You’re in for a VERY special treat this weekend, and I’m in for my third viewing of one of my new favorite films, The Guard (read Sundance review). This is one of the most finely performed, hysterical and well made films that I’ve seen in years thanks to a phenomenal performance from the big man himself, Brendan Gleeson, who stars as an instigating, unpredictable, bored cop or “guard” as they say in Ireland.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this film will become a classic and that his lines will be quoted for some time to come. Find out what it was like for him to pair up with another McDonagh and create such a fine character…
This is the greatest performance you have ever given, and it really does speak to be Oscar worthy.
Brendan Gleeson: Thank you. Well you got the material, you try doing something with it basically. It was a written script. We had a good platform to jump off [of]. When you read these scripts you start off by having fun and then, at some point you say, ‘I don’t want this to crash and burn.’ As you’re two-thirds in, it’s always the same, you’ve got a lot to loose now. It didn’t. It’s great. Once that happens you just want to get at it.
We’ve got another McDonagh here in the mix.
BG: I know it’s annoying huh?
Is this a genetic thing going on?
BG: You’re going way beyond my area. I don’t know. I blame the mother. Always blame the mother.
Talk about the difference between working with the two brother-directors [John Michael McDonagh and Martin McDonagh]?
BG: Okay. They’re different voices. Obviously the came out of the same house, let’s say. But they are very different voices. I keep trumpeting this, but in any stuff that’s been written so far, it’s interesting that this never gets called very much. I keep saying to people, that if you can try to imagine Gerry Boyle in In Bruges, it doesn’t work. You try to take anybody from In Bruges and try to place them in The Guard, it doesn’t work. The two of them, there’s a certain ferocity about them, in the way that they attack their work from the start. They have a real savagery about the way the are intolerant of any sort of lazy writing. The stuff is always really crystal. They are really tough on themselves that way. So there are similarities, in direction. They are clear about what they want in terms of framing or the set or the references. There is that commonality. But the voices are very, very different and the worlds are very clearly different. That’s the joy really, for me. I get to two different completely, mad and anarchic, kind of soulful worlds.
When you mention anarchic does it mean you guys didn’t have boundaries in terms of going at each other with the jokes?
BG: No I mean anarchic in terms of Gerry Boyle’s mind. Or in terms of the general- look. They don’t really see that you have to conform that easily. That’s what I mean by anarchic. There’s an anarchic feeling to this guy’s distrust of a parody, for example. His refusal to be politically correct. His refusal to just take gilt answers for anything. He always tests something out. If they say you’re hooked after one, he’s going to try it and see if it works.
Why do you think Gerry is so rude?
BG: Because it’s funny. And he’s bored. I think he just wants to upset this guy and see if he can come back with something. I think it’s a tests. He wants to test him and see what is he made of. And the way he does that is by being really rude to him. If it’s just a shock, Gerry’s not interested. Wendell Everett doesn’t bend quite so easily and keep coming back. His rudeness is a way of amusing himself. I think equally, it’s a test of what the other guy is. It’s a way of finding out what makeup the other guy has. He does it to everybody. The only person he doesn’t do it to is his mother, I think.
Working with Don Cheadle and an Instigating Character:
How did you get to work with Don Cheadle and what was the first meeting like?
BG: We conspired to get the three of us into Los Angeles around the same time. John was here and Don happened to be around at the time and I was around, doing something else, and made a trip over. We sat around the table and we read the script and we knew from them. There was an interesting discussion about rehearsal. Don didn’t much want rehearsal because we’d ruin the spontaneity, and me, on the other hand feeling that I love rehearsal because I don’t think this is dependent on that much spontaneity, it’s all character-based. We had chats about the process, but fundamentally all we needed to know was, can we realize the script or not? We had met before when we arrived on set, but it was clear that the work was at the center of everything and there weren’t going to be issues with side-tracks –
I was thinking about that dynamic.
BG: Actually, it was fantastic. Don got it. Don’s big problem was the weather. It wasn’t only Don’s problem. It was bloody freezing. The rain was horizontal. It was like someone threw the Atlantic Ocean on us for about seven or eight weeks. We came to a bit of a shock about that, we were actually shooting and a guy is sailing past, holding unto flats as they were driven to sea. It was really mental. You’d know from Don’s work anyway. You’d always know. It’s always a disappointment when it doesn’t work out like that. You generally know that someone is really smart and intuitive and brings stuff to the table.
What was one of your favorite insults from Gerry?
BG: My favorite time, which I keep talking about it and I’m going to ruin it for everyone, but it was a moment when I asked him, ‘Did you grow up in the projects?’ To be honest, Boyle knows what he’s doing. He really does know what he’s doing about that. He just wants to get it off his nose and see it, what’s going to happen. I can always remember Don’s reaction and it was kind of like sight that happened. First of all, that’s pretty bold statement, but the second thing that was interesting about it, he suddenly realized he’d been asked this before or it had been assumed before. That’s what Don was bringing to it. There was a kind of layer going into another layer that I hadn’t quite seen at the time when you’re reading the script. It’s only when it becomes inhabited by somebody who knows what it is. Who’s great. It started form that and it continued, you know. It was just a lot of fun.
Playing a character like that where there is so much underneath the surface going on, he’s acting in a sense.
BG: Yes he is. When you read something and say, god that’s a funny line. You can’t say that. And then you say, ‘okay is that all he’s got?’ If somebody going around like somebody’s saving your presents, shock jokes, and they are sort of talking about saying stuff that is deliberately outrageous, and so far out. Off center. Anything that’s justifiable. And you say, where is it actually coming from? And you listen for a while and a lot of the times it has nothing behind it except the wish to shock. Boyle has a wish to shock. He loves it because he’s bored out of his mind and he wants somebody to go off on, in any direction. He doesn’t care, he reckons he can cope with it. But there’s parts behind it, that’s what is interesting.
What do you think drives him?
BG: I think Boyle has a whole lot of stuff backing up what’s behind him. There’s a whole interesting aspiration about why is he at this position in his life? Why does he feel all this need for this aggression? It’s more than just a laugh. What’s he doing? When you go borrowing and you find that actually there is another aspect to him. This guy comes and says her husband is missing and suddenly he turns into a fuzzy bear or somebody. He wants to mind her. And well you say, maybe that’s because he’s a cop, and all cops stick together. And I say, well what about his mother? The situation with his mother is very genuine. So you find that there’s a whole other side. That’s when it becomes fun about exploring.
I’ll just say, I know he’s acting when he’s doing all this stuff, but I also know who he is, kind of. You throw it out and see what happens, and then again it comes back to having someone like Don across the table because you throw it out and he kind of gets it, he’s not sure if he wants to get it even or not, or whether he’s going to go into a place where he needs to persist with this or just leave it right there. It becomes a whole tension, that underpinning drama, the subtext becomes far more interesting than just the funny line was.
At his heart, Boyle has a good moral code. Good moral compass that’s hidden behind this facade. The only person that Boyle doesn’t have the facade with is his mother. Can you talk about how you an Fionnula [Flanagan] established a relationship?
BG: I blame her. I told you I always blame the mother. It’s her fault. She’s such a tough cookie that Boyle can afford to be soft with her. He can’t really afford to be soft with anybody else. Maybe with Gabriela [McBride] (Katarina Cas) – I remember being kind of relieved in those scenes when we were doing them when Fionnula’s stuff was happening because it meant that you could drop the facade, that shield that he has against the world. She became the one who was putting on a much tougher face. That woman is out there drinking whiskey but she’s in pain, and it’s not becoming boring, it’s not becoming anything, she’s still wants to grab life as hard as she can. Poor old Gerry knows what’s going on and he doesn’t even know how to cope with it. It’s just does layers. It becomes really interesting about dropping masks and all that. There’s a whole area there that’s fascinating. And to answer your question, we just knew from the beginning. We just knew from the body language where we should go with all that. It’s a lot of fun.
Making The Guard:
BG: One thing you don’t do with John is ask him for a list. A lot of the stuff that he would have taken it from, I would’ve known anyway. The point is that Gerry would’ve watched these films. It’s not so much that I needed to have watched them, you know. I wish I did… I think Gerry has brought up his notion of manhood was formed from those westerns. To be honest I wasn’t familiar with them.
When you start a project, you read a script, that’s normally one film. Then you go through the production, that’s another film. Then by the time it’s edited in theaters, that’s another film. Did you read what you saw? Or was it a completely different throughout the process?
BG: The editing process was quite torturous actually. I wasn’t directly involved in it, but I was being kept in the loop. It’s amazing how quickly stuff flies out the window in an editing suite. There usually are no windows in an editing suite. It’s incredible. I remember writing to John after the final cut came in and say, you finally got the film that you wrote. It finally came home, but it went all around the houses before that. It’s incredible what happens when dominos start falling, and you start saying, okay it’s just needs to be weaved. And then you start taking this bit and that bit and everything gets unbalanced, everything goes out of shape, the pace is gone. the magic just disappears. It’s insane how delicate the whole thing is.
Every part of the process is challenging. You’ve got to get the casting right, you’ve got to work together, you’ve got to get the cinematography and you’ve got to get all that. Then you’ve got to get the weather, you’ve got to get the time, the schedule. Then you have to put it together and you say, okay that’s what I want and there’s just a little bit of tweaking or that disappears. It’s really really delicate. The more I do this, the more I understand how valuable it is to turn up with something. The last section is done in front of an audience, and for something like this it was going to Sundance. Going to Sundance was massive because we were going to travel across the ocean and that was specific to us. you never know what’s specific to you. We went. They got it. That’s the first time when the film lives, it’s when the audience gets it.
Did you have to do your own swimming in the Atlantic?
BG: I did. It wasn’t in the Atlantic. I wouldn’t've minded that Atlantic. It was somewhere, it was two or three degrees colder than that. They had a guy who went in as well, they probably got a couple of more shots, but I did it. I never forgot that it was in December [laughs] and you try to look like Halle Berry in December [laughs].
What about the ending? If John wrote a sequel, would you be in it?
BG: I don’t know if I’d be in it [laughs]. We’d have to see, I don’t know. The only thing I have to say and I’ve said to a couple of people already was that, I’m mostly optimistic. On the walk, down the pier, because we actually did that at the end of the shoot, I felt like I didn’t care because everybody was gone. It was weird to me. I never felt like it was a death walk in terms of wishing or anything like that. It was a surprise, I really didn’t care. But we’d have to see.
Living the Life as a Great Actors who Plays “Bad” Guys:
What does it mean to be a creative person to you?
BG: I’ve had a thing that I’d come across in the last year or two where I decided that art is a way of making people feel less alone. And that’s what I think it means to me. You plug in. In some way, you try to give an addition to the whole notion to the thing that people can feel that the whole experience of life is not necessarily a lonely path. It’s fundamental, you know, we live alone, we die alone, and all that. But that we’re not the only ones. That’s what it means to me, I guess.
Was there a film or role that lead you to that conclusion or is it the end of a process?
BG: It’s the end of the process. When you portray ugliness for example. One of the things somebody asked me earlier in the day, which is the advice I follow. I remember my mother saying to me that if you create something – I had painted a picture with all these contrasting colors, I was about eight or something, one of my aunts said, oh look at the lovely colors, just trying to, I was like, oh really. I always painted with a mad color I could think of, and it was ugly really. My mother said, there’s enough ugliness in the world. If you’re going to create something, try and make is beautiful. It was dead right. I was trying to impress. I didn’t care what was on, as long as somebody thought it was great. She said, no create something beautiful. So I’m wondering, what happens when you portray ugliness on screen? I play a lot of people who do really nasty stuff. When you’re playing a character like that, you know, I’m doing this for truth, but where is the beauty of it? In a sense, truth is beauty. That’s what it is. What you’re trying to do is become part of the situation that allows us to believe that we are not on our own, in whatever we are doing, good and bad.
Finishing Harry Potter:
Any thoughts on the end of the Harry Potter franchise?
BG: I think all good things come to an end. And I’m glad it’s coming to an end when it’s at it’s peek. I think it sung it song and now it’s going resonate. I know it’s really exciting, and it’s like when you put a book down and you’re feeling, I’ve lost a friend, you know. So that’s what it’s like for a lot of people, I know. I think it’s better than driving the bloody thing out and flogging it to death so that you’re glad to see it off the market. It’s been great. It was great to see magic in people’s lives. It really was, and to embrace it, and say it’s a really cool thing to believe in magic.
Have you been to the park in Florida?
BG: No I have not.
Do you want to make that trip?
BG: It’s a dream I don’t want to try [laughs].
Most of you have moved on already.
BG: It’s a while since we finished. I think you’ve got to move on. It’s part of what’s – you know those monks who go around and make these sound, exhibitions and then they chuck them in the river? There’s a transient thing about everything that’s worth while, you know. It get like, let’s face it. Life is as transient as it gets. What is valuable is the more so because it moves on.
See Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard” starting July 29th. You won’t regret it!