We catch up with the co-writer and star of new Irish comedy, THE STAG

Peter McDonald started his film career in a co-starring role with Brendan Gleeson in I WENT DOWN. Since then McDonald has starred in films including WHEN BRENDAN MET TRUDY and THE DAMNED UNITED. As well as film, McDonald has had a long and varied career in theatre and TV. The actor is now starring in MOONE BOY for Sky, and has co-written and stars in the film that closed the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival this year, THE STAG. We caught up with McDonald to find out more about THE STAG and what the actor plans to do next.

Where did the story for THE STAG come from?
Peter McDonald: Myself and John has been looking to write something together for a while and we had knocked about a few ideas, and come to each other with different things and decided that it wasn’t the one. A couple of years ago I was about to go on a stag, and I hadn’t seen on a stag in a few years. One part of me was dreading going – three days just guys, it was going to be on barges – the groom was a very good friend of mine and I knew it was going to be very good fun but I didn’t know all the guys. I was laughing at the idea that I would turn up to the stag – as a joke – and be ‘Mr Stag’ [laughs]. I was laughing at that as an idea, and then I thought ‘imagine if a guy like that was on the stag with the guy who I was just being’. So I rang John and we started talking about it and we knocked it up and down and realised it was really fertile ground for the kind of comedy we wanted to make; the kind of film we wanted to make. We wanted to make something that could be really funny, but yet had the potential for you to invest in the characters.

Did you feel it was important to show a different, gentler side of Irish men?
PMcD: Yeah. I think it was. I think we felt it hadn’t been done, or if it had been done, they hadn’t been the lead characters in the film. Also, we liked the nuanced subversion of little things like the Bride is the one that instigates the stag, that when it’s proposed to the group of men, the only people who are in favour of it are the gay guys. By nature of it’s subject matter, it’s a no man’s land between two forms of masculinity, between the old school The Machine – as he first appears – and these wordy modern Irish guys. That no man’s land was so irresistible to us, and also the idea of what it is to be a man; that’s something that you can never answer because it’s always changing. Perhaps the only way to actually be a man is to ask yourself the question of how it’s changing. Married to that is the awkward and difficult road to male sincerity and male friendship and being open with each other as men, because we tend to shy away from that, and, even though it’s a universal story, we just wanted to explore it using Irish men.

Did you write with anyone in mind?
PMcD: Initially, I was always going to play The Machine, but we always knew that if it spiralled off in a direction where I was not the right choice for it, we would have to look each other in the eye and let it go. I don’t know how that would have played out because maybe we kept writing it with me in mind. We had Hugh [O’Conor] in mind for Fionnáin very early on because it’s actually a very difficult character to play, and it’s a fine line that he walks, and he does it very well. We knew he had those comic chops to play that part really well. We didn’t have anyone in mind for Davin initially, but as we were developing the character then Andrew [Scott’s] name popped into our heads. I know Andrew very well, and I have worked with him a few times, and he is a very funny guy; but because Moriarty is his best-known part and it’s such a phenomenon of a show that he isn’t much known for his ability to do comedy.

The Machine has an obsession with U2 in the film, was that part of yourself that you wanted to include into the character?
PMcD: Oh yeah I love U2. I think though, what we wanted to do wasn’t really to do with our relation to U2, it was more the Irish relationship with U2, and the idea that U2 are a cultural behemoth in our country; they are the most successful and recognisable thing about Ireland in many ways, apart from Guinness. Some people just don’t like their music, and that’s fine. Some people don’t like their music because they’re U2, and I have no judgement on that either. For someone like The Machine – who’s 110% sincerity – he can’t even see the argument. He can’t understand that somewhere in there, there’s something that you don’t like [laughs]. We loved having an Irish guy in a film saying ‘I cannot abide U2′. They were amazing to us; in terms of using a song like that, we could have used a third of our budget just trying to get the worldwide rights for it, and they gave it to us for nothing. They didn’t even need to hear the version and they didn’t want to see a cut of the film, they just said ‘take it’. It was really, really generous.

How does it feel that THE STAG closed the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival?
PMcD: It’s an honour. It could be a huge hit internationally, but if we felt the Irish public didn’t take to it, we’d be more disappointed by that. For us, we tried not to make anything universal on purpose, by staying true to where the guys are from and having Irish moments in the film. We just hope that people take to it here because it’s about Irish people, for Irish people.

You have done a lot of TV lately, how does it feel to go back to film?
PMcD: Film was quite quiet for me for a while; I did a lot of theatre and a lot of TV. It felt really good, it felt great [to go back to film]. What feels really good is when you’re the originator, co-collaborating on the artistic direction of the project. Over the last few years I started making short films and started writing, and I just felt I had enough experience not to say ‘I’m writing something’, [laughs] but to say ‘I’m making something’. I was lucky enough to get in a position to do that. It felt great. I love going to the cinema; it’s still my favourite thing to do, when the lights go down and the credits come up I always get a tingle. I’m always ready to just go there with film, so when you see the lights go down on a film like this, and a cast that I’m so proud of, it’s a great feeling.

MOONE BOY is obviously the TV show that you have been doing most recently. Did you expect such a strong response to it?
PMcD: It’s really big here, and people love it in the UK. I know Chris [O’Dowd] very well, and when he sent me to scripts initially, I knew they were going to be good because he’s a very talented guy. I just love the fact that Chris went to his childhood for that show. We shoot two weeks of the year up in Boyle; very few TV stations would agree to do that, and he got Sky to do that! [laughs] I knew when I read the scripts the first time, it’s like the first time I read I WENT DOWN, that I knew it would be something that people would come up to me and say they enjoyed.

What’s next?
PMcD: I am doing THE WEIR in the West End at the moment, Conor McPherson’s play. After that, I’m going to take a little break because it’s been a really busy couple of years! [laughs] More acting though, but I hope to have my own directorial debut some time in the near future; I’m working on trying to get that off the ground. Hopefully I will write some more stuff with John and carry on in that direction.

THE STAG is released in Irish cinemas on March 7th

Words: Brogen Hayes