Mad Men star directing gritty comedy

North Vancouver actor Brian Markinson working with TV stars on stage

The Motherf**ker with the Hat, directed by Brian Markinson, runs until Jan. 30 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St., Vancouver. Tickets: firehallartscentre.ca.

Brian Markinson may have earned a reoccurring role on one of the most acclaimed TV shows of all time, but the veteran actor says he shies away from the celebrity spotlight in favour of a normal existence in North Vancouver.

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B.C. is a welcome refuge for Markinson who respectfully doesn't subscribe to the celebrity side of Hollywood. Instead he relishes hiking in the North Shore mountains with his wife and two sons and their canine companions, and riding his motorbike.

"I've got the best of all possible worlds because I make my living at (acting) and I get to keep a sense of anonymity," says Markinson.

"When I get recognized it's flattering, it's not overwhelming. I mean I have friends in the business, they go outside ... and they are recognized by everybody. I live a very, very normal existence in North Van and then I get to go on sets and play with movie stars and TV stars and get dressed up and pretend to be people that I'm not."

Markinson seemingly refuses to be typecast, taking on a diverse range of roles from good guy to serial killer to priest, lawyer and doctor.

He has close to 200 acting credits to his name that run the gamut of cinema and TV - starting with classic 1990s TV shows Murphy Brown and China Beach to the films Charlie Wilson's War and City of Angels to the current TV series Fargo to essentially every sci-fishow shot in Vancouver, The X-Files, Supernatural and Continuum included.

"Being an actor who lives up here you do your fair share of science fiction stuff," says Markinson with a laugh.

But it was the smash TV show Mad Men that made Markinson even more of a household name - and there's a North Vancouver connection in how he landed the role of Dr. Arnold Rosen.

Last Friday the News caught up with Markinson from his Upper Lonsdale home, where he remotely auditioned for Mad Men after being referred to the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, by a casting director.

He describes it as a "strange audition," done via Skype with Markinson wearing half a suit.

"I don't think Matthew knew that I was wearing jeans, but from the waist up I looked like I was of a time I guess," says Markinson. "I was not confident afterwards because it's so strange and odd. When I said goodbye to him and thank you I didn't think I would hear from him again."

Markinson didn't have to wait long for a response. The day after the audition he got the offer and ended up doing seven episodes of the show at the apex of its popularity.

"That was one of the ones ... when they say you are going to be working on Mad Men - it's very exciting. If I knew how to do a cartwheel, I would have done a cartwheel," says Markinson. "And it was incredibly rewarding. It was like stepping into a time capsule down there. So it was great fun to throw those clothes on and sort of time travel."

As for why he thinks Mad Men captivated TV audiences, Markinson said that speaks to the show's incredible writers.

"It was just so brilliantly conceived on such a broad scope," mused Markinson. It was about America, it was about capitalism. And Don Draper absolutely stands for what that was, that commercialism and the selling of image as opposed to what is."

In analyzing his character, Dr. Rosen, who lives in the same building as Draper, Markinson is somewhat self-deprecating.

"Let's put it this way, I didn't blame my wife for wanting to sleep with Don Draper," says Markinson with a hearty chuckle. "Jon Hamm, he's a very handsome man."

This month Markinson returned to his theatre directing roots after 20 years to helm the Vancouver debut of the Tony Award-nominated The Motherf**ker with the Hat - a poetic and profane Broadway sensation about love, drug addiction and infidelity described as "a high-octane verbal cage match" by broadway. com.

The Motherf**ker with the Hat features a team of Canadian TV stars returning to the stage, including John Cassini (Intelligence), Stephen Lobo (Continuum, Arctic Air), Lori Triolo (Smallville), Francisco Trujillo (Arctic Air) and Kyra Zagorsky (Continuum).

Markinson's Continuum costar Lobo was the brainchild behind bringing the play to Vancouver audiences. Lobo, a big fan of Pulitzer winner Stephen Adly Guirgis, who wrote The Motherf**ker with the Hat, asked Markinson if he would direct the play.

"And I read it, I loved it and we went about doing this," says Markinson.

In order to raise money to put on the show Markinson and a bunch of his actor and writer friends started a theatre company, Haberdashery Theatre Co., with a mandate to produce edgier, issue-driven plays. The Motherf**ker with the Hat certainly fits that bill.

Set in New York City, the story centres on Jackie, an ex-con and addict who is determined to stay clean and get his life back on track with the help of his sponsor Ralph D. His efforts are challenged by the love of his life, Veronica, an alcoholic/addict who he suspects is cheating on him with a certain mofo with a hat.

The play deals with characters that are in recovery, users or those in the Alcoholics Anonymous program, people that theatre-goers will meet on their way into the show at the Firehall Arts Centre on the Downtown Eastside.

"And what I love about the theatre is how it can blur the line between the real world and the art world," explains Markinson. So my hope is as much as (people) are entertained and moved and have a great time inside our little black box, when they walk out there my hope is that the evening resonates in such a way that they see the people in this community. It may be a shifted perspective."

A portion of the money raised from the show will be donated to an AA or recovery program on the Downtown Eastside.

Being immersed in the theatre world again is a treat for Markinson, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and started off his career solely in the New York theatre scene.

"And I did off, off, off, off Broadway. I did off Broadway. And I was fortunate enough to do a play on Broadway as well," says Markinson, who performed in Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon. "I moved into the role that Kevin Spacey won the Tony for. They were big shoes to fill. So that was incredibly memorable, my first Broadway show. I had basically only a week of rehearsal and then I got thrown to 1,600 wolves. But it was a fantastic experience."

Markinson, who didn't step in front of a camera until he was 30 years old, has worked with some the greats, from Woody Allen to Al Pacino to Sean Penn to Robert Redford.

But Markinson insists he is not a "fanboy." "It's not who I am," he says. "What I am is a husband and father, and that's what I am first. There's no mystery to the acting thing for me. My heroes are writers. That's the thing that I can't get my head around, what it takes to fill a blank page."

Of course he doesn't mind the odd encounter every now and then with a fan when he's out and about on the North Shore.

"They know that they know me, but they don't know if we went to high school together or if I'm the guy who ran into their car the other day," says Markinson, who moved from Los Angeles to North Vancouver in 1999 to raise his family and has never looked back.

"And it's been an amazing, amazing move - and it was the right choice."

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