He plays alongside Rifka Lodeizen in the new feature film of Dutch filmmaker Fiona Tan, History’s Future. Mark O’Halloran is of Irish descent and plays MP, a man merely indicated by the name ‘Missing Person’. This impossible role is played by Mark with undeniable persuasion and a fine sense of humor.
MP lost his memory, and with that his past, after falling victim to a street robbery. From that moment on, he has been astray throughout the corners of his brain and Europe in crisis. History’s Future confronts the viewers with the workings of their own brain. It brings about the realization that almost everything we think and do is grounded in the context of historical events, our personal memory and experiences. So, what happens when structures dissolve and you are no longer able to regard yourself within the context of memories? What is left of you or who can you become? And: how does one prepare for the role of a person without any role?
In conversation with Mark at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR):
How does one prepare for a role like this?
In many ways it is impossible to prepare for a role like this in any conventional way. There is no easy ‘method’ that prepares you for the sort of blankness he experiences. I am not much of a ‘Method’ actor either. I come from a theatre background and my theatre work tends to be more movement and dance based. So to prepare I began physically. I thought of his physique and his injuries. I got a bit thinner and a bit fitter. I investigated his injuries with a movement teacher I work with. I went to the gym a lot. I also tried to imagine what it must be like to lose yourself. I imagined it must be a sort of grief and fear that grips you. I carried those two feelings with me.
Not remembering who you are, or being a totally blank canvas seems like something that is quite impossible to comprehend?
It is I guess. And yet I imagine we would be exactly the same. Only without a context to ground us. Context can guard us against fear and panic. Being without it I imagined to be a terrifying place at times.
In which ways did making this film get you thinking about subjects like time, memories and identity?
In many ways. We rehearsed in Amsterdam. I was the only Irish actor on set. A lot of the time I was the only actor on set. I had to speak in a number of different languages. We wandered around Europe filming. In many ways the whole process was about displacement for me.
In which ways are memories meaningful or not?
I think the answer to that is entirely subjective. We all of us carry memories that we afford great weight but when explained to another seem meaningless to trite. We do the same to objects. In our homes we may have a trinket that is outwardly cheap and meaningless but because it was given to us by a loved one or bought at a special time may carry great emotional weight. A weight that is utterly hidden to anyone else.
How do you consider the parallel between your job as an actor, playing a role, and our everyday roleplaying?
I always find it interesting that so many actors are actually shy and quiet individuals. For them the act of taking on a role is also an act of disappearance. Or perhaps it represents the assuming of a protective shield.
It doesn’t seem to go very well in the end for MP. Or at least that is the feeling I got. Do you think playing a role is necessary to succeed?
To succeed we only need to convince ourselves, at a very deep level, of the role we are playing.
In the movie the following three questions are addressed to the viewer. What would your own answers be?
1. What would you do if you woke up and didn’t remember anything?
Probably the same as MP – I’d disappear. After all there would be nothing worth sticking around for.
2. What life would you choose?
3. If you could take along one memory, which one would that be?
My first memory. As a young infant. On a golden beach in the west of Ireland. The sun blazing and being held aloft in my father’s arms.
Published by online magazine Kanvaz, during the International Film Festival Rotterdam, february 2016.