Best known for particularly Irish films like Adam & Paul and Garage, the latest screenplay from Mark O’Halloran, Viva, is set in Havana, and features a tumultuous relationship between a young drag queen and his macho father.
Here Mark O’Halloran, Viva‘s writer, talks to Jarlath Gregory about immersing himself in the Cuban gay scene, his feelings about the rejection of effeminacy in men, and how he laments the mainstreaming of drag culture.
Mark O’Halloran is a gay Dublin-based writer and actor, best known for penning the widely-acclaimed films Adam & Paul and Garage. Having previously explored the darker sides of Irish society in his screenplays, this year Mark invites us on a journey into the life of Jesus, a young Cuban hairdresser who longs to be a drag queen – until his macho father re-enters his life, and forbids his son from performing at the local gay bar.
The result, directed by Paddy Breathnach, is a feel-good movie that never shies away from the more difficult aspects of life in Havana, while showing us how a masculine father and his camp son finally manage to form a bond. I caught up with Mark to discover the inspiration behind the sweet and touching coming-of-age drama Viva.
Why did you set the story in Havana?
Paddy Breathnach asked would I be interested in doing something. He mentioned Cuba, and I thought I might as well see if I could write something completely outside of my own experience.
It was a challenge. Often when these things are done it’s about a foreign person coming in and experiencing it, and I didn’t want to do that. We went over there and the stories were so rich, we hung around with the drag queens, and I wanted to write something about the two extremes of masculinity. I wanted to write a father/son story, possibly to write about my own daddy issues, but to do it in disguise.
The gay scene there is portrayed as quite tight-knit and supportive, but we also see the underbelly of sex work. Is that a fairly accurate portrayal of gay life in Havana?
I think it was as true to gay life in Havana as it could possibly be; it’s a real underground, homemade scene. You cannot get away from the sex work; it’s very present and obvious. You see all the boys clinging to each other. They’re in their early 20s, they’re beautiful looking fellas, but they’re hanging out together and almost hunting in packs.
There’s a lot of drink there but no drugs, and I’ve never heard of a tourist being attacked. So it’s quite a safe place to observe things. I’m fascinated by that financial exchange, what happens when you sell or buy a commodity that involves an exchange of the flesh?
Read on to see what Mark O’Halloran things about drag culture and RuPaul’s Drag Race.