Director Martin McDonagh talks Seven Psychopaths with Donald Clarke,
As his second feature Seven Psychopaths opens, Martin McDonagh talks to Donald Clarke about signing on, finding his voice in Ireland – and his “most Tarentinoesque picture yet”
SOMETHING peculiar has happened to Martin McDonagh since we met four years ago. He has become a proper cult hero. You could, of course, argue that, as the writer of hit plays such as The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, he had already comfortably achieved that feat. Let’s be honest, though. Having a smash play on Broadway does not make you a subject of online banter in Peoria.
In Bruges, featuring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as gangsters adrift in that city, started slowly then gradually swelled into a word-of-mouth hit. People must fling quotes at him all the time.
“Well, I don’t get that. But then nobody knows what I look like,” he says. “It opened slowly at the start of the year. Then it got a few awards and a nice snowball began. I’m always surprised by responses. I’m shocked by the negative response to things I’m proud of. I’m sometimes surprised by the opposite. But it’s the long term that matters.”
Silvery of hair, tall and sleekly good-looking, the London-Irish writer proves to be a shrewd and willing analyst of his own writing. Now 42, he doesn’t quite qualify as a veteran, but he has been with us for a decade and a half. It’s been a very strange career. Raised in south London by Irish parents, McDonagh broke through in 1996 when his play The Beauty Queen of Leenane received raves on its debut at the Druid in Galway.
“I remember reading Fintan O’Toole’s review and thinking: fuck, I didn’t think it was that good,” he says.
Dealing in a kind of heightened Irishness at home to violence and black moods, McDonagh’s succeeding theatrical work continued to play successfully in the West End and on Broadway. The most common – and laziest – approach to describing pieces such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore involved dread use of the phrase “. . . meets Tarantino”.
When, thus, Martin broke into film with the Oscar-winning short Six Shooter there was a sense that he was coming home. After all, he has always admitted that he never much liked plays as a kid. In Bruges involved a similar class of hoodlum banter to that found in Pulp Fiction, but McDonagh’s busy follow-up, Seven Psychopaths, feels like his most Tarantinoesque picture yet. Set in LosAngeles, the gorgeously titled film features Colin Farrell as a blocked screenwriter who falls in with various maniacs played by the likes of Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell.
This highly self-conscious film pauses to comment on the script that Farrell is writing and, by extension, Seven Psychopaths itself. In one telling moment, someone comments on the poorly developed female characters. Is McDonagh beating himself up here?
“I don’t think it’s a comment on myself,” he says. “The first play was all about female characters. So I don’t see it as a criticism of myself. It is a comment on Hollywood and on this particular script. It’s a red herring concerning writing in general.” There’s a lot of that going on. Slumped over a keyboard, a bottle by his side, Farrell looks like the Hollywood caricature of a tortured writer. Mind you, he doesn’t look too unlike genuine photographs of William Faulkner or Raymond Chandler either.
“It’s a comment on the comment. It’s exposing that cliché and playing with it. I actually think that writer’s block is a myth. I am lazy. But I don’t have writer’s block.”
No indeed. Since his emergence, McDonagh has seen seven of his plays performed throughout the world. (At least one, The Banshees of Inisheer, remains unproduced.) He has directed one short and two feature films and has another script ready for production. Mind you, he seems to have been in training for this life since he left school at 16. Why did he not stay for A-levels? He seems like a smart fellow.
“I never wanted to have proper job,” he says. “I had a love of film and a developing love of books. And I hoped that would go somewhere. Studying seemed to be ‘studying for work’ and there was no job I wanted. I’m sure I read more when I was on the unemployment than I would ever have done if I was studying the classics.”
When he eventually found his voice it was a most unusual one. Since he was a boy, McDonagh had travelled to Ireland for holidays. However, not every child of immigrant parents becomes so attached to the language of the old country. It seems a little cheap to compare McDonagh with Shane McGowan, but both men did seem to find an odd class of liberation in the language of their parents.
“I think writing the Irish plays was the first