After screen debut, Richard will stick with writing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The movie &uot;Stop-Loss&uot; has gotten pretty good reviews. And although its second week of ticket sales represents a considerable drop from its first week on the screen, there hasn’t been much discussion about a certain young actor who plays the part of the film’s Pastor Colson.

That actor’s name is Mark Richard, who happens to be credited with being a co-writer of the script, who happens to be a 1974 graduate of Franklin High School.

Richard is an accomplished author who has racked up many awards, the names of which are generally unknown by the public. But movie-goers aren’t exactly enamored with writers, anyway. They tend to connect with actors. Which is why a lack of a review of Richard’s ability in front of the camera may keep his virtual anonymity intact, which suits him just fine.

&uot;He’s real private,&uot; said his mother, Claire, who still lives in Franklin.

In fact, Claire didn’t even know that Mark had a role in the film, even if it is, as she puts it, &uot;a little bit of a walk-on&uot; character. She first learned of her son’s role from her sister, who had seen the movie first.

But there is another reason Richard won’t be getting much screen time anytime soon.

&uot;I’ll never do that again,&uot; Richard said from Southern California Tuesday. &uot;Acting is way too hard.&uot;

Instead, Richard (pronounced Ra-CHARD), will stick to what he knows, and makes him feel comfortable. And writing, although he’s branched out to produce network television shows, and plans to direct a feature-length film in the near future.

Mark was born in Lake Charles, La., to a forester working for Union Bag Camp. The family moved to Kansas and Texas before landing in Virginia, first living in Lawrenceville &uot;a couple of years&uot; and then Franklin. Mark entered the third grade while in Franklin.

He said Tuesday he enjoyed growing up in Franklin. He said it was something of an intellectual oasis with world-travelers and well-read and enlightened neighbors. At least he said that’s how he remembers his youth.

Much of his youth was spent in the hospital with a hip condition that required many surgeries and many hours in bed, in a cast or on crutches.

&uot;I had a lot of surgeries when I was a child,&uot; Richard said.

In those days, Claire would return from the library housed in the Pace Building with a grocery bag filled with books. &uot;I was either at the library or at the theater,&uot; he said. His teachers &uot;really encouraged me to write,&uot; he said, and he found the practice &uot;fun and easy.&uot; — &uot;Teenagers will take the easy way every time.&uot;

His writing won a few awards, gave him some success, but he never figured it would provide a living.

After Franklin, he enrolled at Washington & Lee and studied law. Except for a stint when he dropped out to work on a fishing boat. That lasted more than two years.

&uot;I spent so much time in a cast or in bed or on crutches,&uot; he said, &uot;I felt I had to prove myself physically. I didn’t play sports; I didn’t qualify for the military.

He eventually returned to college and graduated in 1981.

Then came another period of bouncing around: real estate in Gloucester, lobby groups in Washington, D.C., temporary jobs in Richmond, an ad agency in Virginia Beach where he also worked for the Navy News, a small military newspaper.

Writing, it turns out, never left the bloodstream.

He kept sending manuscripts to Esquire magazine, and kept receiving the same message.

&uot;They would come back, rejected,&uot; he said.

He didn’t follow the editor’s advice about telling his story in a different way, about performing self-editing.

Then one day, the editor found his way to Nags Head, and wanted to meet the writer who followed little or no advice.

The two met, and Richard was told if he was to be taken seriously as a fiction writer, he should move to New York.

&uot;Then, one day,&uot; Richard said, &uot;I sold everything I owned, went to the New York and knocked on the editor’s door and said, ‘Here I am.’&uot;

Living in New York brought about its own set of odd jobs: bartending, performed background checks on investors for Merrill Lynch. &uot;I had a pretty good run of things,&uot; he said.

Fast forward to &uot;Stop-Loss,&uot; the movie that opened last week. By this time, he had moved to Los Angeles.

In November 2005, he started working on the script of &uot;Stop-Loss&uot; while working on other projects, but banged out the first 50 pages for Kimberly Peirce, who would direct the film and share co-writing titles.

According to Paramount Pictures, which released the film, &uot;Stop-Loss&uot; is about &uot;a decorated Iraq war hero Sgt. Brandon King makes a celebrated return to his small Texas hometown following his tour of duty. He tries to resume the life he left behind.

&uot;Then, against Brandon’s will, the Army orders him back to duty in Iraq, which upends his world. The conflict tests everything he believes in: the bond of family, the loyalty of friendship, the limits of love and the value of honor.&uot;

Before his recent foray into screenwriting, Richard has been an acclaimed journalist and fiction writer, perhaps best known for his novel, &uot;Fishboy.&uot; Two short-story collections — &uot;The Ice at the Bottom of the World&uot; and &uot;Charity&uot; —

have earned critics’ praise.

He is the recipient of the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Whiting Foundation Writer’s Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, the Mary Francis Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters, and a National Magazine Award for Fiction.

Richard lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jennifer Allen, and their three sons.

Peirce, who also is one of the film’s producers, directed and co-wrote the acclaimed 1999 film &uot;Boys Don’t Cry.&uot;

&uot;Stop-Loss&uot; is playing at the following theaters in Hampton Roads: Harbour View Grande on Harbour View Boulevard in Suffolk; MacArthur Center Mall in downtown Norfolk; Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake; Columbus Stadium 12 at Virginia Beach Boulevard and Constitution Drive; and Main Gate 10 at Norfolk Naval Base.