Though he was born and brought up in Maine, West New York resident Mark Irish spent three formative years in New York City — and that may have made all the difference. His mother was secretary to the head of the department of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. From age 10 to 13, he said, “That was my playground, where I would hang out after school. I took my very first tap class with graduate students. My mother got free tickets. She took me to the ballet and my first Broadway show — Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“I learned to trust my gut instincts.” — Mark Irish
Ron Lagomarsino, an NYU directing student who would go on to direct the 1987 stage debut of Driving Miss Daisy, asked Irish to audition for his master’s thesis production of A Winter’s Tale. Irish was only 11.
Irish got the part of Mamillius, the young prince of Sicilia, who dies, perhaps of grief, after his father wrongly imprisons his mother.
“I had no idea what I was saying,” Irish recalled. “I memorized it by rote. A woman who played a lady in waiting talked me through it, I kind of learned it and knew what I was saying.”
But it was an onstage blooper that would become the touchstone of his acting career. In a broadsword fight with the actor who played his father, Irish’s sword cracked. The other actor, he said “was just brilliant. He totally improvised the rest of the scene, and the audience didn’t know any different.”
It was a lesson he took through life. “Wow, for someone to be so confident and cool and keep going, that was such a beautiful thing and definitely a defining moment. I learned so many things about being in the moment, learning to improvise, to do a 360, to go with what other actors throw at you, to trust your gut instincts.”
That meant being authentic and true to himself. When he first came to New York he contemplated changing his name until he was reminded that he already had the perfect stage name. “In the late’80s I permed and highlighted my hair. It was one of the stupid things actors do. My first agent in New York City said, ‘Don’t mess with your hair. You have gorgeous hair, don’t do that again.’ That was one of the greatest gifts he gave me. I never messed with it again.”
Irish is grateful that he has always been able to make a living doing the thing he loves. He studied drama at Dartmouth and went on to act in numerous plays and films, including The Complete Works of William Shakespeare … Abridged, Frost/Nixon, The Crucible, She Stoops to Conquer, Irma Vep, Regarding Henry, Girl in the Park, and Nurse Jackie. He’s currently in rehearsal for The Little Dog Laughed at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, where he stars as the rising film star Mitchell Green.
“I’m excited about the part,” he said. “The writer is so witty. It’s fast paced and very contemporary.” The play runs from Jan. 20 to Feb. 13.
At 47, Irish has matured as an actor. “I work way harder than I used to,” he said. “I used to coast a lot of the time on innate talent.” He counts Tom Hanks among the actors he admires. “I was fortunate to stand in for him for a day,” he related. “It was kind of fun to watch him work and be right there. I also did body double work for Hugh Grant on several films. I love him too. His comic delivery makes things seem genuine. He has an awkwardness about him that’s very believable.”
At home in Hudson County
Though Irish has appeared on Broadway and in all the New York-based soaps, he loves living across from 42nd Street. “My very first apartment was on Boulevard East in Weehawken facing 42nd Street and the Intrepid,” he said. When he first laid eyes on Weehawken, he remembers thinking, “This is gorgeous. I want to live here.” After 9/11 he bought a place right up the street in West New York. “I’ve lived in Hudson County longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my entire life,” he said. “This fall will be my 25th anniversary.”
Though he’s had a couple of opportunities to move to Manhattan, he’s staying put. “My dream is to stay here,” he said. “I love going into the city, being challenged, rejected, accepted, applauded, and then at the end of the day going through the tunnel, breathing deeply, feeling comfortable, safe, and secure and trusting that gut feeling.”
What does the future hold? Irish recently worked at the Cape May Stage Company. “I hope this is kind of a trend,” he said. “I love spending time here in New Jersey and not having to go into the city. It’s like having a vacation while still at home.”
To purchase tickets, call (973) 971-3706 or visit www.bickfordtheatre.com.
Kate Rounds can be reached at email@example.com..