©David Howells 2018 www.davehowellsphoto.com
It was a simple robbery. No simple robbery ever goes as planned.
In Hammer, a father faces a personal crisis when he discovers his estranged son fleeing a botched drug deal. The two men embark on a violent odyssey that grapples with themes of fatherhood, family, and fate.
The film stars Will Patton (Armageddon, The Postman), Mark O’Brien (Ready or Not, Arrival0 and Ben Cotton (The Chronicles of Riddick, Stargate: Atlantis). Christian Sparkes (Cast No Shadow, Ten Days) wrote and directed the movie.
LRM Online exclusively spoke with actor Mark O’Brien over the phone last week about this crime drama. We talked about how he approached the character and working with other castmates.
Mark O’Brien is a versatile actor. Recently, he starred in the horror-comedy Ready or Not, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, and played Jimmy Hill Showtime’s City on a Hill. O’Brien starred in numerous television shows in the past, including Halt and Catch Fire, and The Last Tycoon. He also had appearances in films, such as Bad Times at the El Royale, and The Darkest Minds. He will make his feature film directorial debut with The Righteous.
Additionally, LRM Online has an exclusive clip from the film. Check it out at the top of the article.
Hammer is currently available as a digital download and VOD.
Read the full interview below.
Gig Patta: I checked this film, Hammer. Gosh, it had plenty of action since the beginning of the film. [Laughs]
Mark O’Brien: Yeah, it’s pretty intense.
Gig Patta: Tell me what initially attracted you to a project like Hammer?
Mark O’Brien: The director of Christian Sparkes is a really good friend of mine. He reached out to me a few years ago, and I was more than excited to work with him. I liked his idea for the film. He wanted to tell a tight lean crime, thriller story. That’s a family drama hidden underneath it. I was immediately drawn into it. The role was someone who does criminal acts but is someone who could be having a family and living a very normal life. But, he decided to do these things. It was important to me to play the character, not in a way that’s this gritty, badass dude, rather play more real as just someone who makes these bad mistakes even though he’s a pretty smart, well-meaning kind of guy.
Gig Patta: How did you want to prepare for your role and the approach towards this character?
Mark O’Brien: It was the first time I’ve infused a lot of myself into it. In the past few years, I played darker characters or characters with a lot of psychological turmoil. It was a first role that made sense for it to relate to how I would be going through this in a way? I thought that that was important.
To be honest, that’s something you always want to do as an actor. You don’t necessarily want to play someone else. You want to be like a character. In a way, it’s not that sexy of an idea, but it worked and made sense. How I went about was thinking about it from that viewpoint. Just thinking about what this guy is going through a minute to minute is what I had to focus on. It’s changing from minute to minute with the stakes are so high. There are facts he’s leaving out, and there are facts he’s telling. He needs something, but he’s not explaining it thoroughly. It’s almost like a weird game of chess playing at a hundred miles an hour. I found that as the challenge by keeping the stakes super high and also allowing for them to change constantly.
Gig Patta: Well, I liked the character for the fact that he made quite a few bad decisions during the entire film.
Mark O’Brien: He did that. That’s the thing. It’s great to play someone who’s doing all the wrong things. There’s somewhere to go with it. He’s digging himself in a hole always. That’s attractive for an actor because you get to play different forms of conflict along the way as opposed to playing like some kind of just straight line or not much at stake. I love that.
Gig Patta: Since this is much more like an indie project. Did you do your stunts in a film like this?
Mark O’Brien: Yeah, I did. I learned how to ride a dirt bike. What we called it where I’m from, it’s a motorbike. I’d never ridden one of those before, let alone driving it myself. There were a couple of sequences where he’s going very fast on a motorbike on streets through traffic without a helmet. It was enjoyable. I didn’t do all of it, more like 90% of it.
That’s the fun of it too. I like dangerous. I do want to do my stunts. There had been times in the past where sometimes you’re not even told that the stunt department is taking over. They do in a way as if they steal your character. It burned me in the past. [Laughs] Probably, I’m the only one who noticed on that’s not exactly how I would do that physically. It sticks in my memory. I like to do it, knowing that I’m in control of the performance. [The stunt] is part of the performance, unless it’s super dangerous. Then I’m just like, “Cool. I’ll sit over here.”
Gig Patta: I’m curious. What was it like to do something for the first time, such as riding a motorbike?
Mark O’Brien: You know what? It ups the pressures, but that also raises your ability. I just got to get it done. I just got to figure this out. It’s not so much about my safety. It’s about that we got to get this [shot]. One day, I was filming on the bike weaving through traffic. I was going pretty fast–maybe like at 50 or 60 miles per hour. I’ve only been riding the bike for a week at that point.
At that moment, we were also losing light. We got to get it. And it was freezing outside. [Laughs] I was like, “I’m cold, man. We got to get the shot.” It ups your ability in a way. Whereas if I was at home learning how to ride a bike, the pressure would not be on it as much. The pressure spurs you to nail it and makes you focused. I love that in films when you have to learn how to do something, and there’s no choice. It has to be good. It has to be serviceable.
Gig Patta: You mentioned it was cold, but I couldn’t pinpoint where this story was taking place for production. Could you tell us about the area?
Mark O’Brien: I think it was interesting about it too with that Christian didn’t want to say where it was. It didn’t matter. For the story, it isn’t about the place.
We did physically shoot into Sault St. Marie in Ontario, which is essential that the movie is set in a border town. We just didn’t say where it was. We also shot in Newfoundland in Canada. I loved things that happen to be set somewhere. The city doesn’t play a role in a name. It just plays a role in physicality, with the landscape. It was cool that he decided to do that. In every movie, for example, we’re in Pittsburgh. Let’s show it’s Pittsburgh! Here’s a shot of the stadium! Do you know what I mean? It’s just a place with these physical structures.
Gig Patta: That is fascinating because I thought the film took place podunk town in the Midwest or Southwest due to that cornfield.
Mark O’Brien: That’s cool that you thought that. It makes the audience a participant, too, by not saying where it is. You get caught up in the drama in a weirdly sneaky way, which I think is pretty cool.
Gig Patta: Tell me more about that cornfield. You got to revisit that site quite a few times. It looked like a lot of fun that you got to shoot in that cornfield. [Laughs]
Mark O’Brien: It was cool. I don’t like to complain about harsh conditions, but running through those things–they slice you. When you run through those corn husks, I would come out with my arms sliced, not bleeding, just with cuts. They give you like hives sometimes too. They’re irritating to the skin. Then there’s the sun since there’s no shade. The sun is beating down on you.
This character was on eleven for the whole movie, so the stakes are so high. There are the sweat and cornfield. Cinematically, I could feel how this was going to be cool. There’s something about a cornfield. We’ve seen it. We haven’t seen it a lot. An obvious example would like North by Northwest. We’ve seen it, but there’s something so cinematic about it. It has this nice quality. Even though the conditions weren’t completely comfortable all the time, it felt invigorating. It felt like cinematically that this was going to pop.
Gig Patta: I know you’re not the director. How did Christian pull off filming in the cornfield? That must have been relatively difficult for him?
Mark O’Brien: I was surprised that they found this giant cornfield. It posed its challenges, but it gives these benefits too. There’s a part where I’m hiding amongst the corn stalks. It gives you these little cinematic nuggets that you could play with for amazing quality. By you’re saying on pulling it off, you can show a character hiding from another character. He filmed that right next to one another because all the background looked the same. It’s not this big wide shot of this building that you have to reset with the crew and computer on the other side.
You can set up the shot almost anywhere because it all looks the same. It has these deceiving little qualities. Being said, I think they had to pay for it. Someone owns that cornfield. Each stalk was like 10 cents or something. We destroy a lot of stalks. I’m sure that they were covered. We had to destroy some of it since we’re running through it and knocking them over. I’m dying to know what the cost report was on the stalks. I trampled enough just by myself.
Gig Patta: Were there corn that you got to take back?
Mark O’Brien: By the end of it, I was so sick of corn and to look at it. [Laughs] Get me away. I think I developed an allergy to it by the end of it.
Gig Patta: Let’s take a turn to talk about your cast. I’m going to start with Ben Cotton, who is quite terrifying going after you the whole movie.
Mark O’Brien: Ben is wonderful. Ben is completely different from that character. He is a sweetheart–nothing like what you see on camera. It was great working with him. He had this intimidating presence all the time when we’re filming. Man, I feel like he’s going to beat me up. He has that presence, and Ben can slip into it so easily. With any good performer you’re working with, oftentimes they’re a good actor, and you’ll get great stuff from working with them.
Gig Patta: Of course, we have to talk about Will Patton. I love him in everything. He plays your father in this project. Could you talk about working alongside Will?
Mark O’Brien: I love Will. As you said, he’s the actor that everyone’s like, “I love that guy!” He’s been great for 35 years. I’ve seen Will in over 20 movies. His strength is exemplified in Armageddon. For me, that’s the first time I remembered seeing him in a movie when I was like 13. He was so heartbreaking. He has this humanity that kind of always bleeds through. There’s a gentleness to him and this thoughtfulness. In a movie like Armageddon, that move is over the top and ridiculous. He has this thing that transcends it. That’s why I referenced that movie. It’s not the most popular, because it’s as most pop entertainment movie he’s ever done. And it’s beautiful somehow.
That’s what I like about him as an actor. There’s a heart and soul in his performance. He has that as a human being too. He’s thoughtful about how he works and about finding the right notes. And he’s also fun. We had a good time together. We found a rhythm together very early on.
Sometimes, you think about it early on. I get to work with Will Patton, who’s a great actor. At the same time, I don’t know what our rhythm is going to be. I don’t know exactly how he’s going to do it. I know it’s going to be good, but how are we going to match up? We fell into it right away. I felt like there was a backstory there that didn’t even need to be said when you were watching the two characters together. He’s a wonderful performer.
Gig Patta: I’ve seen you on so many TV shows and movies. The latest thing I’ve seen you was Ready or Not. That movie was great. How do you choose your projects? What do you typically look for?
Mark O’Brien: I choose them very carefully. Early on, I realized, “Oh! These things are going to live forever.” It comes down to the director. The director is everything. I’ve read a script and responded, “We’ll see. We’ll see.” Then you’ll meet the director, and you’re like, “Yeah, it’s going to be great.” It’s so important to work with the director, because not just how they work–but am I going to enjoy this? These are the days of my life on set. I want to enjoy it. It has to tick a lot of boxes for me. It has to be a character that I want to see in the world. I want to see this movie. I have something to say personally by playing the role or something I want to say with it.
There are a couple of movies like that I’m looking at right now. Some of the characters, I don’t necessarily know I want to play. The great challenge with that is maybe I can bring something else to it that’s not on the page. I look forward to as well it is with as a challenge. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, I want to work with great directors, and I want a great script. I want a cool role.” I like seeing what else I can bring to it that I didn’t see on the page. With Hammer, it was about making this a regular smart, capable guy, as opposed to a dingy criminal that we’ve seen before. So that was what I wanted to bring to it. I’d like to bring somebody that’s not necessarily on the page that excites me and then knowing you’re in good hands.
Gig Patta: You did manage to accomplish that.
Mark O’Brien: Thanks! You never know. [Laughs]
Gig Patta: Let me start wrapping things up here. I checked out your filmography. Speaking of direction, you are directing a film called the Righteous. Could you talk about that film and the experience with it?
Mark O’Brien: We finished shooting. We’re a bit delayed in post-production from COVID. Now we’re kind of ramping back up. I’m really happy with it. It’s a very interesting film in black and white. It’s about a man who fears the wrath of eventual god. He was visited by a mysterious stranger played by me. It’s a slightly otherworldly mystery in sorts of psychological horror. I never really been into that genre, but I had a story to tell in that genre. I was very lucky to get Henry Czerny from Ready or Not, who played my father that film. He’s the lead of Righteous, and he’s fantastic. He’s incredible.
We shot it in 15 days. It was a very tight shoot, but we planned it out well. Looking at it now, I said to my editor and the producer, “I don’t know if it’s good. I have no idea. I’ll never know if it’s good, but it’s the movie I wanted to make.” So I was able to execute it. [Laughs] It’s not up for me to judge. It was a great experience that I can’t wait to make the next one.
Gig Patta: Why the decision to make it black and white? And why did you want to direct yourself?
Mark O’Brien: It came to me in black and white. It was just a black and white story. For no other reason, it should be in black and white. I can’t describe why. I pictured it unfolding in black and white in my mind. As we went further, it’s very gothic. It harkens back to these gothic films with these images. They work better in black and white. When you’re on a lower budget, black and white works in your favor a little bit, it was a creative instinctual decision from day one to be perfectly honest.
In directing it myself, I’ve always wanted to direct. I made a lot of shorts. It’s hard to manage an acting career as well as directing. You need to be available for an extended period of time to direct a film, which hasn’t been the case. And it’s tough to get it off the ground too. It’s a full-time job just trying to get a movie greenlit. Finally, I put my head down and told myself, “This is it.” I worked with a great producer named Mark O’Neill and Allison White, and we just got the thing made.
I think directing yourself as an actor, and I find it quite conducive if you’re comfortable with yourself as an actor. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I know this role. It’ll be easier for me to perform this role than it will be to communicate it to someone else. It’s a very bizarre character that I’m playing. Very, very bizarre. I’m the best actor for the job. I’m sure a thousand actors within a hundred-mile radius of me in Los Angeles could play the part better, but they wouldn’t be able to play it the way that I saw it in my head. I know that I can do that for better or worse. I’m not good enough of a communicator to tell someone what I’m thinking. I wouldn’t put it on my talent as an actor. I put it on my lack of ability as a communicator, and that’s the reason I directed myself. [Laughs]
Gig Patta: Well, I’m excited to see it. Before I let you go, I noticed that you’re in Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou, which I talked to him a couple of times about the film. How is that going?
Mark O’Brien: They’re getting close. I did some ADR recordings the other day. I got to see it. It’s beautiful from what I’ve seen. It was like a wonderful script. Justin is a 10 out of 10 guy. He’s a great actor, and he’s a great director. This is a nice next step for him after Gook and then Ms. Purple. He elevated his game even further, in my opinion. I was a fan of his already.
Alicia Vikander is wonderful in the film. It’s very topical as well. What I love about Justin is that he’s got a lot of guts as a performer, a writer, and a director. At the same time as being so gutsy and strong-willed, he is the gentlest, nicest person you could ever meet. I would work again with him.
Gig Patta: Hey, excellent. I appreciate you speaking with me about the film Hammer. I do wish you good luck on your projects, and I can’t wait to check out your movie.
Mark O’Brien: Thanks so much, man. Yeah, I’ll make sure you see it as soon as we get it done.
Gig Patta: Excellent. Thank you very much—next time.
Mark O’Brien: Thanks so much, man. Take care.
Hammer is currently available as a digital download and VOD.
Source: LRM Online Exclusive, Vertical Entertainment