Culture That Made Me: Mark O'Halloran on Boys from the Blackstuff and the work of Samuel Beckett

Culture That Made Me: Mark O'Halloran on Boys from the Blackstuff and the work of Samuel Beckett
Mark O'Halloran, actor and film-maker.

The actor/film-maker includes Boys from The Blackstuff and salsa in his cultural touchstones. 


Boys from the Blackstuff

I always kept an eye on what my dad was watching, especially in my early teens. I remember him loving Boys from the Blackstuff in the early 80s. It’s something that I go back to. 

[Creator] Alan Bleasdale was trying to speak to his own community. Television drama like that – for the people – is a rare thing. It has iconic characters like Yosser Hughes, who lost his mind.

He found no place for himself in society. He went around saying, “Gizza job! Gizza job!”, which became this incredible catchphrase, and headbutting people. It was the first time I’d ever seen a headbutt. 

People looked at him as a kind of tragicomic character. They recognised both his pain and how insane and ridiculous he had become. Julie Walters playing his wife was powerful. She was this really strong woman. 

I felt like I knew her from my aunties or women in my life. It was an extraordinary series.

Laurel and Hardy 

I’ve always loved Laurel and Hardy. I find them funny, touching, moving and kind of crazy. 

There’s pathos and comedy in them. You can feel sorry for them in their simple ways. 

It was a match made in heaven. They belonged together - the way they look, and also the power dynamic between them.

One thinks he’s stupider than he is and the other thinks he’s more intelligent than he is, but they’re both as stupid as each other. It’s interesting watching them play that out, and that the skinnier of the two [Stan Laurel] was the person who wrote the scripts mostly, who drove the productions, who was the workaholic, and the heavier guy [Oliver Hardy] used to play golf. The dynamic was reversed. It’s comedy genius.

Adam & Paul 

Laurel and Hardy’s film Way Out West was a big influence on Adam & Paul [film written by and starring O’Halloran]. There are so many great scenes in it. When they arrive in the town, they do a little dance before they enter the saloon. 

O'Halloran, right,  with the late Tom Murphy in Adam And Paul. 
O'Halloran, right,  with the late Tom Murphy in Adam And Paul. 

When Stan Laurel sings the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and towards the end gets hit by a hammer and sings in falsetto for the last verse and then falls over. Or the tickling scene, which goes on forever. 

They’re trying to remove a will that a guy has sequestered into his pocket. 

As they try to extract it, he gets tickled. It’s achingly funny. I love it.

 James Joyce

 I’ve ploughed my way through Ulysses by James Joyce a few times. It really is a document of the city [of Dublin]. 

It’s not the easiest read in the world. It’s challenging and I understand that – I’m not a college-educated person so a lot of it goes over my head – but there are sections of it that are magnificent, the section in Sandymount strand, the one with Molly Bloom at the end. 

It’s very funny. Also Leopold Bloom’s father committed suicide in the Queen’s hotel in Ennis [Co Clare]. It’s mentioned in the novel that he goes down every year to Ennis because of the anniversary of his father.

I was thrilled by that mention of Ennis when I found out as a pretentious teenager because I could boast: “I come from a literary town.” 

Georges Simenon and getting into the head of criminals I’m a huge fan of Georges Simenon, a Belgian writer who wrote the Maigret detective novels. I devour them. Detective novels are my antidote to Joyce. 

Maigret is a French detective in the Paris police force. He’s a grumpy, big auld galoot of a fella, but he doesn’t judge people. 

He tries to get into the psychology of the person who’s committed the crime, and by doing it he actually feels sympathy for them. 

They’re not moral tales. He understands that people are bad. There are some problems with it. The female representation can be two-dimensional sometimes. They’re short novels. 

You’d belt through them in an afternoon. You really get into Maigret’s head. I love them.

Beckett Trilogy

 I like the work of Samuel Beckett and his trilogy of novels in particular. He wrote them in the aftermath of the second world war in kind of a frenzy of creativity. I co-wrote a play Beckett’s Room that was on at The Gate for last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival; it was about Beckett’s escape from Paris during the war and his return.

He saw terrible things during the war and then the reality of Buchenwald and Auschwitz came along. It’s not laugh-out-loud, slap-your-thighs funny, but there is fun to be had in it and there’s also something deeper and darker in there.

It’s about when we have destroyed everything, we still continue on. Why do we persevere? It talks to very basic things. What it is to even be alive. 

The great refrain of those novels is: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” The Smiths speaking to outsiders When I was a kid music was about being part of a gang. People might like The Smiths or The Cure.

 It meant that you belonged somewhere. I loved Siouxsie And The Banshees, Public Image Ltd, The Smiths, who are more troublesome now because Morrissey has turned out to be an eejit, which has kind of spoiled it for a lot of people, but it’s still beautiful music. 

At the time, people used to say, “The Smiths saved my life”. He was talking to a certain disenfranchised minority or outsiders that was very rock ’n’ roll but also very good for people who felt that they were outside – to feel they could belong somewhere.

Irish men and salsa

I’ve a great interest in Cuban music lately. I’ve worked over in Cuba and have made a film there [Viva]. My better half is Cuban. 

Artists like Celia Cruz, Elena Burke, Blanca Rosa Gil, La Lupe, who’s kind of like a Cuban Latina version of Tina Turner. I just love salsa music. It’s a joy to behold. It has this rhythm of life. Watching Cuban people dancing salsa is incredible. Nobody else can do it.

I remember my Cuban friends were going, “Come on, get up and dance!” I was telling them: “I can’t, really. Honestly, I can’t.” They were saying, “Everyone can dance.” 

I stood up to dance. And they said, “You know what? Better if you sit down.” There’s something about the hips. We can’t move the hips the way they do.

* Earlier this week, Mark O'Halloran was nominated for two IFTA awards: Actor in a Supporting Role Drama for his part in The Virtues; and his film Rialto for Best Script Film.  

* Rialto is scheduled for an Irish cinema release in autumn


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