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Newfoundland actor Mark O’Brien on working in Hollywood and his best role yet: a dad

Mark O’Brien spent six seasons playing Des Courtney on CBC’s “Republic of Doyle” before moving to Los Angeles, Calif. Since then, he has earned a number of roles in some high-profile projects.
Mark O’Brien spent six seasons playing Des Courtney on CBC’s “Republic of Doyle” before moving to Los Angeles, Calif. Since then, he has earned a number of roles in some high-profile projects. - Submitted

“Can you give me 15 seconds? I got a baby thing happening,” Mark O’Brien says at the beginning of a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles, Calif.

He puts down the phone, and tiny newborn coos can be heard before he comes back.

“OK, that’s better,” he says.

This year has been one of O’Brien’s most successful to date, with last month’s birth of his first child, daughter Penelope, at the top of the list.

“Oh my God, it’s the best,” says the new father, 33. “The hard part is having to listen to all the advice people give you and trying to weed out the good from the bad.”

O’Brien, a native of St. John’s, is perhaps best known as the breakaway star of CBC-TV’s “Republic of Doyle,” having played Des Courtney for the full six seasons of the program. He and his wife, Georgina Reilly, (of “Murdoch Mysteries” fame) moved to L.A. about four years ago. It was a decision they made together, knowing it’s where the most opportunities are when it comes to film and TV.

The novelty of living in Movietown, O’Brien says, hasn’t yet worn off.

O’Brien got an L.A. agent and says he was clear about his ideal kind of work: projects by auteur directors are his thing. People with a strong grasp on what they want to create, he explains.

His first job was on AMC TV’s “Halt and Catch Fire,” which ended in October. It didn’t get great ratings, O’Brien says, but it got fantastic reviews and O’Brien loved being part of it.

The work didn’t stop there: O’Brien was cast in a series of sci-fi projects, including the Hollywood Blockbuster “Arrival” alongside Amy Adams and Forest Whitaker; “Parallel”; and “Kin,” an action thriller with James Franco and Dennis Quaid. He also appeared in the Amazon series “The Last Tycoon.”

About a month ago, O’Brien wrapped shooting on the movie “The Frontrunner,” a political drama starring Hugh Jackman.

Written and directed by Jason Reitman, the film is based on the career of former Colorado senator Gary Hart, who was seen as the frontrunner for the 1988 race for the Democratic presidential nomination until an alleged affair with former Miss South Carolina Donna Rice came to light.

O’Brien plays Billy Shore, Hart’s aide-de-camp. He says he hasn’t yet met Shore, though the pair follow each other on Instagram.

“I don’t think it helps to talk to people you’re playing (on film),” O’Brien says. “I don’t know, I mean, they’re already there on the page. I don’t want to do an impression of him. He’s an amazing guy. I think you have to put your own spin on it when you play a real person. I think I did.”

Jackman, O’Brien says, was also amazing.

“He is the most professional, kind person. Every Friday he’d bring scratch tickets in for the people on set, and he was always talking about his wife and kids. He’s incredibly talented, and just a really open person.”

While shooting “Frontrunner” in Atlanta, O’Brien got the news he had landed another ideal role: he’ll star in “City on a Hill,” a pilot TV project picked up by Showtime, with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as executive producers.

O’Brien had sent in an audition video from L.A., and then flew to New York when the director wanted to meet him.

“It’s a role I wanted so badly,” O’Brien explains.

Set in Boston in the early 1990s, the show sees O’Brien as the younger brother of a notorious gangster, tormented by addiction issues and coaxed into robbing a bank.

“He’s unpredictable. He’s got his own psychological demons. He’s a really loose, uninhibited character, unlike anything I’ve ever done. I like this role a lot.”

O’Brien admits he often misses “Republic of Doyle,” and not only playing the role of Des (which earned him a 2011 Canadian Comedy Award nomination for Best Male Television Performance).

It’s the people and the fun he misses most, he says, as well as the freedom he was given on set to improvise and make the character his own. He hasn’t experienced anything quite like it since the show wrapped.

Before he left for L.A., O’Brien had started making his own short films, including the award-winning “Kathy,” and “Better People,” which earned him the Best Atlantic Short Film Award at the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival.

He currently has about half a dozen — yep, half a dozen — films in development.

“If I’m going to make features, I’ve got to start doing them right,” he says. “There are a couple things I want to shoot in Newfoundland, so we’ll see what bites.”

Busy times, especially when baby Penelope is added to the mix.

O’Brien laughs and says he only takes breaks when he’s forced to, like on an airplane or waiting on set in his trailer. Life is good, he says, and he and Reilly think L.A. is where they’ll stay.

“Yeah, I think so, though we were talking the other day, saying we’d like to shoot something on the east coast. We’ll see where the work takes us. That’s the life of an actor, but it’s OK for us right now. We like it.”

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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