Martin McDonagh is back and he’s brought Seven Psychopaths with him. In his latest film, the writer-director tackles the L.A. movie scene. On the surface, the film looks like a comedy about dog nappers who steal the wrong pooch. But in reality, it follows a screenwriter (Colin Farrell), who’s dealing with a serious case of writer’s block. ScreenCrave recently spoke to McDonagh about this outlandish, semi-autobiographical tale.
Is it true that you wrote Seven Psychopaths almost 10 years ago?
Martin McDonagh: It was written about seven years ago. It was written just after I wrote the script for In Bruges but before I made In Bruges. I kind of knew it was beyond me. The scope of it was too big for it to be a first time film. I knew plot wise In Bruges was going to be an easier task. It’s three characters, one location and this one just had a bigger size to it.
Christopher Walken’s character Hans doesn’t seem like a typical psychopath.
Martin McDonagh: I don’t think he’s probably a psychopath at all. His character says in it, in the middle, ‘I wouldn’t call myself a psychopath.’ It’s more Marty’s [Colin Farrell] telling of his backstory that suggests he is one. I actually think Christopher’s character is kind of like the moral heart of the film.
Speaking of Marty, how much of that character was based on you?
Martin McDonagh: There are touches that are. Colin’s thoughts or worries about violence and wanting stories to be a bit more peaceable or pacifist inclined — I do, you might not believe it from the film, but kind of share. Those questions going around in my mind. But I’ve never really had writers block. I’ve never really been part of the Hollywood scene. I’ve never lived here. And I’ve never had to really do any of the studio schmoozing.
So why is the film set in Hollywood?
Martin McDonagh: Well, it’s about the film business and making films. And it’s kind of about American films about guys with guns.
Is it a criticism of violence?
Martin McDonagh: In a sweet kind of sarcastic way… I grew up on great American films. I love American films… The Wild Bunch is one of my favorites, Taxi Driver. I love films that happen to have violence in them. But it’s just a gentle questioning of all storytelling. Why are guys with guns exciting? And is there a more interesting way to go? Or can you do the two at once? Can you have the guys with guns and talk about Gandhi and pacifism in the same film and you can’t.
Where did you get the idea for the dog stealing business?
Martin McDonagh: I think I had that story from ages ago. I think it happened somewhere around the world, the guys who do that. I was living in Venice Beach when I was doing prep work for this and there so sad those signs. You’d see them popping up all over the place. And you’d always hope that the dog would come back. That was the trick of this, was to deal with a couple of guys who do that. But it’s kind of a horrible thing to do.
Is it getting easier to convince Hollywood to make films that don’t follow the classic ABC formula?
Martin McDonagh: I don’t think so. There was only one company who came in and wanted to do this. A bunch passed on it. Half the money is from the UK, from Film4, who always do kind of quirky odd work anyway. But it was a little harder to get American money. I think CBS [Films] wanted to branch out into a different kind of filmmaking so hopefully they’ll be a good bunch of people to be around. They didn’t interfere at all in this and let me do what I wanted to do. I think if any other studio was given this and it was just a spec script I don’t think it would have ended up the way it did on screen. I think all of the dialogue would be changed and softened. It’s got a crazy plot. It’s kind of psychopathic [laughs]. Like anything, if this was a massive success maybe they would start thinking, ‘Well we can do things that aren’t obvious. That aren’t rom-coms or The Expendables 2.’
Since you’ve been working on this movie for years, did it turn out the way you wanted?
Martin McDonagh: I think it probably changed more from script to screen than Bruges did. I think Bruges kind of captured what I hoped it would in its melancholy tone and its sadness and its humor. This, actually I think on the page in some ways was a little more like that. It was a little darker. I kind of like it. It’s become more comedic and more crazy. I think probably because of the genius of the performances in it… It’s like a roller coaster of comedy and darkness and that kind of stuff. So I was surprised by that because obviously on the page you’re not getting that. Dialogue can be nice but it’s not exploding in front of you like it is when you have Colin and Sam and Christopher on screen. That was lovely.
You and Colin have made two films together. Is this turning into a Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro relationship?
Martin McDonagh: I would like that. If I could come up with five really good films between the two of us… On this Colin was great. A lot of stars would want to do the bigger, showier parts and to his credit he’s so good that he’ll choose not to because he played a little bit of a Billy-type character in the last one. So to his credit and my thanks he chose to play the straight man. [He's] the innocent in this.
Seven Psychopaths opens in theaters October 12.