Actor, model, writer and director, Mark Haldor, spoke to Vegan Life about his love affair with vegan food and his new film, Crossing Over.
Mark’s Birmingham accent is fairly soft after four years in London. He has an easy smile, olive skin and friendly eyes as he shakes my hand, quite firmly. His unusual look is striking and it is understandable that most people think that he is Swedish.
He laughs as I ask him about his heritage — a common question apparently — and tells me that he is, in fact, 100 per cent British despite his long blond hair and angular cheekbones.
It is probably this individual look which got him his first acting job on the 2012 film Snow White and The Huntsman starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. He laughs again when I ask him about his role: “Blink and you’ll miss me.”
This moment wasn’t merely a fleeting taste of fame for Mark though; he says that being on the set for Snow White and The Huntsman proved to him that he was finally in the right place after years of modelling and graphic design. Mark said: “The thing I took away from [Snow White] is that I didn’t feel daunted by it all like I thought I would. I knew that it was what I wanted to do.”
Five years later and Mark has just released Crossing Over, a film which he co-wrote, directed, edited, produced and acted in on a shoestring budget of less than two thousand pounds. Crossing Over, starring Louise Jameson best known for her role in EastEnders and Doc Martin, is a witty tongue-in-cheek observation of struggling actors and casting agents trying to make it in Hollywood with a surprising twist.
Crossing Over was the first feature film which Mark directed but he wasn’t fazed by the mammoth task which he took on: “I just knew I could do things and I did them. I just seem to have an eye for things and I have a vision for what I want. My acting, directing, editing and producing is what I’m really passionate about.” Mark is now writing the Crossing Over TV series to follow on from the film.
The premier for the film was sponsored by a whole range of vegan companies such as Vego, Lush and Vegan Life! Additionally, all profits, around £1,000, made from ticket sales and the raffle went to the Orangutan Foundation to raise awareness for the ongoing conservation crisis. The demand for the film following the successful London premier has been so great that Mark is going to be showing Crossing Over in Birmingham. He will be showing Crossing Over as a benefit screening for a friend in America who is in hospital after a tragic accident. Mark said: “I wanted to do something positive for her. If showing my film helps her then it will be worth it.”
At the moment, Mark is on cloud nine with so many projects on the go (he even eluded to an idea for a vegan film in the pipeline) but life hasn’t always been easy for the 39-year-old actor; Hollywood is a tough industry and Mark has suffered with his mental health. After living in London for four years, he found the non-stop, busy, cramped lifestyle too much. Mark said: “I was done. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was in the middle of a film and I just needed a break. I needed an out and Australia was the furthest place I could go. I just booked a three month trip.”
Mark immediately fell in love with Sydney and it was this trip which changed his mind set about his relationship with food.
“I was in Australia and I was prepping all of my food for the week and the last part I was eating everyday was chicken. I just didn’t want to eat it. I thought that I would try going vegan for a week. I had all of the usual questions about protein because I did body building. Where was I going to get my protein? I thought I would try it for a week and genuinely, for the whole week, all I could think about was the chicken, and how I didn’t want to eat it the next week.
“Within the first three days I felt better than I’ve ever felt. I felt cleaner, more alive. I did two weeks, which turned into months and the rest is history.
“I remember on the flight back my meals were booked before I was vegan. I was turning all of the meals down but eventually, after seventeen hours, I needed to eat something. They brought me this Greek pitta with mince and cheese and I just ate it. I was overwhelmed with sickness and that was it. I never went back.”
Mark didn’t just begin to feel physically healthier, but mentally.
“Without question I feel better now I’ve cut animal products from my diet. With my mental health it was something I thought I would always live with, but I’ve found mine becoming dormant. I have bad days like anyone else but before I would have spiralled. I’m not saying that going vegan solves everything but I think that what you put in your body affects your mental health.”
He admits finding it hard to cut sushi, his favourite food, from his diet. After binge watching documentaries he finally cut fish from his diet after finding out about the enormous amount of mercury in fish. It also took a little longer for him to understand the vegan honey debate: “Honey is one of the things that people don’t get straight away. You have to do a bit of research. Honey is such a big problem. We’ve already killed so many species of bees and yet there are so many great alternatives.”
Mark’s upbringing, like many vegans, was very traditional.
“When I was young I ate what my mum cooked. Every Sunday we would have a different meat; lamb, chicken, pork, beef or turkey. I was never fond of it but I just ate it. When I was in my teens I started bodybuilding and I took my diet on myself so it became lean chicken and fish,” Mark said. “I was on 400 grams of protein a day.”
I ask him about his current diet and he explains his routine of interval fasting to me.
“When I’m being super good (because I’m the same as everyone else and I do love vegan junk food sometimes) I will eat at 2 o’clock, 4 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock. Basically I do interval fasting so I will fast for 16 hours and then eat for 8 hours. I try to keep it as pure as possible. I just keep it very simple but I can’t deny that the odd Vego bar slips in.”
2pm: Oats with Blueberries, peanut butter, chia Seeds and Cacau Nibs
4pm: Blueberries, Almonds, Cacauo Nibs, Chia Seeds and Sunflower seeds
6pm: Pea and Rice Protein Blend
8pm: Mixed Beans/Peas/Lentils and Steamed Vegetables
10pm: Rice Cake with Almond butter
Mark says that going vegan made him fall in love with food again and he now doesn’t worry about his protein intake at all: “My mentality for body building was low carbs, moderate fats and high protein. Now I don’t worry because this [being vegan] is how my body is meant to work.”
“I don’t miss it because the food I’m eating now is so much better and I know [the health problems] associated with meat now. I feel lied to. I feel lied to for all of my life. It’s so frustrating because people make the connection but eating meat is just what you do; it’s what you are taught in school. The way I used to eat feels so alien to me now. Why would we kill an animal? Why would we eat an animal? I can’t believe that it used to be so normal.”
Being vegan in his industry can’t be easy. Being asked to play roles which oppose your personal beliefs and fighting stigma around veganism, even with the increasing number of people following a plant based diet, can be tricky. It must be even harder to write as a vegan for a mainstream audience. I ask him about finding a balance.
“I’m yet to write as a vegan. I wrote the film three years ago and the transition began towards the end of that process. There are things I see in the film now that make me uncomfortable. At the beginning there is some animation and I wanted each character to have an input on their character. One guy asked if he could ride a bull and I said fine. Watching it back now…” he starts shaking his head. “It isn’t what I’m about at all.
“The one thing I try not to do is become a preachy vegan. We get a bad enough rap as it is. I just try and inspire people and encourage people through my own actions and my diet. It has to be their choice, I can’t make them do it.”
He has, however, successfully educated many of his friends and family about the benefits of a vegan diet, including his mother who has cut animal products from her diet after watching What the Health.
Does he think that there is more he could do still?
“Originally, I wanted to be an all or nothing vegan but it’s so hard without it taking over your life. First and foremost you can control food and I try and avoid anything I can but you can’t do everything.
“I consciously don’t by toiletries and clothes that aren’t vegan. I think it’s a natural progression. Once you have nailed the diet you are just going to keep chipping away at things. You can’t do it all overnight; you have to be rational.”
Watch the trailer for Crossing Over at crossingoverfilm.com.