It’s tough; you deal with more rejection than you could possibly imagine. But you realize it’s not about the rejection. When you get a role, it’s not because you weren’t good, it’s because you weren’t the guy for it. I just never stop, and I never let insecurity get in the way. You have to believe you’re good.
Real Style: How did your role on Republic of Doyle prepare you for other acting opportunities?
Mark: When you start working on a TV show and you do it for six years, you are working so fast, and you are getting scripts the day before sometimes. You just got to roll with it, and you roll with it for six years. That prepared me really well, and then when I went to Los Angeles, I booked a show on AMC called Halt and Catch Fire. Since then, I’m kind of working steadily. If it wasn’t for Republic of Doyle, I wouldn’t be where I am now, because people need to be aware of you to some degree. Television is so great for that, because you kind of end up having ownership over it as well. I didn’t go to theatre school, but I did a television series, and that changed my life and made me a better and harder worker.
Real Style: You’ve got a number of new roles coming out this year, like your films Anon and Kin. What can you tell us about these roles?
Mark: Kin is one of the production companies behind Arrival. I know those guys quite well. That film is kind of like an action drama with a sci fi twist, it’s a really interesting film that Lionsgate is doing, directed by twins from Australia. It was a great cast, James Franco, Zoë Kravitz and Dennis Quaid. Anon was a film I actually shot in Toronto, directed by Andrew Nicol, who I was a big fan of. He did Gattaca, wrote The Truman Show, was wonderful. Also, Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried [were in the film]. It’s a sci fi film as well, and I don’t think I can give away too much. It kind of reminds me of Arrival in a sense, there’s a similarity there.
Real Style: Is sci-fi a genre that you have always been passionate about?
Mark: The first sci-fi movie that really got my attention was 2001’s Space Odyssey. I was probably 18, and then there are some sci-fi films that I started to like. Lately, I really like grounded sci-fi. I would call Arrival kind of a grounded sci-fi, where it’s a real story. It’s not like a big budget Star Wars type of movie. I like those movies as well, but I really like the real ones. All the sci-fi films that I’ve done in the past year and a half are very grounded.
Real Style: In addition to your acting, you also do direction and writing. What do you enjoy the most out of these three?
Mark: I normally do most of my writing for other projects while I’m actually on set or travelling. That kind of gets me going a little, because you’re already working and you’re in the mode of it. Writing really interests me. Sometimes it’s a bit sad because you’re just writing on the page and never know if it will get made! But it’s worth it. I love movies too much to ever stop doing anything that has to do with movies. All I want to do is work in film, non-stop, because I love it.
Real Style: Is there anything else we should know about your upcoming projects?
Mark: I’m shooting a series now in Los Angeles called The Last Tycoon for Amazon Prime. We did a pilot last year and it got picked up. It’s so great; it’s created by Billy Ray, who is a genius. It’s based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, set in 1930s Hollywood. We’re almost halfway through shooting now; I’m so excited about it.
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