Martin McDonagh's first feature film, "In Bruges," took a lot of people by surprise. The story of two hitmen, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason, hiding out in Belgium after a botched job, was terrifically funny, seriously violent, and surprisingly emotional. The movie revitalized Farrell's career, and put McDonagh on the map. He's returned with a follow-up, titled "Seven Psychopaths," which is set in Los Angeles and stars Farrell once again. This time, though, he's playing a screenwriter called Marty with a couple of problems. The first is his drinking, and the second is the fact that he's surrounded by, well, lots of psychopaths, who come in the form of Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson, and a few more. It's a dreamy cast, and the movie is stark, violent, and funny. McDonagh's roots are in the theater, though, so his characters are often well-drawn and intriguing, and he has a habit of humanizing violent individuals to the point that an audience finds themselves caring about someone who has done some bad, bad things. McDonagh spoke with Upcoming-Movies.com about the new film, which opens Friday.
Upcoming-Movies.com: So, you named the main character, the fulcrum of the movie, after yourself. Is there any of you in there?
Martin McDonagh: Not too much. I think if you sometimes throw a name like that in there it's, to a degree, a little bit of a red herring. At the same time, I think about violence and movies in the same way as Colin's character says he does. I'm always aiming for something a little bit more love-and-peace than guns-and-death, even though there is a lot of guns-and-death in my stuff. So, it was partly that, trying to explore that thing that I feel, being torn between wanting to do something that has some kind morality to it, but also wanting to do something that's cinematic and dangerous and edgy too
I think the same thing is definitely true of "In Bruges" as well. It's the same sort of sensibilities, but so much of that film was about taking these violent guys and finding the heart in them.
Martin McDonagh: Yeah, yeah, it's much more fun to explore a character or characters like that who are--you don't want on page one and scene one to know everything about the character for the rest of the movie. That's no fun for me as a writer, and usually not for an audience. I like, just in the writing, being surprised by what a character can come up with and the place he is going to go to. I guess part of the reason for doing something about so-called psychopaths, or someone like Sam's character or Christopher's character, because they're so out there, they can take the story to any strange place in any given scene. There's a joy to that which I feel in writing, and I think hopefully an audience will feel that when they watch it.
You have a pretty dreamy cast and I'm wondering, who came first, the actors or the characters?
Martin McDonagh: Well, obviously I knew Colin from before. I wrote the script before, it dates back about seven years, so when I was writing I didn't have any actors in mind. But they were my first choice, as you said my dream choices. I didn't think I'd ever be able to get Christopher or people like that, or Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton even. But I did a play with Christopher and Sam about two years ago in New York so I had a connection to them. And I knew Woody for about ten years or so. So in some ways, even though they're my dream choices, they're all friends to a degree as well. I felt like I was working with family or working with a repertory company in a way. That's why the first day of shooting wasn't terrifying, despite walking up to these brilliant actors and trying to tell them what to do. It was more about family and learning from each other and also just trying to do the best possible job. It was an awful lot of fun on set too.
Speaking of Tom Waits, I'm curious how he came to the project and how he was to work with.
Martin McDonagh: He and I almost did a strange screwed up musical, a stage kind of musical, about two or three years ago. It was going to be something in the vein of "The Black Rider" or "Alice" or one of those. It fell through, but we started like talking and we had that connection, and we met a bunch of times, so when it came time to think of who could play that character, I thought, 'geez, why not ask? You can only be turned down.' He doesn't do a lot of acting work these days. I think I emailed him and said, 'I've got this script...' and I told him a little about the character and he said, 'Will I get to kill people and will I get to carry a rabbit? I'll do it.' So, it was kind of a perfect fit.
He's just the loveliest guy. He's a great actor and just a joy to be around. He and Christopher were like heroes to me as a kid. I remember getting "Swordfishtrombones" when I was 11 or 12 and being in awe of him and the place he's taken music to ever since.
I remember the first day just being on set with him. You talk to him and then go back behind the monitor and you have to kind of pinch yourself thinking, 'Oh my God, Tom Waits is in my film and Christopher Walken is in my film.' It's crazy.
In your work, there's a propensity to think that because there tends to be violence in it, it's kind of dark, but I think the violence that you've used in this film and "In Bruges" is actually a way to bring out the real humanity of your characters.
Martin McDonagh: Very much so. That's what I'm trying to get at and I think it's something that's missed a bit. try to have some kind of line of morality going through all of my stuff. I'm usually quite surprised that people take it as being quite so violent. "In Bruges" had a couple of moments of that, but it's more about the moral questions and the guilt that the Colin character feels. I think it wouldn't be as interesting to not explore what violence leads to, which is the death of innocence and guilt and, hopefully remorse. I guess it's not dealt with in as much of a heavy melancholic way in this one, but there is a moral through line in it too. I think the place that Christopher's character takes it to, by the end, when he turns the story on its head, is what the story is about. It is what Colin's character has been trying to get to. You can have a film that touches on men and guns and violence, but there is a better place to go, and I hope audiences will get that as much as they'll get the car chases and the gun fights and the comedy.