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NEW YORK — Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe is the first to admit that his interest in screenwriting was purely financial. While he was working on “Howie the Rookie,” a dark pair of interrelated monologues about a brawl between pub crawlers in Dublin that had its New York premiere three years ago at P.S. 122, O’Rowe realized that he had the chops to tell a story.
“‘Howie the Rookie’ was so narrative-based that it was almost a pitch for a movie,” O’Rowe explains from Dublin, where he lives with his wife and daughter. “There’s very little money in the theater, and I thought it was time to start making some.”
O’Rowe, 33, came up with “Intermission,” an ensemble comedy that takes place in Tallaght, Ireland (where he grew up), and chronicles the intersecting lives of some 54 characters, including a woman who refuses to shave her mustache; a nasty criminal played by Colin Farrell and his two bank-robbing cronies — one who puts chef’s sauce in his coffee and another who has a hilariously torrid affair with an older woman. The film, which opens Friday and will be distributed throughout the country into April, has bursts of sudden violence, though it’s quite hopeful and romantic, and thus marks a departure from O’Rowe’s stagework, which takes place in a bleak and sometimes horrific urban landscape.
“I didn’t want to write something that would have less of a chance of getting made,” says O’Rowe. “My note to myself was to write something funny and fairly fast-moving.”
The playwright doesn’t map anything out beforehand, either, which is especially surprising considering the constant interweaving of scenes and characters, à la Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts,” that make up the movie. “I usually begin with just a couple of characters talking,” he says. “I’d get slightly bogged down, so I’d just invent a new character, and in following him, I could solve the problem of what I could do with another character. But sometimes you think, ‘Oh my God, this is a mess.’”
Though O’Rowe continues to write plays — he says he finds them more freeing because “you can indulge the exact stuff you want to say” — he’s just turned in a second screenplay, called “Perrier’s Bounty.” It’s about a guy on the run with two sidekicks, one who is trying to commit suicide and the other who believes if he falls asleep, he’ll die.
Success on both the stage and screen is an exciting prospect for someone who’d only seen two or three plays in his youth and claims he didn’t see a serious film until he was 20. “I was part of the generation that brought the VCR and all I really watched were horror movies, kung fu movies and Chuck Norris movies,” O’Rowe recalls. “When you’re young, you aren’t interested in plot or acting. You’re just looking for the horrible slasher scene coming up.”
— Marshall Heyman