Irish actor and screenwriter Mark O'Halloran will be featured in CraicFest's Queer Ireland panel discussion on June 10 about his LGBT film "Viva" and how times and attitudes have changed in Ireland.

Things were supposed to be so different. Actor and screenwriter Mark O'Halloran was scheduled to be here in New York as the special guest of "Queer Ireland," a series of panel discussions and screenings held during the Craic Fest's LGBT Pride Month events, but the coronavirus changed all that. 

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Like so many other Irish cultural events lately (and even Pride itself) the event has instead moved online on to June 10 and 17 where it will be open to all. 

O'Halloran will talk about his work as a writer and actor (best known for classic Irish films such as "Adam & Paul," "Garage" and the forthcoming film "Rialto," starring Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and about the passion he has for Irish film and culture.

The interview will be moderated online by Craic Fest founder Terence Mulligan and a panel discussion will follow. 

“I was supposed to go over and be part of the Craic Fest and the brief was to contextualize queer culture in an Irish context, that is to say in the context of the Irish canon and Irish history and culture,” O'Halloran tells IrishCentral from his home in Dublin. 

“I was going to just talk about the work that I've done and the work I'm doing. I'm not any great academic though, I just want people to understand the wealth of experience that gay and queer people have brought to Irish culture and how important it is both historically and to the wider culture.”

O'Halloran's own journey mirrors the changes that have come to Ireland. At 50, he well remembers what it was like to be a closeted teen in the west of Ireland in the 1980s. For that reason, his work tends to explore the lives of people who are marginalized and unseen, like the heroine addicted addicts of "Adam & Paul" or the isolated and alienated garage attendant Josie in "Garage."

“Well, you know when I was coming to terms with my own homosexuality in the West of Ireland in the 1980's it felt like I was always going to be on the outside. I thought I was always going to have to keep it a secret from my family. You had to keep it secret from the wider society back then."

"So the choice was you either had to leave or to totally repress yourself. I personally decided to leave rather than do that. It was also a time that was at the height of the AIDS pandemic, Section 28 was going through parliament and Britain and Ireland were just anti-gay in so many ways.”

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Since O'Halloran was being forced to live outside of ordinary social conventions, he developed an appreciation of what it means to be an outsider. “I've always been interested in outsiders and the idea that you can be completely removed from your society and yet be living in the midst of it. I think that's kind of where a lot of my work comes from.”

He had two choices back then, O'Halloran remembers. “You either become, you know, totally buttoned up or you can become the clown, you can allow yourself to be laughed at and ridiculed and be a  ridiculous person. Personally, I think that's really corrosive and so I didn't try to do that, you know?”

In his film "Viva," the 2017 Cuba-set coming of age drama he will discuss at "Queer Ireland," O'Halloran introduces us to young Jesus (Hector Medina) a teenager who's fascination with the drag scene in Havana quickly brings him into conflict with his macho father, who is appalled by his sons interests and orientation.

“Cuban culture and Cuban people remind me of Irish people in lots of ways,” says O'Halloran. “They are what I call damaged jokers. They are obsessed with their own history, with the conflicts they have with their powerful next door neighbor."

"They define themselves as being not that person. Yet there's also this thing where they have this intense pride in their nationality. They will tell you oh nothing works here, cause Cuba is sh--. But they're also so proud of what Cuba has achieved and how it's standing up to America in the region or whatever.”

The father in "Viva" is very macho and at times very violent. Irish men tend to be more stoic though, they keep it all in, they don't go in for confrontations, which in some ways is worse. Would he agree?

“Cuba is a very masculine society. I wanted to write something about the extremes of masculinity that exist there. You know the drag queens and the macho men.”

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“When I was growing up in the West of Ireland, the one thing that I was terrified of was my own a femininity. I can be quite effeminate you know, as a kid I was painfully feminine and I always felt that was the thing that was giving me away or making me suspect or a target. So I constantly policing where I put my hands, how I said things, how I crossed my legs. This constant body policing that I did on myself, and so funnily enough, I wish I'd seen some drag queens being really powerful, you know. So in "Viva" I was exploring Cuban culture, but I was also exploring my own past.”

In "Garage," the theme is male loneliness in some one-horse town midlands Ireland. “That film is about how men can sometimes isolate themselves because of all the macho bullsh-t they surround themselves with. It can make it so that they're unable to reference or speak of their own feelings or their vulnerabilities. And Josie's (Pat Shortt) life is about that, how we leave ourselves so abandoned sometimes, you know?”

Do you feel like LGBT representation in Irish film still has a ways to go or is it improving, I ask him? “Well, nobody wants to produce a coming-out movie now, you know, the thinking is they've seen it before. But I've just recently finished a pilot of a TV script about Roger Casement that deals with his sexuality very head-on, because I think it's actually integral to his political beliefs.

"And so writing that was rather interesting, but a coming-out tale, which would have been radical in the mid-nineties, is now thought less relevant. We don't want to see that anymore. I think nowadays you have to come at it in a different way. And I think producers want that want a more complex vision of what it is to be gay, you know?”

Roger Casement in 1909 (Getty Images)

Roger Casement in 1909 (Getty Images)

Casement is an Irish gay historical figure who is ripe for reassessment. Are you a fan? “I'm completely obsessed with him. He's an amazing character who shapeshifts through his career and the speed of his transformation is really interesting. In 1910 he went to South America and uncovered the genocide going on there in the rubber plantations. He uncovered unbelievable brutality.” 

“He said that the colonial system is the greatest evil perpetuated in the modern world. He said it's materialistic at all times and only ever humanitarian a very long time after. I think his outsider status as a homosexual helped him to see what his contemporaries couldn't or wouldn't see.”

The Queer Ireland event, presented by Craic Fest, is scheduled for Wednesday, June 10. To join the discussion log onto TheCraicFest.com for the live interview on June 10 at 5 pm EST. The film screenings will take place on June 17. Check the Craic Fest website for further details.

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