Mark O’Halloran has taken on a role at UCC, but first he’s starring in his own film as Omar O’Meara, an Irish Muslim from Tuam, writes Esther McCarthy.
He’s been known to playfully slag off Corkonians in his Twitter account — no surprise given his Co Clare roots — but Mark O’Halloran is looking forward to spending much more time by the Lee.
The screenwriter and actor has been announced as UCC’s Film Artist in Residence for the coming academic year, giving him both the opportunity to engage with film students and to develop his own future projects.
It’s a position that the writer of such movie gems as Adam and Paul, Garage and Viva as well as TV’s Prosperity is relishing. As part of the role he will also be involved in film events around the city.
“I’m starting in September. Basically it’s a post that allows you an amount of teaching time, teaching screenwriting to an MA course and a BA course,” he said. “It pays you a wage so you can work on something, one of your own projects. It buys you time and it’s lovely to have that.”
TOP OF THE CLASS
Having taught in the past, O’Halloran is very much looking forward to returning to the lecture hall.
“I’m absolutely delighted, I really, really enjoy teaching. I used to teach on a course in Trinity, there was a gap of a few years and I decided I’d love to do it again.
“The campus there is really nice, the staff are great — I’m really looking forward to engaging with the pupils. I think sometimes with screenwriting there’s too much of an emphasis on structure — on three-act structure and all of that — and not enough emphasis on character building, drawing characters. Mine is very much a hands-on approach about how to invent true characters.
“Hopefully that will be of use to the pupils involved. It will be about the practical dos and don’ts of writing for film.
“It’s a great scheme to allow you a wage in which you can spend some time, even if it’s just reading up on a new project, where you’re not in a constant rush to get the rent paid or instance. That you’re allowed this time, in exchange for your engagement with pupils, to develop your own artistic approach to things.
“I’ll also be doing an event at the Cork Film Festival, and we’ll be doing various events along the way.”
Despite sometimes teasing Leesiders online, he’s looking forward to spending more time there. “It’s a city I know well. I had a romantic involvement with someone who was living there for a while, so I was down there a bit. That went by the wayside and I didn’t go down there for a bit!
“This will be my re-engagement with the city, it’s a beautiful city. I sometimes slag off Cork on my twitter feed, but mostly that’s because I’m from County Clare (he grew up in Ennis), there’s a GAA rivalry,” he smiled.
O’Halloran’s ongoing writing career is a happy outcome, given that at one point he was so devastated by grief he feared he might never pen a script again.
The loss of his great friend and Adam and Paul co-star, Tom Murphy, to cancer a decade ago was an enormous blow. Murphy was just 39 when he passed, and while O’Halloran continued to act, it would be years before he found another writing project.
CUBA WITH LOVE
Redemption came in the form of Viva, the wonderful Cuban-set drama about a troubled father/son relationship within Havana’s drag scene which was directed by Paddy Breathnach.
“I thought I’d never write again, I thought that something had died within me when Tom had gone.
“Then I met up with Paddy, he was an amazing support. Viva was my way out of it really. After Viva I wrote a play called Trade, I felt I’d come back after that.”
Armed with make-up and wigs donated by Panti Bliss — both difficult to come across in Havana — he got to know the scene and agreed with Breathnach and producer Rob Walpole that it could spawn a film.
“I went off and lived in Havana for a while and wrote the story from there. In that time I grew to love Havana very much. I love Cuban people and the attitude there.
“Culturally they’re an amazing people, they’re similar to the Irish, there’s a messer quality to them. They love a bit of craic, dancing and singing, music is very important to their life. My connection to the island is quite strong. I’m going over again in August for three or four weeks.”
On Friday, his latest project, Halal Daddy, for which he co-wrote the screenplay along with director Conor McDermottroe opens in cinemas.
As a rule O’Halloran avoids thinking of himself in an acting capacity when he’s writing a script, but sometimes the temptation to take on a plum supporting role becomes too much.
In the culture-clash comedy about a young Muslim man whose disciplinarian father buys him an abattoir to run as a Halal meat factory in Sligo, he plays Omar O’Meara, an Irish Muslim from Tuam who works there as a Halal butcher. He sports an orange beard dyed from henna.
“That beard went on for a long time, I was never so delighted to get it off. I had it dyed for six weeks and it was a very weird thing to be walking around with.”
As well as its lead characters, the film features a group of young friends of different ethnicities. It feels like a timely look at our changing society.
“Absolutely. The demographics have changed here. Regardless of whether you’re appalled by that or accept it as just being part of life, the demographics have changed in Irish towns, and I don’t think there has been a film yet that kind of, very lightly, touches on that.
“Everybody’s nieces and nephews, or sons and daughters, are now going to school with people whose parents might not originally have been born in Ireland. I think this is the first film to look at that.
“Also, the desire was to make a film where that wasn’t a problem, where it was just who the people were. Where the problems are romantic problems, or inter-family problems when it comes to the father-son relationship.”
The writer will revisit darker material in his next project, a movie adaptation of his acclaimed play, Trade.
“I’m looking forward to getting it done. It’s about a man who’s dealing with the death of his own father, a straight man who has a family. He’s in his fifties, but he’s lost himself somehow. In his mourning for his father he goes off the rails a little bit.”
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