We chat with director Martin McDonagh about his new film Seven Psychopaths
Born to Irish parents, we’re happy to claim director Martin McDonagh as one of our own. Alongside his brother (director of The Guard) he is transforming the landscape of Irish cinema, delivering cult hits like ‘In Bruges’ and the Oscar winning short ‘Six Shooter’, his latest movie ‘Seven Psychopaths’ focuses on an Irish writer mixed up in the kooky world of Hollywood, starring Colin Farrell using his sharp-tongued Irish accent and Sam Rockwell doing a pretty good attempt at a stereotypical Irish twang. Movies.ie caught up with Martin to talk all things psychopath.
It could be argued that Seven Psychopaths is, essentially, a film about a film; how did you ground this in reality? MMcD: I don’t know. I guess you don’t want to make it so much a film about a film that you completely take it out, that it couldn’t be happening in real life. That was the given; that you are not watching a story about a story, you are still watching a story with bits that could pop out of the story, but then pop back in quite normally. It was a delicate balance; everything had to be true to the main line of the story. You could not completely break the fourth wall; you couldn’t look directly into the camera, for instance, and say some funny gag, but you could… As Christopher Walken’s character says ‘Your women characters are awful’ – talking about the real film itself – but his character could say that because he is talking about the script. It was a fine balance, but I think we pulled it off.
The psychopaths feel like a combination of urban legend and true crime stories, how did you come up with them? MMcD: They are all made up. The Harry Dean Stanton one was a short story that I had written years ago, and I think I had the Tom Waits story a few years before the script was written too, so they were two – or three, technically – already written. Then the Harry Dean Stanton character becomes the back-story for Christopher Walken’s character, but technically you wouldn’t say that Christopher Walken’s character is a psychopath in the real story, it’s more about spirituality with him. The Sam Rockwell character… it was just fun to come up with a character who on the surface seems like the puppy dog little brother, wanting to play with the big boys like Colin as a writer, but then his story isn’t about that, it’s something much more crazy and darker. Woody’s character, it was a simple thing, making a villain vicious but as sentimental about his dog as you could possibly make him. It’s kind of a joy to come up with characters like that.
Colin Farrell’s character’s name is a variation of your own, and that could be seen as making a reference to your own struggles with writing. Was that deliberate? Is this your ‘Adaptation’? MMcD: [laughs] To a tiny degree. I guess you throw something out there and you know that those question are going to come. That’s hopefully part of the playfulness of the thing; is it completely me, or is it not? I don’t think it is, but Colin’s character definitely shares some of the same concerns that I do about not wanting the film to be purely about violence, but wanting it to be something more spiritual or decent. That line he says about love and peace; that is the place that I was at too, knowing also that it was still going to be an incredibly violent film the same as In Bruges was, to a lesser degree. I guess it is the kind of film that I want to make; ones that have a more spiritual side, as well as the darkness, and because that is true for me outside of the script, I thought it was fair to name that character that and be playful about it too.
So Colin Farrell is not playing you in the film, he is actually playing a fictional character? MMcD: Yes, yes. I am much more handsome [laughs] If Colin ever reads that, he is going to laugh his head off.
LA feels as much a character in Seven Psychopaths as Bruges did in your previous film. Obviously Bruges influenced the story of In Bruges, was that he same with this one? MMcD: Not so much in the writing of it – Bruges just bled into every single scene [of In Bruges]. I went there, I came back and specifically wrote the scenes for each church or each street corner or each canal or each bridge, so it was very informative to that film. This… less so in the script stage, but when we got to shoot it, I kind of wanted to make LA a character, to make it as much of a character as I could with a town that’s in some ways so generic, and it doesn’t have much architecture, to try and bleed at least some of that into the story. Locations are almost one of the main characters in a story for me – definitely with In Bruges – and I try now to think about the next script is, and where the place is that I am going to find, to have it be as strong a character as the last two. Maybe Asia, maybe Easter Island…
You should come back to Dublin! MMcD: [laughs] I am more a West of Ireland boy, so I think that area would be more my cup tea in some ways.
Didn’t your brother [John Michael McDonagh] already do that with The Guard? MMcD: Yeahhh… A bit [laughs] He has just done his second one in Sligo with Brendan [Gleeson] called Calvary, so he is just in the middle of editing that. That’s interesting because that’s filmed right around where we used to go as kids to my Mum’s parents’ place, which was in Sligo. He got ahead of me with that one! I think there are plenty more films to be made in the West.
You worked with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken on a play and Colin Farrell was obviously in In Bruges, that an influence in casting them? MMcD: Yes, you always want to work with the best people and the nicest people around – well I do anyway – so it was very simple. In some ways it felt like the play that I did with Sam and Christopher was almost like a rehearsal for this one. I was getting to know them a bit more, and we all got on the same page. I am not sure if this film would have come out so well if we hadn’t had that process. Woody Harrelson I have known for about 10 years, we almost did a play together too. It’s nice, especially for me. I have made two films now, and it’s still scary on the first day of shooting if you are surrounded by people you don’t really know, so it’s really handy to be working with people who are close to you. That was joyful.
Did you feel the pressure after In Bruges was so well received? MMcD: No, not at all. I guess maybe because I had been through all of that with the plays – having one successful one and then having to follow it up with others. I am kind of used to that whole pressure thing, so I don’t even see the pressure at all. For me, it’s always dealing with the nitty gritty of trying to get something good every day. The bigger picture doesn’t really enter into it much. In Bruges did fantastically in Ireland of course, but in America it was a big flop and even the reviews weren’t very good at the start; it’s a lot of the cult following that’s grown around it. Even if that happens with this one I will be fine with that too. I am someone who doesn’t really care about box office and all things like that, but I care about a film being good. This is so different to In Bruges that it is hard to compare the two, but I am very happy with it.
What’s next for you? MMcD: A long vacation. I have one script that is ready to go, but I am going to take the next year or two and write either a play or another film. I am definitely not going to make another film for at least 2 or 3 years, I think. I am going to do a bit of travelling. I am just going to try and grow up! [laughs]