WALKING THE TALK
John Michael McDonagh says after the success of The Guard, the pressure was off for Calvary
BEING frank, funny and opinionated has given Calvary writer/director John Michael McDonagh grief in the past. The London-born auteur ripped apart Ned Kelly director Gregor Jordan and the studio for reportedly destroying his screenplay for the 2003 drama starring the late Australian actor Heath Ledger.
He has also said it pushed him into becoming a director, so he wouldn’t have a similar experience.
As a result, he needed to show he wasn’t all talk when it came to his 2011 directorial debut The Guard.
“All the pressure was on The Guard, because I bad-mouthed (director) Gregor Jordan and my experience on Ned Kelly,” he says. “You have to make a good film. If you make a crap film, it makes everything you said about that director you didn’t get along with bulls***, because it’s like you couldn’t do any better anyway.”
Luckily for him then, that audiences loved The Guard, a buddy-cop comedy with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle, which became the most commercially successful independent Irish film.
“When The Guard became a hit, it was just a relief. Then for (follow-up) Calvary, I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” he says.
Gleeson again stars in McDonagh’s blackly comic Calvary, playing a priest theatened with murder during confession and given a week to live by a parishioner.
“Toward the end of shooting on The Guard, Brendan and I had been talking about the idea of doing a film about a good man, which became a good priest,” he says.
“I thought there would be a lot of movies made about scandals in the Church, about bad priests and I thought, ‘well, before all those come out we should flip it on its head and make a film about a good priest’. That was sort of a starting point.”
McDonagh envisions it as the second part of a trilogy.
“The third film we’re going to make is about a paraplegic. So that’ll be the three Ps: a policeman, a priest and a paraplegic,” he says.
“I call it the glorified suicide trilogy, because they all go to a final confrontation at the end that may or may not end badly and it’s almost a suicidal situation. I can see the box set now.”
McDonagh is the first to admit Calvary isn’t as “broadly audience friendly” as The Guard. It deals with some pretty serious subject matter – abuse in the Church, domestic violence, financial issues in Ireland and adultery.
But alongside a cast including Gleeson, Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen, and Chris O’Dowd, it also still has a lot of McDonagh’s trademark humour, which he’s not about to censor any time soon.
“I just assume an audience is like me and they’ll either like the sense of humour, or they won’t,” he says.
“If they don’t like it, they’re the type of person I’d meet at a party and probably not like anyway.”
Calvary is showing in cinemas now