Director Martin McDonagh Explains Seven Psychopaths’ Meta Elements
Martin McDonagh, the Irish playwright who made his directorial debut with the 2008 comedy-drama In Bruges, doesn’t feel the need to play by Hollywood’s rules. Although his new film Seven Psychopaths is set in Hollywood and tells the story of an Irish writer named Marty who’s struggling with a screenplay, it’s not autobiographical. No, McDonagh operates as far as he can from the reach of studio executives.
“As much as this is a Hollywood film, I haven’t felt part of [the Hollywood system]. To make films, even American films, I don’t think you have to be tied to Hollywood or the system or the studios,” McDonagh told Spinoff Online during a recent roundtable interview. “If [Seven Psychopaths] was made by a studio, none of the dialogue would be in it, none of the risky, outrageous stuff would be there. And it would be either a comedy or a dark horror fest. It wouldn’t be whatever we have, something in between.”
And Seven Psychopaths certainly is something in between. It follows Colin Farrell’s Marty as he tries to write his screenplay for a film called Seven Psychopaths. His best friend Billy, an actor and professional dognapper played by Sam Rockwell, tries to help but instead ends up getting Marty deeper in trouble when he steals the Shih Tzu of a crazy mobster (Woody Harrelson). Suddenly it’s not so hard for Marty to figure out which of the seven psychopaths to write about.
Although it may seem so on the surface, McDonagh isn’t telling a variation of his own story. Marty the character may be an Irish screenwriter, but McDonagh said that’s where the similarities end.
“There are touches that are [similar]. Colin’s thoughts or worries about violence and wanting stories to be a big more peaceable or pacifists-inclined, you might not believe it from the film but I kind of share, so those questions go around in my mind. But I’ve never really had writer’s block, I’ve never really been part of the Hollywood scene,” McDonagh said. “I’ve never lived here, and I’ve never really had to do any of the studio schmoozing.”
That said, Seven Psychopaths does contain certain meta elements. Like the conversations between Marty and Billy about violence reflecting McDonagh’s own inner conflicts, the comedy is a critique of sorts of some of the problems the director has with today’s movies.
“[It’s a criticism] in a sweet, kind of sarcastic way, but I grew up on great American films and I love American films,” he explained. “The Wild Bunch is one of my favorites, Taxi Driver; I love films that happen to have violence in them. It’s just like a gentle questioning of all kind of storytelling, and 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 guys with guns and talk about Gandhi and pacifism in the same film? And you can!”
McDonagh wrote Seven Psychopaths before he filmed In Bruges, and he always knew he wanted to return to it. He approached Rockwell about the project after they worked together on McDonagh’s Broadway play A Behanding in Spokane, and Farrell came on board after In Bruges. McDonagh later asked Rockwell’s Spokane co-star Christopher Walken to join the cast as well. He explained that having those three on board transformed how he envisioned the film.
“I think it probably changed more from script to screen than Bruges probably did. I think Bruges kind of captured what I hoped it would in its melancholy tone and its sadness and its humor,” he said. “This, actually, I think on the page was a little more like that; it was a little darker, and I kind of like it. It’s become almost more comedic and more crazy, probably because of the genius in the performances in it. It’s become like a roller coaster of comedy and darkness and that kind of stuff, so I was surprised by that because on the page you’re not getting that.”
With Seven Psychopaths wrapped, McDonagh is already looking forward to his next project. He said he plans to write another play soon, but his next film will likely come first. Like his other two features, this new one will take place in a location that has a very specific personality.
“I like towns being characters in my films, like Bruges was quite strong in the last one and I hope L.A. is quite strong and visual in this one, and the next one won’t be set here so I won’t have to be here,” he explained. “At the moment it’s Missouri, but that might change. I’m going to travel around to find the right kind of place that matches the place in my head. It’s Ebbing, Missouri, but that’s a made-up place. It’s the opposite of this: It’s got a very strong female lead who’s about 55 years old. This was one for the boys, and that will be one for the women.”
Seven Psychopaths opens Friday nationwide.