This week Martin McDonagh's new film Seven Psychopaths opens, and it’s sure to take the Irish playwright and film director to a new level of success after the 2008 indie hit In Bruges. Cahir O'Doherty talks to the Oscar winning writer about celebrating each Christmas in Galway, his long journey from working class south London to the palm trees of Hollywood, and his plan to return to Ireland in theater and film.
Some people suspect psychopaths surround them, but writer Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) knows it for a fact.
An Irish screenwriter who has run out of original ideas in a town where that’s career suicide, saddled with a girlfriend at the end of her rope (Abbie Cornish), Marty’s life is finally turned upside down by his well-meaning but insane best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell).
Before he knows what’s happened to him, Marty is an accomplice to his friend’s dog-knapping business until they make the biggest mistake of their lives -- pilfering the Shih Tzu belonging to mob boss Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), a man who would shoot your head off without a word but who still somehow adores his little puppy.
It’s the kind of shoot em’ up scenario that playwright McDonagh, 44, has made his stock in trade since his early Irish theatrical shockers like The Beauty Queen of Leenane set the theatrical world (and Broadway) on fire back in the late nineties.
Written and directed by McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths will probably be the general audience hit he has been hoping for when it opens this Friday. Previously McDonagh’s 2008’s independent flick In Bruges wowed the critics but really didn’t do the kind of box office business that the London-born Irish writer and director had hoped for.
But then Colin Farrell won a Golden Globe Award for his role and suddenly the film was back in play. Since then Dubliner Farrell has become a go-to actor for McDonagh.
“We really like each other and share the same sense of humor and ideas about film and acting,” McDonagh tells the Irish Voice during an interview on Monday.
“It’s probably the sense of humor that’s completely on the same page and that’s why we do good work together.”
Since his debut at a theatrical wonder kid in the late nineties, McDonagh’s work has delighted in upsetting people’s expectations. He’s always been more punk rock than masterpiece theater, and he’d be the first to say so.
“The Clash and the Pogues and people like that were a big influence on me in my teens,” says McDonagh. “I guess as much as you want to be a part of the filmmaking or theater world, you kind of also want to question the parts you disagree with about them. I guess a punk rock sensibility frees you up to do that.”
Critics often say McDonagh “came from nowhere,” which is a kind of snooty code for saying he’s Irish and he’s working class. He’s hasn’t forgotten his roots at all.
“I guess when you come from my background it’s always going to be there. Success or being part of Hollywood or the theater community was never on the agenda. I just want to do good work,” he says.
“The success isn’t an issue really; it’s about expressing an opinion about the world that isn’t really being expressed maybe. That’s always there and I don’t think that’s going to change really.”
Now that his focus in Seven Psychopaths is on American gangsters McDonagh is free to explore one of the enduring elements of American drama -- guns.
“It’s something that in a playful way I kind of wanted to point out and question I guess. Why does every movie have to have guys with guns in it? I love those kinds of films, but I didn’t want to make one without poking fun a little bit or being a little satirical about it.”
The film leads to an explosive shootout at the Joshua Tree, that landmark made famous by U2 and that McDonagh loves for his own reasons.
“I just always thought of it as a beautiful place. I went there for the first time about 10 years ago with the purpose of thinking about it being the location to end this film,” he says.
“I love those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and things like that, and it’s so close to Los Angeles too so it was a prefect place for the boys to end up.”
So Bono wasn’t a part of this equation? “No, not really. I swear. I was always more of a Pogues fan than a U2 fan.”
Fans of McDonagh’s Irish plays will want to know if he has plans to return to the landscape that brought him fame.
“I will yeah,” he says simply. “I’m always back in Connemara because my parents are back there and I’m back about three or four times a year myself. I mean John (his filmmaker brother) is just in the middle of his second one in Ireland and I hear all the stories that come from there,” McDonagh says.
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