Posted on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Just when you think Seven Psychopaths is going to be a simple quirky comedy about crazy people, it hits you with the truth. The film is actually love letter to movies and a meta blend of Adaptation and Pulp Fiction. Those two films were the sophomore efforts of filmmakers we’ve since come to revere and Seven Psychopaths is the work of another man now on that path: writer/director Martin McDonagh. His first film, In Bruges, is a model of how to blend genres the right way and with his latest, McDonagh enriches the genre blend.
His script has a screenwriter (Colin Farrell) trying to write a movie while his friend (Sam Rockwell) teams up with a dog kidnapper (Christopher Walken) to steal the dog of a mob boss (Woody Harrelson) who is dating a beautiful women (Olga Kurylenko) with an ulterior motive. Mix all those stories together, throw in Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Michael Stuhlbarg, along with massive shootouts, flashbacks and just about the cutest dog imaginable, and you still don’t have any idea what to expect.
/Film was lucky enough to sit down with McDonagh to talk about the pressure of following In Bruges, the sophomore jinx, balancing all those storylines, the pitfalls of writing a movie about writing a movie, naming the main character after himself, shooting in Los Angeles and much much more. Read it below then go see Seven Psychopaths, in theaters Friday.
/Film: So two for two, huh? Two directorial feature length films and I think they are both successes.
Martin McDonagh: Oh, thanks. Yeah, off of Bruges I thought, “You’ve got to do it again. If you do one, then go away, you’re not really a filmmaker.” There have been certainly great one-off films, like Night of the Hunter and… Did you ever see Electra Glide in Blue?
It’s really good. Check it out. It’s like Made in Metal, but that’s a seventies film that really stands up. But I think unless you do two, you can’t say you’re a filmmaker.
Was that something you were conscious of? I was actually thinking about the film and I could sort of see it as a sort of “Adaptation meets Pulp Fiction,” which are two very successful sophomore efforts. Did you think about the sophomore jinx and maybe trying to avoid it? Even thought I know you did write the film before you did In Bruges.
Not so much. I mean luckily with my theater background I’ve kind of been through that, where I had a success with a first play and I kind of sailed through and knew that it’s a longer, it’s a bigger… you’ve got more time for that, and the sophomore thing is more about critics than about you, I think. But no, it was just about trying to make a film with integrity again and not repeat the same film too, at the same time keeping some of the things that I did like about In Bruges. You know cool dialog and having it be very actor based. But I kind of wanted the canvas to be a bit larger this time and the scope and the cinema of it to be bigger.
And obviously like you said, it is much bigger in scope and there are so many more characters and there’s so much more story going on, was that all in the script that way or was it in the editing?
No, that was all literally all in the script, even the structure and where the stories, the short stories came are almost identical to where they are in the script. It was kind of hard… You couldn’t really juggle it around, because you had to tell the quick psycho story before we revealed stuff about [SPOILER REDACTED] being that person. So there are things that had to kind of stay in place,. There wasn’t too much juggling around. There wasn’t too much changing in the edit really.
Okay. At what point did you realize this movie was going to be a movie about a movie? I know you started with the idea of a psychopath and the story snowballed from there, but at what point did the “movieness” of it come in?
Pretty much early on too, like in the scene in the film, which is probably within the first five minutes where Colin is saying, “I’ve only got one psychopath, but I don’t want it to be about guys with guns, I want it to be about love and piece,” which is a meta thing to say about what the film is about. That was literally where it was in the third or fourth page, so that was always there and those idea just popped up as the film went on.
All right. Part of the reason I loved the movie is I love that meta thing, but there’s always a danger in being a little too “wink, wink.” In the writing and in directing, what were some of the challenges with that to rein it in or push a little too far?
That’s a quite a big thing. Not to be smug about it is the big thing. To keep it being fun, but to keep it still as real as you could possibly get. I mean there’s a point where Christopher says “Your women characters are awful” commenting kind of on the film that we have been seeing, but you can still just about get away with it truthfully that he would say that about the script that he’s reading. So if you can push it and it’s fun to push it, where the line is… it was just about “Don’t be smug and don’t be preachy” and “Don’t be cleverer than your audience,” because I’m definitely not. (Laughs)
As you were realizing that that was what this movie was going to be, did you watch any movies that it echoes, like The Player or Adaptation? Or was that just sort of maybe all in your film going…
You know, I had seen all of those, but I tried not to… I didn’t watch any of those again actually, I tried to keep it as pure to this story as I could.
And you purposely named the main character “Marty.” You could have named him something else and it would have, obviously, avoided any comparisons to you writing it, the Charlie Kaufman of it.
(Laughs) Yeah, I had those issues of “Should I?” even up until the first days of shooting. I thought “Should I? Is it going to call too many questions to me? Am I going to hear that questions a hundred times?” I thought, “Fuck it, why not?” If it’s the original impulse to throw something out there, I kind of like not tampering with that.
How much did Colin pick your mind about your point of view?
None, because we both even said to each other… and he knows me very well, so he knew the aspects of me that were true in it, but he was never trying to play me. We share, Colin and I, Marty’s questioning of violence in movies and “Is there a better way?” and we share a comedic sense of all of that, that you don’t get preachy about it and you can have fun with it at the same time as I think we do with explore violence in movies and peace and love.
So now that the character is named “Marty,” even if you were thinking about it, did you put in a lot of your own struggles with writing the script into the film? Are there mirrors of that?
No, in regards to writer’s block I’ve never even believed in it. I think I’ve always had a lot of story, but I’m kind of lazy, which is a different thing. So no, and I, unlike Marty, have never been part of the Hollywood studio scene or the LA writer kind of thing, so those aspects aren’t really anything to do with me, but it was fun to throw in a couple of bobs, like when Sam says, “You can’t kill the animals in a movie, but you can kill the women.” Those are things that as a writer I kind of see in Hollywood and I kind of want to question.
You mentioned how you’re not part of the Hollywood scene, but you set the film in LA, and shot it in LA. Was that essential? What was it like shooting here? When you think bout it, nobody shoots here anymore unless it’s on a sound stage.
Yes, yes it’s crazy. I wanted LA to be almost as much a character in the film as Bruges was in Bruges, but maybe a more noirish underbelly side of it, which has been seen obviously in Chinatown and other things. Yeah, it’s crazy when you’re here and trying to finance it, “Couldn’t you do it in New Mexico where there are tax breaks?” It’s like “But the whole thing is about here…” So no, just like Bruges could never be done anywhere else, this had to be set and filmed here. Also, I had to have that Joshua Tree sequence too and they were pushing to not do it there, because there were so many restrictions on shooting in a national park. Finally we only shot for a day or two, because for some reason they don’t let you explode cars there…
[Both Laugh] God forbid…
But we found a desert landscape outside that was quite identical to it and wasn’t controlled as much as there, so that was also… I wanted the urban LA to be a strong character almost and the desert to be as strong as Leone’s desert landscapes.
So were all of the landmarks in the script? Was it always set in Echo Park? That’s sort of a random place to put an LA movie. I mean it’s great, but…
You know, Billy’s house… just the exterior of Billy’s house wasn’t until I came for about three months about a year and a half ago and stayed and did a little work on the script, but tried to travel around and see little bits of the town that hadn’t really been seen too much.
The reservoir is one that I’ve been to and you never see that in a movie.
Yeah, this nice locations guy brought that up. He brought me there and it was just ideal. You’ve got the sign, you’ve got the architecture of the bridge, and you don’t feel like you’re in LA, yet you’re in the heart of LA. It was cool and then I thought “Surely it’s been used somewhere before,” but not as far as I know.
You have a lot of dark humor and turn blowing off a guy’s head into a joke; is there a trick to making violence funny?
There are balances between scenes even within the movie, like Billy’s shootout in the cemetery. You can just go pig shit wild in that, because it’s him and it’s not me, so it’s his idea of gratuitousness. Conversely when Woody Harrelson’s character meets Myra in the hospital room, that needed to be a scarier, darker, more frightening, more real threat of violence and trail of violence too. Even the Tom Waits backstory is almost absurd, but the violence in it isn’t quite comical, though some people might take it that way, but I want it to be quite realistic, so even within the film there are different ways of portraying the violence.
So how to you go about doing that? Is it like a scene-by-scene thing where you going in thinking that?
Yeah, pretty much you have to storyboard it, like the cemetery shootout sequence was storyboarded, but it was also in the directing of it and working with the special effects guys. I would say to them “It doesn’t matter if you see the lines going to the squib. It doesn’t matter if the continuity is fucked. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining in one scene and they are all dry in the next,” which they are and no one ever notices funny enough, but it’s Billy’s movie, so it doesn’t matter whereas the other stuff you’ve got to be realistic about the throat slashings and that’s got to be horrific and kind of not funny or the idea of the absurdity of that kind of story can be funny, but that moment should be cringe worthy almost.
When you were writing, did you think of anybody for specific roles, or did they just come to you because you were friends and had worked with them before?
The script dates back about seven years, so it was kind of before I had even made In Bruges. Sometimes Sam Rockwell is in my head when I’m writing a character like that, but aside from that no. But these were all my first choice actors, so it’s a dream cast really. To work with Walken and even Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Waits in a film is like “No way.” As a kid I loved those people, so it was a dream to work with them.
[SPOILER COMING UP - STAY FOR THE CREDITS]
The last thing was, Tom Waits’ character tells Marty to do something, and then Marty doesn’t. So when the credits start rolling, I’m like “It can’t be over,” but everybody else was walking out and then you hit with it. Was it written like that? Did you toy with…
Yeah, and there was one version where we said “One year later,” but that didn’t quite pay off, because I liked the idea that you have a kind of Hollywood ending when he finishes the script and the credits role, but the movie wasn’t that. The movie was something a bit more comfortable than that and Tom’s character had said that, so it was a question about “Should the credits start rolling?” I think the studio wanted it to be much further down, but you know it had to be just so long that if people do get up, you can catch them and that’s why we had the credits blip a little bit and the soundtrack blips.
Seven Psychopaths opens everywhere October 12.