Clerks Star Recalls His Career and Irish Heritage
by Brad Balfour
If it weren’t for events such as the Big Apple Comic Con — now taking place this March 25th and 26th (www.bigapplecc.com) — American actor, producer, and podcaster Brian O’Halloran wouldn’t have had the chance to reach out and meet his audience in a friendly setting. But a con like the BACC is totally conceived with the touchy-feely experience in mind.
It’s no wonder he draws fans to such an event. By playing Dante Hicks in Clerks, Kevin Smith’s 1994 debut, he became part of a low-rent comedy of punkish pop characters that became a cult classic.
He has also made appearances in most of Smith’s View Askewniverse films, either as Dante Hicks or one of Dante’s cousins. Born in Manhattan, he lived in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey, since he was 13. A second-generation Irish American, both his parents emigrated from Ireland. Sadly, the 53-year-old’s father died when he was 15 years old. Once he graduated from Cedar Ridge High School, he pursued acting starting with Clerks. He returned many times to reprise his role as Dante Hicks in its 2006 and ’22 sequels Clerks II and Clerks III.
O’Halloran is the lead actor in Vulgar a 2000 film about a small-town clown who is traumatized after he’s attacked during one of his performances. Writer/director Bryan Johnson wrote the lead specifically with O’Halloran in mind. He has worked on theatre productions since high school. Since Clerks, O’Halloran has primarily been a stage actor, working with the Boomerang Theatre Company, the New Jersey Repertory Company and the Tri-State Actors Theatre, among others. In 2020, O’Halloran began presenting his own pop culture podcast, “The O’HalloRant,” on YouTube.
What is it like being part of a franchise? Did you ever expect that would happen and hope that would happen? And as a result, how has it changed your life?
No. When we first made the very first Clerks back in 1993, [director] Kevin Smith was just writing about his actual job. The thing that he did was working at a convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey. The fact is that we then shot that film in the store after hours, late at night, and we were able to get accepted into the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, where it skyrocketed in popularity. Then being picked up by Miramax and being distributed around the world – going to the Cannes Film Festival and things after that. And then getting a deal with Universal and all these great studios, Lionsgate and stuff after that with these other films was a big shock, to be honest with you. Just some guys out of Jersey just doing the thing they loved to do, which is comedy.
Were you doing acting before you did that film? Was acting always in your blood?
Yeah, I had started doing theater in high school, college, and then local community theater in the Central Jersey area, Monmouth County. I did some off-off-Broadway stuff here in Manhattan and was doing that for about three or four years prior to meeting Kevin. Theater is the best training you can do as an actor. To be in front of a live audience, there’s no “Stop, wait, oh geez, what was that line again?” It just sharpens your reflexes. It sharpens your interaction. And it definitely sharpens your memory because you have to know an entire show from beginning to end.
Chasing Amy is probably my favorite Kevin Smith film, and it was a really critically acclaimed film in its time. It was ahead of its time. How has it impacted on you, and how have you seen people’s reaction to it?
It’s definitely one of the best-written films of Kevin’s career. It was nominated for a Spirit Award for Best Screenplay. Joey Lauren Adams, the lead in that film, was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. So, it was giving more credibility to Kevin’s career. We had won awards at Sundance and at Con with the original Clerks, but this was a topic that I thought was never approached in a mainstream way like he did. It was based on real life experience that Kevin had experienced himself. So, it was good to see that that storyline resonated with so many people in many communities, not only the gay and lesbian community, but also in just the relationship. It’s a romantic story that just so happens to tackle gay relationships.
How much of Clerks was improvised and how much of it was scripted?
The first script was 95% scripted. Kevin was not a big fan of improvisation at all. When he got into Mallrats that was straight-up scripted. And Chasing Amy very much so. Even though Ben Affleck tried to riff, so to speak, from time to time, Kevin would be like, “Yeah, why don’t you just come back to my script? You go write your own script there, boy.” Then eventually he did and won an Oscar for it so, who knows. But what was good about that and Kevin is really his dialogue. His strength is his dialogue. That’s what brings me back to doing work with him all the time. He has such an ear for dialogue that’s realistic, yet funny, yet tackles subjects that you don’t hear normally in movies.
I believe you have some horror films in your background as well.
I’ve never done a horror film straight up. I’ve done a film that’s a mockumentary about making up a horror film called Brutal Massacre, a comedy, and that’s about it with David Naughton, Gunnar Hansen, Ken Phiri, and many others. You’re watching a film crew as they make this horror film. Written and directed by Stevan Mena, it’s very funny. I do make a cameo in David Lee Madison’s horror film called Mr. Hush. I’m towards the end of the film for that one. Then there have been bit parts in other small films as well.
So now are you making films yourself in the future or that you’re working on?
Right now I have a couple of scripts that I’ve been writing that I’m still working on. As far as jumping on the other side of the camera, that is one of my goals right now. I’ve been in front of the camera most of my career, so I look forward to working and jumping to that side.
Now let’s talk about the most important bit of your history. Let’s talk about your Irish roots.
My family came from Ireland in 1965 here to New York City. We settled in the Bronx. I was born here in Manhattan in 1969, lived in the Bronx until 1979. Then we moved to New Jersey. But every summer we went home, as we would call it, back to the west coast of Ireland, hung out in Galway, went up to Sligo and stuff like that. So, I’m the only one who’s American here. My father used to tease me like, you’re the only one who could be president of this country. I’m like, well, who wants it. But what’s great is I’ve been able to go back numerous times. I love my Irish heritage. I’ve used it to my advantage a few times because I’m proud of it. I’ve done numerous Irish plays. I definitely would love to do a film over there at some point. The film industry in Ireland is huge.
It’s growing all the time.
It is growing all the time. And with the tax credits that the Irish Arts Council puts out, it’s really affordable. As you saw The House of Dragon was recently filmed there, many, many period pieces, especially when you film out into the West Coast on the southern coast of Ireland. It’s gorgeous. It’s an untouched country that really gives you that essence that I love. So, the fact that every time I hear, whenever I come to New York City, especially Manhattan, and I hear that accent, I’m like, oh, where are you from? Then we get to chat and then it only takes me not even a few days when I’m over there to get back into the accent. It takes me about a week once I’m home here to get rid of it.
I think there’s a movie in all this. Where’s your Irish movie?
Yeah, there should be, there should be.
But anyhow, what’s coming up?
People can follow me at @BrianCOHalloran on Twitter and Instagram and @TheBrianCOHalloran on Facebook. I’ll be releasing a new website here next year where people can follow me as to what I’m up to. I’m in talks with two production companies right now for films next year. I know we’ve just wrapped up Clerks 3. That was the most recent release, which went really well for us. Hopefully, we’re working on Mallrats 2 next year, but we’ll see.
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