Honour among psychos
Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell on the set of Seven Psychopaths.
There should be plenty of excitement this coming Monday at the Town Hall Theatre when it hosts a gala screening of Martin McDonagh’s new film Seven Psychopaths in aid of the Solas Galway Picture Palace.
A star-studded, blood-drenched, black comedy, Seven Psychopaths follows a struggling screenwriter named Marty, played by Colin Farrell, who finds himself entangled in the LA crime underworld after his dog-napping buddies (Christopher Walken and Simon Rockwell) kidnap the beloved Shih Tzu of murderous gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson).
Vowing to kill whoever took his dog, Costello sets off to find the culprits who stole his pooch, and suddenly Billy, Marty, and Hans find themselves in a whole lot of ‘shih tzu’.
McDonagh wrote Seven Psychopaths at the same time as his directorial debut, 2008’s In Bruges which saw his first collaboration with Colin Farrell. Seven Psychopaths is a much more layered, multi-faceted work than McDonagh’s debut and for that reason he opted to get more directing experience under his belt before tackling it.
“It was too big to get my head around cinematically before I dipped my toe in the water,” he told me. “As a first-time director, I decided to start with something that was more about things I knew. That was one of the reasons to do In Bruges first – that was more like my stage plays, you had three characters and one set, and not too many flashbacks or gunfights or stuff like that whereas this one has lots of characters and flashback stories, and stories within stories.
“I needed more time to have worked with actors on a film before jumping into this. Working with all these great actors was fantastic, though getting my head around the jigsaw puzzle of the flashback stories was quite harder. When things are just told in images it’s a different kind of thought process, which was not my first, natural, impulse I guess.”
Seven Psychopaths features the sort of interlocking story structure familiar from films like Pulp Fiction. At the centre of it all is Irish screenwriter called Marty who happens to be working on a screenplay called ‘Seven Psychopaths’, which begs the obvious question as to how autobiographical the character might be?
“Let’s just say I throw a good deal of my truth into the mix along with things that are 100 per cent false,” McDonagh chuckles.
The film has already been released in the US to enthusiastic reviews, with many commentators remarking on the top-notch performances McDonagh coaxes from his A-list cast.
“On set it was great because they are all top actors,” he declares. “I’d worked with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken on my play, A Behanding in Spokane, a couple of years ago and they really enjoyed working together and wanted to work together again so there was a shorthand between the three of us.
“Colin and I also had a great time on In Bruges; I first met Woody Harrelson a few years back, we almost did my play The Pillowman together. These are some of the best actors around and also really nice guys and they all really wanted to work with each other, it was a dream cast for me.”
Also featured in the cast is singer-songwriter Tom Waits, who plays rabbit-toting oddball Zachariah, a man with a violent past who’s trying to re-unite with his missing wife.
“I’ve loved Tom ever since I was 10 or 11 and Swordfishtrombones came out,” McDonagh tells me. “He’s been one of my idols musically in the 30 years since then. We almost worked together on a musical a few years ago and even though that fell through we stayed in touch since then.
“When the idea of this came up I sent him an email asking would he like to do it and he said ‘Yes’ so that was a joy. His performance is really beautiful and touching. For me as a young film-maker, to work with these idols like Tom Waits and Christopher Walken and Harry Dean Stantonm you have to pinch yourself sometimes – but then you have to get over that and do your job and give them whatever help they need to get the parts right.”
Seven Psychopaths displays the striking juxtaposition of humour with darker elements, that audiences will recognise from McDonagh’s previous work on stage and screen.
“My humour is leavened with a little bit of darkness but the trick is to never let the darkness weigh the humour down,” he observes. “I try to put a lot of humanity in my scripts. I think this one has a good amount of tenderness and is a big human story at its heart…it’s really about friendship.”
I ask whether McDonagh had any trouble ensuring that what he put on the page ended up on the screen, given that we read so many stories of screenwriters and directors having to compromise their vision in the face of the Hollywood machine.
“It’s the way you set the whole film up in the first place determines whether or not that’s going to happen,” he replies. “We had to make sure the financing was never weighted so that anyone had one voice that was stronger than the others, but I always had final cut.
“With In Bruges it was still exactly the film I wanted but there were a few too many arguments with the financiers on that one and I didn’t want to go through that again. So this time it was basically about setting out with the financial people that they had to either accept the script as it was or we were going to move off with someone else. Luckily enough they were all completely behind the vision of the film I wanted to make.
“Maybe it was a bit easier having done In Bruges; they knew what my mentality or my cinematic vision was, maybe it’s harder the first time around. They knew after In Bruges that this was the kind of comedic territory I’d be using but just on a more American, bigger canvas.”
While Seven Psychopaths has drawn praise for its characterisation, comedy, dialogue, and plotting, all aspects you would expect a McDonagh work to perform strongly in, accolades have also been afforded to its cinematography.
“Ben Davis was director of photography and it’s a really beautiful, beautiful film,” McDonagh declares. “We really wanted to show a different side of Los Angeles, it’s kind of the underbelly but we wanted to find places that were strangely beautiful.
“Then the whole story ends up in the desert just outside of LA at the Joshua Tree National Park. Both Ben and myself love spaghetti westerns and we wanted to capture that feeling of almost going into a western from this urban, beautiful LA landscape and I think he really captured that.”
Galway audiences can see for themselves when Seven Psychopaths screens at the Town Hall next Monday at 7.30pm.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie