Interview: Mark O’BrienJanuary 28, 2020
Recently we had the chance to talk with actor Mark O’Brien about his career, including his new role as Hall of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuk in the movie Goalie.
So were you always interested in acting or did you discover that interest later, like a happy accident?
Mark: (Laughs) Yeah, I discovered it later on. I used to make movies with my buddies, using our parent’s video cameras, when I was fourteen or fifteen, but I didn’t realize I liked acting, I thought we were just having fun. When I was around eighteen or nineteen I realized I was really enjoying it and by the time I was twenty, it was like, yeah, I really want to do this.
You’ve worked in film and television. Do you have a favorite medium to work in or do you simply go where the work takes you?
Mark: Wherever there’s a camera, nice people and good work, that’s all that matters to me. If it’s TV or movies, it doesn’t matter, as long as it involves people I enjoy being around for a certain period of time. I am more into film, I’m a bit of a film buff than a TV watcher but you can’t be too picky because there are so many good things in TV right now, so I’m not going to limit myself in any kind of way. It’s amazing what television is going through right now, so many opportunities out there and like I said, I’m not a big TV watcher but there are some shows where I say ok, I’m going to have to watch that, it just looks too good. It’s really a great time to be an actor right now, it really is.
Besides acting you’ve also done some writing and directing. Where did those interests come from?
Mark: That was primarily how I got into it all, I just wanted to make movies. I guess it went back to making movies with my buddies so I kind of found acting a little less challenging. I felt I knew I could do it, I didn’t know how good I was but I felt like I understood it. Whereas filmmaking and writing are really, really difficult, definitely one of the harder things I’ve done, so it’s always kind of been there, it’s just acting made more sense. I had more time for it and it was something I was just doing all the time. You really have to put in the time with writing and directing, not that you don’t with acting as well, but with writing and directing you’re creating it so you need to have connections and space and everything to do that, so it finally came together and I actually just wrote and directed my first feature film.
Do you plan on juggling everything in the future or are you going to focus more on acting?
Mark: No, I’m going to juggle it all, I love it all too much. It was a really interesting experience when I acted in a movie I made as well, it was kind of great, really, not because I get to call all the shots but it was very collaborative. It’s because it’s in your bones, because you understand it so well, you created it, you understand how to perform this thing, better than I have other things because I have this idea in my head that’s persisting, so it’s something I kind of look at as all in one. When you’re an actor and working with really good directors it becomes that because of the great collaboration, the acting, directing, it’s all part of the same story.
Ok, so let’s talk about the movie Goalie, where you play Terry Sawchuk. How did this role come about?
Mark: Well I’ve been friends with Adriana Maggs, the co-writer and director for fifteen years or so, she directed one other film I was in as well, so we have a very good relationship. She told me she was thinking of me for the part for a long time, unbeknownst to me, but we started talking about it a year or two in advance, she’d been working on it for about eight years, and then she just asked me to play it and I said yeah, of course.
How did you prepare for the role? Did you have some practical experience playing hockey, or even as a goalie?
Mark: Well, I’ve been playing hockey since I was seven years old so, minor hockey and stuff, and I still play today a few times a week, so I’m very familiar with hockey, the NHL, I’m a massive hockey fan so luckily that was already in place, I didn’t need to start from scratch. I played goalie when I was playing street hockey and I think I only played as a goalie on the ice twice so I had a really good on ice goalie coach who helped me throughout the beginning of the movie. When you read up on Terry and you watch his game, you do all this research and then you kind of throw it away because you don’t want to do an impression of him, that’s still me up on the screen, but I want to do the essence of him, for lack of a better term.
While you were doing your research on Terry what were your impressions of him and did you find it hard to get into the character?
Mark: Yeah it was challenging, just like any role, but it was challenging in the sense that he didn’t really talk about himself that much. Even with his injuries, he never really revealed how hurt he was all the time so that was the challenge. With Terry everything is so bottled up, you’re playing someone who’s kind of conflicted himself, I don’t think he really knew necessarily how to articulate things or he just didn’t want to so that’s kind of tough to play, that was the biggest challenge.
Being a Canadian boy and a big hockey fan, when you were researching Terry did you come to appreciate even more what he did in his hockey career?
Mark: Oh yeah, absolutely. I remember growing up, and I’m a huge stats guy, thinking wow, Terry Sawchuk had 103 shutouts, I knew those stats from a young age, knew them very well. So I knew about that, I knew he played without a mask, I knew he wasn’t the only guy to play without a mask but his endurance level…he went through so much pain. The fact that he used to use that crouch, it was his stance where he’d get his head really low and separate your legs pretty far to bend down, and the reason it was a signature to Terry was because he was the most fearless goalie, that’s where most of the pucks are going to come. That’s how fearless he was, as long as he stopped the puck, he didn’t care, and to play through the pain that he played through…I’m not saying others didn’t, like Glen Hall, Jacques Plante, Gump Worsley and on and on, but to play at that level and that fearlessly, it blows my mind. You also learn too that these guys didn’t wear masks because they wanted to see the puck better and also because of pride, and I found that fascinating because I wouldn’t have the guts to do it but Terry did it, along with a lot of others.
You’ve picked a tough and competitive profession to make a career out of in terms of acting. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become an actor?
Mark: I’d say immerse yourself in it and if you love it that much than the rejection and slow pace and competitive nature of the whole thing won’t get you down. Use that love to immerse yourself in it and just keep going, because any day the phone is going to ring, or you’re going to find an opportunity that’s going to come to you because of your hard work and determination. If you look at it any other way it will squash you, so just don’t let it.
So what other projects do you have coming up?
Mark: Well I’m going back to season two of City on a Hill, that’s a show I do for Showtime. I also just finished a movie done by a really wonderful writer/director/actor named Justin Chon called Blue Bayou, and that is coming out next year sometime. I just finished my own film as well, that I wrote, directed and starred in, that I’m currently editing, so it’s been busy but in the best ways.
I want to thank Mark for taking the time to talk with us