Mark Doneo

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Mark Doneo

Mark Anthony Doneo (born 10 December 1967) is an Australian born Maltese actor and screenwriter. In his adoptive country, Malta, Doneo is known for his various acting roles and for directing self-penned TV drama series such as, Shelly Rayner (1999-2001), L-Ispettur Lowell (2002-2003), Id-Dar tas-Soru (2004), Solitaire (2005) and Miriana Coljero’ (2007) that have since gained cult status in the local television community. Doneo has more recently gained recognition for his role as the titular burglar in his feature film debut Silhouette (2013) based on his own Solitaire TV series, of which he also penned and produced. Doneo presently has starred, co-directed and co-written his latest yet unreleased feature film, Hemm Dar il-Qala (The Weeping House of Qala, 2017).

Early life

Doneo was born in Melbourne, Australia, the second of 3 siblings, Karen (born 1966) and Danny (born 1969) to Maltese emigrants Louis Rosario Doneo (born 1946) and Mary nee’ Laferla (born 1947). Both his parents married at a very young age in Malta and departed for Australia in 1963 in search of a better life. Working life in Malta in the 60s was very tough for Louis who was brought up in various orphanages with limited education making him struggle to make ends meet. However, once in Australia, his lack of education did not hold him back from making strides in the then-booming automotive industry and was immediately employed with Chrysler Australia Ltd., subsequently getting promoted to Plant Foreman. Mary was left to care for their 3 young children at home. She never worked outside the house or drove a car. The couple decided to return to their homeland after watching the first ever Air Malta advert on Australian television one night in 1973. They recall how they inexplicably felt homesick, packed their belongings and with their 3 children in tow, headed back to Malta after 9 years.

Doneo attended the Fgura Primary School (1973–1974) but his parents quickly relocated to the Island’s Capital, Valletta where he would spend the rest of his formative years until his marriage to Louise nee’ Dimech in 1990. Doneo attributes his inherent love for music and films to his parents. Both were regular LP buyers and music was constantly playing around the house, a trait that stayed with Doneo to this day. Both also loved to watch movies, at home and more significantly at the various drive-ins that were available in Melbourne in the early ‘70s. Louis also loved to film his family at home and on various outings with his 8mm Kodak camera. Something which proved significant later in Doneo’s formative years. For his secondary education, Doneo attended the St.Paul’s Missionary College in Rabat, Malta. It was during this time that he founded his first rock group Dream Valley with his friends Ivan Bezzina, Jez Pulis and Joseph Schembri.

More significantly, it was during this time that by chance Doneo came across his father’s long-forgotten 8mm camera and started fiddling with it for fun. Doneo recalls that the idea for a homemade slasher movie came to him after his Catholic religion teacher ejected him from class for being unruly. So he wrote the story while hiding in the school’s restroom and asked his dad for money to buy Kodak film. To his surprise, his father agreed and Doneo made his first silent short, Vendetta, on 8mm, cutting and splicing film with scissors and putting it back together with glue!

Career

Doneo’s stint with Dream Valley (1982-1987) mostly served to keep him out of trouble, to impress his then-girlfriend Louise and to continue honing his skills as a composer and singer. But his real break came when local rock outfit Winter Moods offered him to front their then-fledgeling line up after original singer Ivan Grech emigrated to Australia (1987).

This period was what threw Doneo firmly into the limelight and established him as one of the leading rock singers in the Country. However, bad luck hit the group after they were invited to play in an International Rock Festival organised by RAI TV but failed to take part due to an unfortunate misunderstanding. This however proved a turning point for Mark who felt jaded and left the band to pursue a solo career as a singer-songwriter (1989). Mark performed in various festivals and venues around the Island notably in Il-Festival tal-Kanzunetta Maltija and Il-Kanzunetta Maltija għall-Ewropa.

Mark Doneo (second from left) with Dream Valley 1985

Another turning point which proved quite significant happened when he was encouraged and persuaded by his then-wife Louise to take part in a prominent local musical. Theatre was never really on his radar but after he thread the boards for the first time, Doneo admits, was addicted. Several leading roles in local prominent musicals followed, notably, Pawlu 2000, Reġa’ Sebaħ, Ġesu’ ta’ Nażareth, Scrooge, Ineż Farruġ, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and others.

This in turn led Doneo to being offered other acting parts in local theatrical productions which soon led to his first appearance on TV in the miniseries Delitti Maltin (1998) on the National Broadcaster TVM. His performance was very well received and was soon offered another more prominent role in another mini-drama series for TVM, Il-Mandraġġara (1999).

This was when Doneo decided that he should write his own material, again with the incessant encouragement from his wife who knew that her husband’s reputation of being a picky actor would soon catch up with him in Malta’s tiny theatre and television community. Doneo presented the screenplay of his 5 part crime thriller, Shelly Rayner to the then Chief Executive Officer of private television station Super 1, Albert Marshal who was immediately seduced by Doneo’s enthusiasm and more importantly by the script’s courage to tackle the harsh topic of child kidnapping and use of profane language which was unheard of at the time. It was a risk for the station but that was another reason it was given the green light.

Doneo went on to pen, direct and act in successive TV drama series exclusively for ONE TV namely, the second instalment of Shelly Rayner (2001), L-Ispettur Lowell (2002/2003), Id-Dar tas-Soru (2004), Solitaire (2005), the ghost hunting reality show, Imsaħħra (2006) and Miriana Coljero’ (2007). After Miriana Coljero’, Doneo decided to take a break from producing and directing for television and concentrate exclusively on honing his skills as an actor and screenwriter within the ‘film industry’.

Mark Doneo as a director on the set of 'Silhouette' 2013

Doneo served as producer and/or consultant for the mini-drama series Amen (2009), his wife’s family quiz show Esperti (2009), the short story bonanza Stejjer Qosra (2011) and mini drama series Xablott (2012) and Maskra (2013) for upcoming television directors and screenwriters Together with his wife Louise, in 2013, Doneo founded his audiovisual company Mad Movies Productions Ltd. and wrote, directed and starred in his first feature-length film, Silhouette. Aimed exclusively for local theatrical release, Silhouette was a massive hit and remains to this day one of Malta’s top 5 box office hits of all time.

In 2015 Doneo teamed up with local cinematographer Sean Aquilina and young director Keith Albert Tedesco to co-write and star in Aquilina’s short story Ambivalent with the support of the Malta Film Fund. It was the successful collaboration on Ambivalent that encouraged him to hire Aquilina’s Maka Visuals for the filming and postproduction of his new feature film The Weeping House of Qala and engaged Tedesco to co-direct. This way he could concentrate mainly on his acting role within the movie. The Weeping House of Qala screened as a one-time event in a local theatre to much critical acclaim in February 2018. This was done with the support of the Malta Film Fund.

Awards

In the first-ever Malta Television Awards (2006), Doneo’s Solitaire garnered 12 nominations and walked away with Best Drama Series, Best Script, Best Director, Best Leading Actor-female (Louise Doneo) and Best Supporting Actor-male. Doneo also won Best Actor in The Malta International Short Film Festival for his role in Ambivalent (2015). A self-penned short story from an idea by Sean Aquilina, directed by Keith Albert Tedesco and Produced by Maka Visuals with the financial support of the Malta Film Fund.

Personal life

Doneo married actress Louise Doneo nee’ Dimech in June 1990 after a short 4-year courtship. Although Mark is non-religious, they still decided to have a Roman Catholic ceremony as per Louise’s beliefs and wishes. Both of them are avid supporters of Premier League football club Liverpool FC.

Drama - Filmography

Year Title Director Writer Producer Actor Notes
1999 Shelly Rayner YES YES YES TV - 5 episodes
2000 Shelly Rayner YES YES YES TV - 6 episodes
2001 DoNeMi.com YES YES YES TV - 11 episodes
2001 L-Ispettur Lowell YES YES YES TV - 13 episodes
2002 L-Ispettur Lowell YES YES YES YES TV - 27 episodes
2004 Id-Dar tas-Soru YES YES YES YES TV - 13 episodes
2005 Solitaire YES YES YES YES TV - 13 episodes *
2006 Imsaħħra YES YES YES TV - 11 episodes
2007 Miriana Coljero' YES YES YES YES TV - 13 episodes
2010 Stejjer Qosra YES YES TV - 13 episodes
2013 Silhouette YES YES YES YES Feature Film
2014 Match Maker YES YES YES Short
2014 Ambivalent YES YES Short
2015 Adina YES Short
2016 Limestone Cowboy YES Feature Film
2017 The Weeping House of Qala YES YES YES YES Feature Film
  • Nominated for 3 Malta TV Awards Won Best Director and Script

Doneo has three siblings, Karen (1966), Danny (1969) and Paula (1977) all married with children. Doneo is known to use his friends’ and family’s names for all his projects’ main characters.

Controversary

When Shelly Rayner aired in 1999, there was an instant public outcry because of some of the explicit dialogue used. Up until that point, local television had never been exposed to sexually explicit swear words in their native language. It was ‘ok’ and generally excepted to hear Italian and English/American sexual swear words almost regularly but never in Maltese. So the reaction was understandable. It was mostly positive but the negative backlash was what made most noise at the time including the Broadcasting Authority slapping a fine on Doneo. The argument at the time was that certain words had ‘never been expressed before’ on local TV. So Doneo argued that if he accepted the fine and the judgement it would mean that the ‘second’ time he uses the same words would be ‘ok’! The official complaint was withdrawn. This created a National debate and although public acceptance widened and other local drama producers started to relax their choice of words in their productions, it still remains taboo and most producers stay clear away for fear of losing potential audience numbers.