Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh film still

The Irish writer/director chats Seven Psychopaths, recasting Colin Farrell and dismissing Tarantino comparisons.

It’s been seven years since his sardonic directorial debut, In Bruges, charmed audiences across the globe. But playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh has gone a little off the reservation with his dazzling meta comedy, Seven Psychopaths. He discussed this enigmatic, semi-autobiographical jaunt through the decrepit underworld of Hollywood genre cinema with LWLies recently.

LWLies: In 2010, there was a New York production of your play, A Behanding in Spokane, starring Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell. Is that why they were cast in Seven Psychopaths?

McDonagh: None of the script had anything to do with that, as it was written about seven or eight years ago. I was at rehearsals every day so I got to hang out with those guys. I just really liked them as actors. With Seven Psychopaths, it wasn’t like working with strangers on day one. It felt like we had some kind of chemistry going on.

Did you already have the script ready when you were hanging out with them?

Yeah. I wrote it just after I wrote the script for In Bruges but before I made In Bruges. Although I knew I didn’t have the wherewithal to make it as my first feature – I knew I had to make something else first – I always wanted to come back to this.

In the period post-In Bruges, were you being offered more commercial projects to write and direct?

I only ever want to direct my own scripts. I don’t want to work for anyone else or write for anyone else. My agent probably gets a lot of requests, but I don’t hear about them because I’m too busy on my own stuff.

Was Colin Farrell’s character, a boozy Irish writer, always called Marty?

Yeah, I think he was. But I went back and forth with it, especially when we got closer to filming. I felt like it would be inviting too many questions about autobiography and stuff like that. In the end I just thought, 'Fuck it, why not?' There probably are elements of me within Colin’s character, but there’s also quite a few red herrings too. It was fun to play around with it but I wouldn’t read too much into it.

As a writer, Colin Farrell’s character finds inspiration in newspapers. Do you do that?

I prefer to make things up from scratch. I should read newspapers more, but I don’t really. I’m much more interested in coming up with brand new stories.

The film’s dialogue fits the style of these actors perfectly. Did you re-write the film specifically for this cast?

Not as much as you might think. There were maybe a couple of lines I added for Christopher Walken’s character. They were mainly taken from things I heard him saying when we were rehearsing the play. The line where he says he thinks he’d make a great pope, that was just something Christopher said one day.

During the writing process, do you ever write specifically for people? Did you always have Colin in mind?

Strangely, it was Sam Rockwell who occasionally popped into my head during the writing process. He’s a certain type of character who can go from outrageously funny to dark and deadly during the course of a second. And that just helps to get inside the mind of that type of character.

Many are describing the film as being Tarantino-esque. Are you okay with that?

I’m more a fan of directors like Takeshi Kitano and Jim Jarmusch than Tarantino. I love Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction was great, but I haven’t been so crazy about his stuff since then. I haven’t especially appreciated the Tarantino references in the reviews. It just seems like too easy an option. In certain ways, I’m attempting to go beyond that guys-with-guns mentality. I don’t think there was too much of a deliberate homage to any other filmmakers in Seven Psychopaths. Obviously, there’s a little clip of Kitano’s Violent Cop, but you could almost say that In Bruges had more blatant references to other filmmakers, particularly Jarmusch. More in my head I was thinking about Sam Peckinpah and Terrence Malick. With the desert and the peace and love motif. Peckinpah has these sad, dark, poignant moments between the carnage, and I was more looking to go down that road than anything.

Tom Waits plays a supporting role in the film. How did you come to cast him?

I literally opened my inbox one day and there was an email from him and his wife asking if I would like to work with him, which was a dream. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, or whenever Swordfishtrombones came out. I knew he’d been to see a play of mine in New York before In Bruges was made. But maybe In Bruges reminded him about that. I got a nice card from him after he saw the play. And then this email. I still don’t know how he got my address…

Now read our Seven Psychopaths review.

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