Brian O’Halloran is best known to audiences as Dante Hicks, the begrudgingly dutiful store clerk in Kevin Smith’s iconic 1994 indie film Clerks. O’Hallaron would reprise his role of Dante in Clerks: The Animated Series, as well as 2006’s Clerks 2. Since Clerks, O’Halloran has popped up in a variety of other roles in Smith films, and has worked steadily on stage and on screen, including playing the titular role in the 2002 black comedy Vulgar.
We recently caught up with O’Halloran at Buffalo’s Nickel City Con.
You still do a lot of theater work, correct?
Yeah, theater was my first love as an actor. I enjoy performing in front of an audience. You’re getting that energy off of an audience, especially if you’re doing a comedy and you’re getting the laughs. Plus in theater you’re often doing multiple performances in front of people, so you get to correct things, make it better, make it bigger if it needs to be. Last year I did a production of a Few Good Men, and the year before that i did the Crucible. I still work with the New Jersey Repertory Company, which does nothing but original work, and Boomerang out of New York City, and a few other theater companies. It’s definately a passion.
How would you describe the differences between making adjustments to performance on stage versus on a film set?
Well, theater gives you the luxury of a decent amount of rehearsal schedule.You’ll get a minimum of two weeks to rehearse, and at best you’ll get a month. On a film you’re lucky if you get three or four days to rehearse, because the production schedule or budget doesn’t allow for it. Now obviously big budget films they may send you out to boot camp, but on the indie type of films that i enjoy doing, because they’re generally better written stories and characters, you tend to try to get your shit together as soon as possible. With live theater, you’re usually working with a great group of cast mates that you can feed off of., and if somebody stumbles or falls a good cast can cover it. I always say it’s like playing shortstop. If a ball gets past someone, somebody has got to cover that base. That’s a skill set that I enjoy as a theater actor. I think that was the benefit that got me the role of Dante. Kevin [Smith] is a very prolific writer, very precise and very robust. Kevin finds a way to use the words on your English exam that you never thought you’d ever use. To have the amount of dialog he has in scripts, I think it was a bonus to have theater actors in his first film.
Clerks was so dialogue heavy that it could have been written as a play.
Someone in Ireland made a stage production out of it. They were selling tickets to a Clerks play, and the Miramax people sent a cease and desist order. About five years ago Kevin had hypothesized and posted the idea “Wouldn’t it be a great idea if Clerks 3 could be a live show in the theater. He had seen a theater production on Broadway and thought “You know, this could work as a Clerks sequel.” I think he emailed Jeff Anderson [Randal] and said “What would you think if we made Clerks 3 a Broadway play?” and I believe Kevin said in a Q&A that the response from Jeff Anderson was “I think you’re smoking the weed too much.” Kevin said “No, I’m serious. What if we did an eight month run on Broadway. Maybe even a musical.” I think the second response from Jeff was “Now I think you’re on to the crack.” I would have loved it. I would have loved doing an eight month run, or even a three month run of Clerks.
As a film actor, once you’ve done your job on a project, it’s pretty much out of your hands.
I always tell film students when I go in to speak in front of classes is that there are usually four mediums when it comes to being an actor. There’s television, there’s film, there’s radio and voice over, and then there’s live theater. Live theater is the actor’s medium. That’s where they’re in control. Once you’re done with rehearsals, and you’re into a run, there’s no “Cut, let’s do that again.” You’re in control of what’s going on. You can tweak it as the run is going on. Film is the director’s medium. If you do five ties, and you as an actor like take three, the filmmaker might like take four because the lighting and focus were just right, and the response from so and so was much better. So that’s the director’s medium. Television is the writer’s medium. Television is a place where a group of writers get to write episode after episode for these characters that they created. I always say if you want to be a writer, go into television. Radio is great for anyone who says “I’ve got the face for radio.” It’s great if you’ve got the voice for great vocal work, and have the ability to do different characters. Phil LaMarr does incredible vocal work. Billy West is the Mel Blanc of our generation. Once again, you as an actor are in control of that, because people are hiring you specifically because you have that vocal talent.
Do you find that working with someone like Kevin, who as a filmmaker has a pretty singular vision, any easier as an actor? Do you trust him to choose your best work?
Oh, yeah. First of all, plain and simple, I love his writing. It speaks to me, and it’s in a comedy tenor and a comedy sweet spot for me. And I believe that he respects the way that I’ve portrayed the characters that he’s written for me, especially the Dante character, as that kind of hopeless, slacker loser type. But you still can’t hate the kids because he’s trying the best that he can. Kevin said in an interview that Dante and Randal are the good and bad aspects of Kevin’s personality. Randall is the clerk he wishes he could be by telling off customers, while Dante was the clerk he always was. It’s that type of thing that ideally connected with, and I think I was able to find the voice he was looking for.
Have there been any characters that you’ve portrayed on stage that really spoke to you that you’d like to revisit at some point?
I did three productions of two different types of scripts for Dracula. There was The Passion of Dracula, and Dracula, and I played Renfield, the lunatic, that Dracula lures into being his assistant during the daylight hours. That’s a role that I loved playing. Out of his mind, but still a very sympathetic character. When Wilhelmina , or Lucy, depending on the script, is held under the powers of Dracula, he tries to help her. It’s a very cool part that I loved to play again and again. I played Norman in a play called The Dresser, that was another one I enjoyed doing. I enjoyed The Crucible. There’s tons of independent original plays that I’ve done at the New Jersey Repertory Theater. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some incredible writers and directors over the years.
Kevin Smith has said that Clerks 3 may happen in 2018. Is there anything about the project you are aware of you can share?
I was told the end of 2017, so if it is 2018, that’s an update I was unaware of.
He’s saying January 2018.
Ok, I was told end of 2017. That’s fine. Works for me. I’m amped to be a part of Mallrats the TV series. We haven’t been given a script for that yet, but now that he’s written so much that it’s now a ten part mini series, I think i’t going to be awesome.
Your part in Mallrats wasn’t that large. Will it be a little bigger this time?
That’s if I’m playing that part. I personally think it would be hilarious I play all these characters I’ve played all of these years, Dante Hicks, Gil Hicks, Grant Hicks, the news reporter from Dogma, Sean Hicks, who never got a name officially in Chasing Amy, but when I played the TV executive we named him Sean Hicks on set. I think it would be funny if I showed up with different looks, kind of like the Eddie Murphy of the group playing different roles.
We would like to thank Mr. O’Halloran for taking the time to speak with us. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianCOHalloran.