Colin Farrell and writer-director Martin McDonagh have reunited to bring the blood-drenched black comedy Seven Psychopaths to the screen, which is released on Wednesday, December 5. The pair talk about making the criminally insane loveable, the success of their first collaboration, In Bruges, and their chances come awards season.
By Susan Griffin
Colin Farrell is taking great joy in winding up his friend Martin McDonagh over the origins of their new movie Seven Psychopaths.
The pair first collaborated on 2008's In Bruges, a dark comedy that earned writer and director McDonagh a Bafta award and an Oscar nomination, and Farrell a Golden Globe.
But, as it transpires, In Bruges was simply McDonagh's trial run at film-making.
"Just before we started In Bruges, you said, 'If you think In Bruges is good you should see the other script I wrote, it's much better'," recalls Farrell, laughing.
"He said, 'I'm only doing In Bruges to see if I like making films. And then I'll make the real one'."
Looking slightly sheepish, McDonagh puts his hands up and jokes: "That was all complete honesty.
"But seriously, Seven Psychopaths was always going to be a bigger script."
An accomplished playwright (he's the recipient of two Laurence Oliver awards and four Tony award nominations), McDonagh wrote the screenplay for Seven Psychopaths at the same time as In Bruges - but there was never any question as to which would be his feature film directorial debut.
"Seven Psychopaths was too big to get my head around cinematically before I dipped my toe in the water," explains McDonagh, a handsome, white-haired 42-year-old who exudes a casual elegance in jeans, T-shirt and jacket.
"As a first-time director, I decided to start with something that was more about things I knew."
A tale of two hitmen, In Bruges was in some ways a character and relationship study set in one place, "and I felt I knew that territory from my work in theatre", says McDonagh.
"Seven Psychopaths was like a puzzle, a gigantic cinematic jigsaw. I don't think I could ever have done this film without having done In Bruges first."
The title of their latest film is also the name of the screenplay which the movie's protagonist Marty, played by Farrell, is struggling to finish.
"Marty's fallen in love with this title but he hasn't come up with all the psychopaths," explains Farrell, 36, who's appeared in the likes of The Minority Report, Miami Vice and, most recently, a remake of Total Recall.
"While Marty's renowned for writing good dialogue and violent scenarios, he's trying to take that violence and somehow render a story that is, in essence, about peace and love."
The idea for the movie kicked in seven years ago when, in real life, McDonagh was inspired to write a story about a psychopath.
"Another couple of stories soon followed and it just kind of snowballed from there," he says of the complex, intertwining tale.
But at its core he wanted to explore "the tug-of-war between wanting to do something spiritual but also something dark and deranged".
In the film, when we meet Marty he's already past his deadline and way past the end of his girlfriend Kaya's (Abbie Cornish) patience. The situation isn't helped by the constant disruption his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) poses. That's never more apparent than when Billy and his dog-napping business partner Hans (Christopher Walken) discover a particular pooch they've swiped happens to be the beloved pet of notorious gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson).
As the three go on the run, with Shih Tzu Bonny in tow, Billy remains determined to help Marty finish his screenplay - at whatever the cost - and the result is a blood-soaked black comedy that's as funny as it is difficult to stomach at times.
"Every now and then, writing jumps off the page. This one does that," says Farrell. "It slaps you in the face, gives you a kick in the arse and takes you on a wonderful ride."
Dressed in jeans and black jacket, he's wearing a long silver chain over a V-neck green T-shirt and a bangle that jingles as he moves.
While his tan might be all LA (he lives there most of the year), Farrell comes across as a down-to-earth Dublin boy who couldn't be more delighted to be working with McDonagh again.
"He has a particular way of stringing words together that has an insane effect on the imagination," says Farrell. "There's an emotional core to everything he writes, the humour, the chaos, the violence, the quick-wittedness of dialogue.
"And the characters are inspired by a truth - love of a pet, need to help a friend, the wish that a lover was closer, ambition."
With seven distinct performances on the agenda, the challenge for McDonagh was to have a firm grip on what exactly defines a psychopath.
"Some of the characters have elements of the psychopathic to them but at the same time they don't. I guess psychopathy is in the eye of the beholder in some ways," muses McDonagh.
"It's a fun puzzle to play with - who is and who isn't a psychopath in the movie."
When Farrell first read the script, he admits he was drawn to the role of Billy, who McDonagh's described as "a mess but in a disturbingly likeable way".
Familiarity had Farrell lean in that direction - "because he's more like Ray, the character I played in In Bruges," he says. "Marty's more the observer, the only one that's sane really!"
No stranger to meshing the juxtaposition of humour and darkness in past projects, McDonagh admits his humour is "leavened with a little bit of darkness".
"But the trick is to never let the darkness weigh the humour down," he notes. "And I try to put a lot of humanity in my scripts. I think this one has a good amount of tenderness and is a big human story at its heart. It's really about friendship."
Given the success of their first collaboration combined with the impending awards season, have they considered the chances of potential plaudits this time?
"It's weird because we did nothing for In Bruges to get that kind of recognition. And I think they're going to throw more [promotion] on this one and we'll end up with absolutely nothing!" says McDonagh, laughing.
"But from my limited experience of [awards shows], it's absolutely fun," Farrell chips in. "It's better than a kick in the arse."
Extra time - Behind the scenes
:: The 41-day shoot ran from November 17, 2011, to January 13, 2012.
:: Look out for the cameo from Gabourey Sidibe who was Oscar nominated for her role in Precious.
:: The Shih Tzu was found in a newspaper advert - and just happened to be called Bonny (the name of the dog in the script).
:: Billy's imagined shoot-out scene was shot at Rosedale Cemetery in LA and was inspired by Ed Wood-type B-movies. ("It was fine if you saw some pieces of wood holding up the sets, in fact it was encouraged," says Production Designer David Wasco.)
:: Pre-pubescent rabbits were used in the scene where the character Zachariah is surrounded by bunnies in the garden - otherwise they would have all started mating!
:: Seven Psychopaths is released in cinemas on Wednesday, December 5