Graphic novelist with a $100m movie on his mind

Irish Lives: Mark Mahon aims high with graphic novel about the Vikings

Mark Mahon is explaining why he gave Morgan Freeman a thank you credit on his last film. "He's the most amazing man I ever met in my life. If I ever felt I was in the presence of God, it was Morgan Freeman," he says.

“He has played God,” I point out.

“Exactly!” says Mahon. “So I’m introduced to him and the very first comment out of his mouth is ‘What happened to you?’ ”

Mahon has been on crutches ever since a very serious industrial accident nearly 20 years ago.


“I said, ‘It’s a long story.’

“He said, ‘Will you be okay?’ and I said, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine’ and he said, “Just in case, I’ll say a special prayer for you tonight.’

"We spoke for over an hour. He was a struggling actor for 20 years."

The secret
Mahon pauses then says, "He gave me the secret."

What was it?

“Ah, I couldn’t tell you.”

He laughs.

“But it was so funny, after that everything fell into place for me.”

Film-maker, graphic novelist and Corkman, Mark Mahon, talks big. A conversation with him is littered with anecdotes about celebrity friends and unimaginable film budgets – though he dresses more like a businessman than a creative type.

His dark hair is slicked back and he’s wearing expensive-looking cufflinks on a crisp white shirt. There’s a handkerchief jutting out of the breast pocket of his blazer.

On Wednesday he launched Freedom within the Heart, a graphic novel about Brian Boru. But this isn't just a graphic novel. It started as a film script, an award-winning film script (best unproduced film script at the 2005 International Action on Film Awards), and soon it's to become a novel. Mahon is also very confident that next year it will be a film project with a budget of $102 million secured from a hedge fund. "We've got the first green light," he says.

Green lights
I have no idea what green lights signify in the heady world of film. Rumours of a big-budget film of Freedom within the Heart have been circulating since 2007 and Mahon has made a film before, Strength and Honour (2007), featuring Michael Madsen, Richard Chamberlain and Vinnie Jones as implausibly accented Irish boxers.

He was an aspiring actor who had trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, when he had a horrendous accident, which he is reluctant to talk about in detail. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in hospital for several months and in a wheelchair for several years,” he says.

"I was a jobbing actor – just trying to put food on the table . . . I had landed a part in Eastenders so that went out the window. Effectively my acting career was gone. But as I always say, you get busy living or you get busy dying, and it encouraged me to look at other avenues – writing and directing."

Property speculation
A third avenue was a form of property speculation, which seems to have made him a bit of money. He would buy land, build a house on it, live in the house for a while and then sell it, thus avoiding capital gains tax, he says.

In the early part of the last decade he used this money to go to Los Angeles, where he studied writing, ghosted scripts (“I can’t name them for legal reasons but I worked on some very big movies”) and seemingly met a lot of people.

He mentions film producers Mike Tadross (Sherlock Holmes) and Steve Richards (The Matrix) as friends. Karen Kramer, wife of Stanley, has been "a great support". He lived for a while "with Vinnie and Tanya [Jones] on Mulholland Drive". He casually refers to Ryan Kavanaugh and Tucker Tooley of Relativity Media, the film production company, as "great lads".

His attitude towards Hollywood he sums up with another anecdote. “I was out with Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones and we had a few drinks and were comparing experiences, comparing notes as you would do, and it’s funny because I turned to the lads, Vinnie thought this was brilliant, and I said that Nike should sponsor the Hollywood sign. They should just put a big ‘Just Do It’ under the sign.”

He's taken this mantra to heart, directing and producing his own film scripts through his own company Maron Pictures.

The graphic novels (there will be more) are a side-project made in collaboration with his storyboard artist Miguel Caceres and colourist Veronica Gandini. The real goal, however, is the feature film which he hopes to see in production by next year.

Mahon's book pits noble Irishmen against the bloodthirsty Vikings. Later that evening at the book launch, Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan suggests that the "savage" depiction of Vikings in the book mightn't be historically accurate.

Cultural ties
"They gave us Dublin and Waterford," he points out and in his speech he pitches next year's centenary of the Battle of Clontarf as an opportunity to forge cultural ties with Scandinavia.

Not that the Minister would object to a lucrative film spin-off. “We have six national parks in the country, they’re yours if you get the money!” he chuckles.

He also, as a Kerryman, promises the use of Michael Fassbender. Mahon ends the speeches by listing some people who sent their regards. The list includes Michael Madsen, Jason Statham and Colin Farrell.

Patrick Freyne

Patrick Freyne

Patrick Freyne is a features writer with The Irish Times