There is nothing more exciting than an individual who can act, write, direct and co-found not one, but two, theatre companies. Mark Diaco isn’t a quadruple threat, he’s an infinite compendium. Trained at the most acclaimed acting school in the world, Lee Strasberg in New York City, Mark has also starred in features on the stage and screen; written, directed and produced his own films; and is the co-founder of Melbourne’s Human Sacrifice Theatre and the Kin Collective, alongside some of Australia’s acting greats.
Mark is definitely a force to be reckoned with – a creative that follows his dreams with an acute individuality and drive. With Mark’s latest film, ‘Vessel’ (directed by Adam Ciancio) already receiving worldwide acclaim, this is one name to etch into your memory.
1. What was it that initially inspired you to pursue acting?
Well, let me see. My conscious recollection was after watching Val Kilmer in ‘Tombstone’. I just loved what he did with that character. But subconsciously, I think initially it was when I was 6 or 8 years old. I would dress up as Batman, and man, did I take that shit way too serious… I played way harder than the other kids.
2. How has the allure of acting maintained itself for you now?
I think it’s because of that little kid still caught up inside me, you know. It’s that need to express yourself through a story and find a common ground with people. I see acting as the same of any other creative form now; it’s all in the storytelling.
3. You have followed in the footsteps of iconic Method actors such as, Dean, Hoffman, Pacino and De Niro by attending the infamous Lee Strasberg Theatre + Film Institute in New York. What was the most invaluable lesson learnt there?
How to breathe. I realised the importance of breathing, as well as the importance of always following your gut instinct – even if it sucks and doesn’t work out, it needs to play out. Instinct is your creative core, it’s your own unique spice.
4. What is it about New York that engorges the heart and mind? It’s a place where dreams are never too big or opportunities too farfetched – what did you discover there for yourself?
I remember one of my teachers there… I remember her saying, “No matter where you are in the world, if you’re the black cat… you’ll find yourself in New York sooner or later”.
It is just an amazing place, you know. I like going there to recharge, it’s kind of like the sun and I’m a solar panel.
5. What did you relish most about performing on stage in the off Broadway production of, ‘True West’?
Well, I discovered Sam Shepard. The guy is up there as one of my all time favourite playwright. For some reason, every time l’ve read a Shepard play, it’s very familiar to me, like I’ve done it in a previous life or something. His plays are always a solid workout. After doing that play I was hooked and wanted to bring it back here.
6. Why did you choose to live in NY over another filmic state like California and her Hollywood?
I couldn’t be fucked driving! [Laughs]
No, it was just a case of a lot of things dropping off in my life, which meant that I could go. I was part owner of a bar in the city and was offered to sell my share, at the same time l had broken up with a girl l was seeing and then got accepted to go to Strasberg’s Institute. So I was single, had the cash and the purpose. Got my ticket and was in class that next Monday morning. Shazam.
7. You are still a passionate Melburnian – what is it about you hometown that you find so remarkable?
It’s got attitude, it’s got depth and it’s still young. It has so much promise and so much potential for greatness. I know a lot of actors that go overseas to act and the money is there and all. But there is so much unsaid here and do much more to say. In a lot of ways I see Melbourne as Manhattan 20 years ago, and Sydney as LA.
What can I say, Melbourne’s skyline is a massive turn on for me – I love seeing all of these cranes. Shit’s looking up.
8. You co-founded company, Human Sacrifice Theatre back in 2006. Where did the name come from and what spurred on this project?
It came from a Michael Chekhov book called, ‘To the Actor’ which came out in 1953. In it, Chekhov talked about how an actor on stage publicly displays emotions and feelings that most people conceal from one another. At times, for an actor, this can feel like portraying a ‘human sacrifice’. When I got back to Melbourne, I started the company mainly as a means to continue working.
9. The KIN Collective has also been co-founded by you and other renowned Australian actors such as Michala Banas and Noni Hazlehurst. Is this entrepreneurial spirit something that evolved organically or was it consciously derived out of your passion to constantly want to tap into the acting talents Melbourne has to offer?
It always comes back to a story and we all came from a history of storytellers; we’re like a family that you’re supposed to join. The more I work as a actor, I understand it’s about creating those relationships with people that are unique in their own right, but also like-minded as a collective, and have a similar work ethic.
10. What do you hope most to achieve with your acting – is it seen as a career or a wholly enveloping part of your existence?
I think art has been within me since day dot. Whether it’s drawing or performing or writing, whatever it is. It’s a creative life that you have to adhere to, especially these days… If you ain’t who you are, you’re dead.
11. You star in the feature film, ‘Vessel’ directed by Adam Ciancio. To adapt to the protagonist’s character, you spent a Winter’s night out wandering the Melbourne streets. Was it a frightening, unsettling or cathartic experience? And did anyone throw coffee on you?
No, that didn’t end up happening to me, but I did hear that it happened to some guy that was in that ally. It wasn’t unsettling for any reason like that. It was a humbling experience though.
12. You wrote and directed your very first short film entitled, ‘Half Way’. How was the narrative for this conjured and did you enjoy the experience both in front of and behind the camera?
Well, I’d been playing a lot of unhinged, darker characters and, you know, my Mum would always ask, “When are you going to play someone just, normal?” But really, the idea of it came to me out of pure frustration due to this previous play that didn’t work out. So instead of getting pissed, l just decided to switch things up and direct something instead. So I got the idea about a guy from Melbourne and a girl from Sydney that met some time ago, but decide to meet in Tarrcutta, which is half way between Melbourne and Sydney. It’s kinda lighter [than my previous work]… Kind of.
I enjoyed the experience of being behind the camera, although at times, because I wrote it, I also found it exposing. As an actor playing a character you can hide behind that character, but as a writer/director it’s all on you. But I’m proud of the film.
13. What is your favourite genre to perform in?
I can’t remember who said it, I think it was Robin Williams, but there is this quote, “If you see the world as a comedy, then drama is your thing. And if you view the world as a drama you should try you’re hand at comedy.” I find that I laugh my ass off at a lot of things…
14. What part of your inner self does the acting tap into most truthfully, and which astonishing parts of yourself does it open up?
Wow, that’s intense. I don’t know if l can answer that one, not sure if l want to. I think with acting at best it’s about self discovery, there’s so much to learn. So much so that it never stops.
15. What has been the most challenging component of acting?
I’d have to say money, yeah. I always say, I’d like to get my career to the point where I’m worth more than the camera equipment.
· Favourite drinking hole in New York?
Smith and Mills.
· Stage vs. Screen?
Stage taught me to give, screen taught me to take… Maybe that’s why they call it a ‘take’?!
· Who is your dream leading lady?
· Your life’s mantra?
Born to push… I know, I know, cheesy right?
· Cognac or scotch?
· The most underestimated film of all-time?
‘The Proposition’ and ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’.
· Your style icon?
· You just won lotto – what do you do with the money?
Hand it over to my brother.
· Favourite piece of architecture in Melbourne?
The HIVE apartment.
Check out more of Mark’s work here: http://www.markdiaco.com/#!home/mainPage