Newfoundland actor Mark O’Brien makes his directorial debut with supernatural psychological thriller ‘The Righteous’
ST. JOHN’S, NL — With his directorial debut, Mark O’Brien wants to hook you in a way you’re not used to. he wants you to come back impacted and wondering what you just saw.
And you go.
With “The Righteous,” which hits Canadian theaters Friday, June 3, O’Brien brings you a stark, supernatural thriller about good and evil, penance and retribution.
O’Brien says he was aiming for something challenging, different and strange; a film he wouldn’t have made until recently discovering what he describes as the genre film’s power to tell a story without putting people off.
“I think that’s why I’ve avoided them in the past. It felt like no one needed to see that, really, unless it was a solid argument. I think you can say more with a genre film without disgusting anyone,” he says.
O’Brien, a Paradise native, is perhaps best known — in Canada, anyway — as fan-favorite Des Courtney, the sometimes clumsy but smart PI apprentice with a heart of gold on “Republic of Doyle. Living in LA in recent years, O’Brien’s credits include the TV series “City on a Hill” and (currently) “61st Street” and “Perry Mason,” as well as movies like “Marriage Story,” starring Scarlett Johansson, and “Goalie,” in which he played hockey goaltender Terry Sawchuck.
O’Brien is no stranger to the other side of the camera, directing, writing and producing short films since 2005.
He created “The Righteous” after thinking about how people cling to things that hold them back.
“It’s amazing to me how many people I know who harbor things, are afraid to face them. It just pushes you away,” he explains. “I thought to myself, what if I could take that and turn it into some kind of otherworldly tale that has great evocations of God and your soul and that kind of stuff It’s not the normal kind of thing (audiences) are used to see.
“The Righteous” has a cast of six, led by Henry Czerny (“The Boys of St. Vincent,” “Mission: Impossible”) as former Catholic priest Frederic Mason. Fellow Canadian actor Mimi Kuzyk (“Hill Street Blues”) plays his wife, Ethel, while Kate Corbett, Mayko Nguyen and Nigel Bennett also star.
O’Brien plays Aaron, a wounded stranger with an incredible agenda who shows up on their doorstep in the midst of tragedy and endangers Frederic’s relationship with God.
O’Brien never wrote the role of Aaron with himself in mind, but as the script developed, he felt he would have difficulty directing another actor in the role. It wasn’t a performance he felt he could articulate; he just had to do it.
“I thought it might be interesting if I did that because there are certain attributes to this character that I sometimes play in other characters, and I know how to play that role. To translate that to someone else? I thought I wasn’t a good enough director to direct this performance,” he says.
“As time goes by as an actor, I like to talk about it less from a director. I’m like, let’s do it and see what happens. I hate, in this business , talk about work. Let’s go, let’s do it.
“The Righteous” emerged from this year’s Canadian Screen Awards and Directors Guild of Canada Awards with multiple nominations and enjoyed success on the film festival circuit, winning O’Brien Awards for Best Screenplay at the film Fantasia from Montreal and the Grimmfest and Manchester Best Cinematography awards. for cinematographer Scott McClellan at Grimmfest and Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival.
“I hate, in this business, to talk about work. Let’s go, let’s do it.”
— Mark O’Brien
The film is shot in black and white to add to the mystery, says O’Brien.
“It’s hard to convince people of that, I’ll tell you, but I had to stick to it,” he laughs. “The film, in many ways, feels like a giant nightmare and I don’t remember a nightmare being in color. It’s a wordy piece. I wanted to cling to every word.
O’Brien is currently at home in St. John’s for the premiere of “The Righteous” at Cineplex Scotiabank Theater on June 3 at 7:05 p.m. and a live Q&A with CBC “Q” host Tom Power. afterwards. He’s happy to be home, excited about the local screening and proud, as always, to be a Newfoundlander.
No matter what project he’s doing, where or what genre, they’re all grounded in Des, says O’Brien.
“It informs so much of what I do. Everything I do is like acting school, it never ends, but playing Des was like acting school for me because I did six seasons of a show, at home, with people I I loved, and I learned every day. I hold Des very close to my heart. It is very important for me. I have nothing but loving thoughts about it and I think of Des all the time.
“The Righteous” will be available on demand on Apple TV, Bell, Google Play and other streaming platforms on June 24.