Anglo-Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell scored a cult hit in 2008 with their waggish hit-man comedy "In Bruges." Now they've reunited for another round of droll dialogue and outrageous gunplay in "Seven Psychopaths," a Tarantino-like love letter to Hollywood's gore-soaked thrillers.
Farrell plays a struggling screenwriter embroiled with dog kidnappers, vengeful crime bosses and serial killers, with McDonagh once again directing from his own script. Cast members Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken joined them onstage to introduce "Psychopaths" at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, where it earned lusty applause and won the Midnight Madness Award.
"It's great to get that kind of immediate, tangible response to a film," Farrell said.
"All audiences should be that drunk," McDonagh added with a laugh.
While the midnight screening audience was carried along by the film's mad, anarchic tone, Farrell lauded McDonagh's ability to layer it with interwoven stories, vignettes from American history and satire.
"It travels miles and miles in human experience, social-political history, civil rights history, My Lai stuff," said Farrell, 36. "For all the seemingly disparate stories to come together was the great surprise and feat of amazement I found myself experiencing as a reader. Beneath the laughter and the violence, it's about loss and the importance of friendship and laying old ghosts to rest." Though the film is structured as a clichéd revenge story, "it's about how you must let go of grief, or carry it with you like a burden through life."
Farrell said he was eager to re-team with McDonagh because the widely produced playwright's "material is so good. I have spent weeks on past films as an actor trying to work on the script, talk to writers and stuff. That's not ideal. I'm trying to figure out how to be an actor, that's tricky enough. With Martin there's one writer, no script changes in pink pages and yellow pages and green pages that come mid-shoot. The script is in such a good place that you just try to elevate yourself to match the standard of that." He relished returning to McDonagh's imaginary world, where "the language is heightened, the action is heightened and emotions are always extreme."
Though this film is a broader canvas than their first collaboration, with more locations, larger technical challenges and more speaking roles, "I felt slightly less nervous on this one," said McDonagh, 42. "I'd learned from being around Colin and Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes on the first one. The prep was scary -- so much to do, so many departments, so many questions you didn't have answers for -- but after the first day it felt like old times."
McDonagh maintains a fond but competitive relationship with his brother, writer/director John Michael McDonagh. Martin produced John's film "The Guard," and persuaded Gleeson to star, but criticizes his younger brother at every opportunity.
The pair grew up in London, learning their craft by writing scenarios inspired by a daily diet of trash TV. "My brother still watches it and thinks it's good. You can see that in his films," McDonagh said.
Their parents had no interest in the arts, he recalled. One day the boys got their parents tickets to the Brian Friel play "Dancing at Lughnasa," because there was Irish dancing in it. He remembers "Dad sitting in the kitchen with a tie for the first time in years and the horror of having to go to the theater. He said, 'Martin, you don't want to go for me, do you?' He didn't want to go. Which is usually my attitude to theater, too."
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186