WAMG At The SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS Press Day – MARTIN MCDONAGH
Since SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS is about to hit theaters (in a funny, bloody, and shock-tastic way), WAMG, along with a few other members of the press, had the opportunity to sit down with writer/director Martin McDonagh in a round table last week.
Written and Directed by Oscar®-winner Martin McDonagh , the comedy Seven Psychopaths follows a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who inadvertently becomesentangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu. Co-starring Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits, Olga Kurylenko and Zeljko Ivanek.
Check out our roundtable discussion here.
So, you know, what is the attraction to psychopaths, killers and rabbits?
Martin McDonagh: Ahh… Rabbits? That’s the definite one, I love them (laughs). Psychopaths and killers… not so much. I guess I share Colin Farrell’s character’s feelings towards psychopaths and violent people in the film. That I know how cinematic they are and how interesting films can be with them, but kind of question… question the morality of only having films about guys with guns. So… it’s that, playing those two ideas off each other is my interest in them. Also, I was thinking about this the other day, if you’d written a film called “Seven Accountants” you wouldn’t really get much interest. (Laughs)Christopher Walken wouldn’t be quite the same in that part. (Laughs)
As a demented IRS agent maybe…
Martin McDonagh: There you are. That could be… but they all are…
This movie operates on so many different meta levels. I’m curious, was this the story you set out to actually write from the beginning?
Martin McDonagh: Yeah, this is exactly how it kind of developed. There wasn’t a time when it was just the central story and I was looking out for it. No, I think I had the Quaker’s psychopath as a short story, and then I had the title of this, and then I was stuck with Colin’s character and didn’t know how to come up with the others, but wanted it to be about love and peace, then his two friends show up and the dog thing it just kind of snowballed and snowballed. It kind of developed naturally like that and then the meta things came. If you’re writing a film that’s about a writer in Hollywood that doesn’t want to write a film called “Seven Psychopaths” it’s going to be meta no matter what you do.
You’ve got great theatrical staging with the production itself. Did that come into play to aid you as a director stepping behind the camera?
Martin McDonagh: I saw IN BRUGES more that way. That’s basically three characters walking around a stage. The stage being Bruges. But this, I felt , I felt like I had gotten away from that a little bit. That it was broader and… you couldn’t… there were only a few scenes set in a room, you jump to the desert then… I’m not sure. There’s a lot of, it’s dialog heavy like the plays and like BRUGES, and I like that, but I think it’s more cinematic than the last one. So, I see more of the cinema of it. Also, jumping back and doing the short stories, I don’t think you could ever do that on stage.
Were you actively trying to move away from a play feel?
Martin McDonagh: Um, I think just in writing the scripts I’m trying to be as cinematic as I can on film, that you couldn’t do on stage. I think more and more you I’ve gone in that direction. I mean, I’m gonna go back to writing plays too. I think the difference between the two are becoming more and more polarized. If it’s a story and it’s going to be basically set in a room, it’s going to be a play. If there are going to be rabbits and dogs and stuff, (Laughs) then it’s going to be a film.
You’ve worked with Colin before. How much of the cast did you have in your head as you were writing this?
Martin McDonagh: As I was writing, none of them really. It was actually written seven years ago; just after I wrote the script for IN BRUGES before I made the film. I mean, I’ve loved all the actors in this from a long time ago. Maybe Sam Rockwell; sometimes I write with Sam’s voice in my head because I love him as an actor and I love the way he can go from comedy to darkness on a dime. But, no… I never dreamed I’d be in a place where I’m doing a film with Christopher Walken or Tom Waits or Harry Dean Stanton, ever. But, I did a play with Sam and Christopher about 3 years ago in New York, so I knew them. Woody I met like 10 years ago because he’s kind of a theater guy too; we almost did a play together in fact. And Tom Waits, we almost wrote a musical, a kind of fucked up musical kind of thing, which we might go back to.
So, like first day of shooting was like family, was like a little revery company of people I knew, so it wasn’t as terrifying as working with a cast this big might appear to be first.. It was fun every day on set. I think it’s kind of palpable in the film how much fun we were all having. No one was heavy or starry; there were no issues from anyone.
As a writer, when you have Christopher Walken saying the words you wrote, and he has such an interesting cadence in the way that he delivers his lines, are you constantly surprised? Like, are you ”you know, I had a period there?”
Martin McDonagh: It’s the periods and the commas that you forget about. (Laughs) But question marks, it’s… But then conversely, he sticks… like I said, we did a play together, he sticks to, he memorizes the script word for word like six months beforehand. And the words never change. The intonations change. You can never dream that a line or a word even could be pounced in that way, like “hallucinogens” how he does. Where does that come from? But it’s still the words you wrote, you know, so there’s a joy and a surprise to all that kind of stuff. And now, you know, like after the play and after this, I can’t imagine any other way to say those lines. Like “hallucinogens” is not funny on the page, but he says it like that and it’s funny. It’s crazy, and he’s the only one in the world, really, that can do that I think.
Does he do something like that intentionally, or is that just how he pronounces it?
Martin McDonagh: Um, I think you’ll have to ask him, but I don’t think that’s how he… I think he knows how screwed up that stuff is. (Laughs) How can he not. Yeah, I’m pretty sure… because if it is an accidental thing, I think it would be different on each take, and it’s not. It’s always deliberately wrong on each take. So, yeah. But I’ve learned the trick. The next time if I want him to ask a question, I won’t put a question mark there because he’s going to do the opposite of everything. And if I don’t want it to be a question, I will put a question mark there. But don’t tell him that. (Laughs).
There’s quite a lot of humor throughout this. How important, because this story couldn’t have been told without this kind of humor… How important was it to interject those beats of humor throughout?
Martin McDonagh: Um, very much. Most of my work is that way. Like IN BRUGES was probably more sad and melancholic than this is, but it’s still hopefully very funny throughout. This is almost more fun than… this was always a comedy, a black comedy on the page, but I think it’s come out as more outrageously funny because of the actors. It’s the way I kind of think about the world and the way I like to tell stories. I don’t think you should get too heavy, but there’s enough out there in the world, with violence et cetera that you should question. So, I think that comedy leavens the heaviness of talking about those topics. It doesn’t feel like you’re preaching if you can say something in a joke, which is where this film is coming from.
Because you wrote this way back before you did IN BRUGES and stuff, did those experiences affect the script at all?
Martin McDonagh: Not so much in that way really. If they did it was just about tightening scenes up and feeling like you didn’t have to go on ad infinitum. I think, like, the editing process of a film is quite shocking as to how much you can easily get rid of that you never thought you could on the page. Conversely, when we started shooting I, you know, had trimmed it down, and I thought “Well, there’s not a scene that we can lose from the script.” So we shot every scene. But again, in the editing process loads and loads of scenes were cut. There’s probably like 25 minutes of material cut from the first cut of this which will probably end up in the DVD extras. But, like when they go to the desert, there’s another 20 minutes of really fun scenes but it just slowed everything down. It really was like the film was put on pause and they were just chatting in the desert. You can do that for a little bit, and we do that for a little bit, but you’ve got to get Woody back, and set him so strongly. So no, in script terms it didn’t change much after IN BRUGE but I guess I did learn how to work with actors from my experiences making that film which is ideal for something like this.
Talk a bit about the casting, and not to go into too many spoiler territories, but there are a lot of really small parts played by fantastic known actors. I’m curious about that choice and also the casting those parts.
Martin McDonagh: Ahh, yeah. Well, the… Olga and Abbie… Their parts work… there was probably more to their characters both on the page, and we shot at least four extra scenes with them. But the focus in the edit of the story became more about, um, Colin and Sam’s love affair (Laughs) Their story, being as their… and particularly with Abbie’s character being as there was more about their break up and his alcohol problems in relation to her, but it just… That wasn’t what this story was about. So it wasn’t an intentional…
But even Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg…
Martin McDonagh: That was different. That was just that first scene. I wanted to, for the audience, and we haven’t really publicised this much that they are in the film, so as an audience member you should go “Oh, fuck. I didn’t realize they were in the movie!” BANG. They’re not in the movie. Harry Dean was just a dream to get him to play that part, and we screened it in San Francisco I think, and we haven’t really advertised too much that he’s in it, and it was a first ever audience and he popped up and everyone went “Ah, Harry Dean’s in it!” and it was good, that’s what we were going for. He was ideal. I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d one day make a film with Harry, Christopher and Tom Waits. Like, when I was ten, they were icons of American cinema and music, so that was kind of joyful.
Now, working with animals always presents a challenge in and of itself, but on top of the multitude that you have, you’re also shooting out in the desert… in some protected areas out in Joshua Tree. What kind of challenges did all of those combinations present for you as a director, and for Ben Davis, your cinematographer when planning out what you were going to do?
Martin McDonagh: Um, the animals were, honestly they were a dream. Bonnie the dog was, maybe you’ll meet Bonnie later, is lovely, and quiet as a mouse. I mean, was quiet then, and there was never a peep out of her. It’s like she was on marijuana or something. (Laughs) Which would make two cast members… um… (Laughs) Kidding! Um, and the rabbits were great. And the desert was freezing cold for all of the night shoots. Like, minus 16 for half of the night shifts, and there were a lot of nights in the desert. But, we shot one day in the Joshua Tree National Park itself, because as you said, there were so many restrictions on what we could do there, that we had to find places that looked very similar where you could explode a car, or have a car chase, or um, have a gun fight. So, um Ben Davis was fantastic and I think the film looks beautiful. And that’s all due to him really. We storyboarded an awful lot before we started, I did like six months before we started prep even, but that kind of got my head around the whole desert shoot out.
You selected to shoot on film and not go digital with this. Was there a particular reason for that?
Martin McDonagh: I’m kind of old school. I just think it looks better. Until it’s proven beyond a reasonable doubt that digital looks better… I don’t think digital really speeds things up and I definitely don’t think it looks better. I don’t think it’s cheaper yet, when you add in all the extras that you need. So yeah, I just think film looks better.
There is a great scene where Sam is going on his explanation of the story, and it felt like Chris Walken and Colin were a test audience for him. It got me kind of thinking, being the writer, being the director, were there things from your own experiences that you kind of got to pepper in?
Martin McDonagh: Not so much, but that was probably one of the most fun scenes to do because it’s about a 10 minute monologue… And Sam had it off by heart. I actually went around, and we had about two weeks of rehearsal before we started, and I went around to he and his girlfriends house… and he acted out the whole thing, you know, from start to finish. He was getting down on the floor to get shot, and was coming back up. Just watching it, I was in hysterics. It had kind of been written that most of that was going to be voice over. So, we were going to film all of the actual cemetary shoot out, and you’d hear bits and pieces of it and you’d see a couple images of Sam doing that, but it was so good… you didn’t want, you could have just had the camera on him, and Colin, and Christopher’s reactions. That would have been equally valid. But, because he was so good, it’s kind of half and half now. We’re back with Sam just as much as we are in the cemetary. I think the good thing about the cemetery was continuity didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if it looked stupid, or fake, or phoney because it’s Billy’s idea of the ending. So it didn’t matter if it’s completely over the top, or bordering gratuitus, but it’s not me… it’s Billy.
Was the Walken gag coming out of the coffin in the script, or was that something you guys did on set?
Martin McDonagh: It was kind of a vague thing in the script but one of those things when I was storyboarding it I thought, “That would be a good idea.” We didn’t tell Christopher about it until the night and I was kind of dreading it. We built the coffin and it was like 1 in the morning for him to see it and I was hoping, “God I hope he thinks it’s okay.” We had the stuntman show him it was completely safe. I said, “Chris, do you think you could…?” “Yeah, cool!” We did it in one take, so he had to come up, boom, and the squibs went off perfectly. It was one of the most joyful bits. We showed it to him back at the monitor and he just smiled when he saw the bloody heads and how cool he looked. It’s one of my favorite images from the film, I think.
On the subject of the cemetery shoot, and feel free to call me crazy… I could have just been seeing things, but did I see that it said “Rourke” on one of the gravestones? (LAUGHS ALL AROUND)
Martin McDonagh: Um yeah, we just happened to be filming in a graveyard that happened to be full of Rourke’s. (Laughs)
So, should I press further bout that situation…
Martin McDonagh: You’re the first one who’s spotted it… so, um… That’s your scoop. (Laughs)
IN BRUGES received such a great critical reception and the film has found its fans throughout the years. I’m curious, was there a degree of pressure on you following that up?
Martin McDonagh: No, I’m really lazy anyway (laughs). After Bruges, I just kind of went off and traveled. I wrote a play and we did it in New York and that’s where I got to work with Sam and Christopher the first time. I remember saying to Colin, “It’s going to be three years at least before the next one.” I think he believed me, but his people were thinking “But this movie is a success; why would you do that?” But it’s going to be the same after this one, too. I’m just going to travel and write and grow up.It doesn’t feel like four years since the last one. I think it’s more so I won’t get burned out. This was an enjoyable experience to do. I can’t imagine doing them back to back… because pretty much, this has been two solid years working on this, at least a year and a half since I started checking out locations here and finalizing the script and it was exactly, i think, a year ago this month that we started shooting and the editing has been almost every day since then. So, yeah, it’s not like it’s hard work… like a coal miner or a nurse or something… but it’s concerted work, and I don’t like concerted work (laughs). So, I do have a script that’s ready to go for the next one… but I just know it won’t be ah… for a while, but I’m fine with that.
And will you direct the next one yourself?
Martin McDonagh: Yeah. Yeah. If I can be bothered. (Laughs).
Do you see yourself directing someone elses…
Martin McDonagh: No. No… because it takes so much time… I think, you’ve only got so many stories to tell and you should just stick to your own stuff. And I feel confident that I can keep coming up with stories and…
At the end of the day, what have you personally taken away from the experience of making this film.
Martin McDonagh: Well, I think after In BRUGES, like… I was really happy with how it went, but I did think it was kind of hard work… but after this, it felt more fun than, and we had an awful lot of fun on BRUGES too, but I feel like I love working with actors , coming up with… I just like working with actors and coming up with… I wouldn’t have dreamed of working with these kind of actors. And now, I know them, and they like how it’s turned out, and as far as our relationship turned out, it was good and I know they’d be happy to come back and do more stuff with me. So, that’s the main thing I think I’ve taken from it.
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