Martin McDonagh on Colin Farrell, Giving Up Playwriting, and Bruges

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Martin McDonagh may just be releasing his first feature film — the dark hit-man comedy-drama In Bruges — but it’s hardly his first time in the spotlight. The author of the acclaimed plays The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman, the Irish wunderkind — who got his first Tony nomination at the age of 28 — is also the possessor of an Oscar, which he won for the short film Six Shooter in 2006. That short featured Brendan Gleeson, who stars, along with a newly resurgent and very funny Colin Farrell, in In Bruges, which stakes new cinematic ground for McDonagh even as it comes back to some of his classic themes.

So, have you given up playwriting for good?
No, I don’t think so. I said something like that a few years ago, but it was more that I wouldn’t have anything staged for a while, even if I wrote something, because I knew I was going to have to concentrate on this film for a long time. Plays are pretty easy to write for me, so I’ll probably knock one out this year.

In Bruges feels like a bit of a departure from your plays.
I don’t know if I agree with that. It’s still blackly comic, like the plays. I agree that there’s a more despairing element to the darkness of it. It goes to a more tender place than the earlier stuff did, but it has a lot of the same themes.

Colin Farrell is great in the film, but some people are using his performance here as a cudgel with which to beat his other performances.
Yeah, it’s almost like a backhanded compliment. He is good in this, but I also like him a lot in Phone Booth and Tigerland and lots of other films. He definitely shows a couple of sides to him in this that he hasn’t before. He does go to some sad places, but he also gets to do some outrageous comedy. I think maybe a lot of action-hero scripts aren’t as interesting, you know. And he does seem to be concentrating now on purely interesting scripts, regardless of budget.

A lot of your work — and particularly In Bruges — straddles the line between comedy and tragedy. How would you assess the relationship between the two?
I see a lot of bleak and black in the world, but I also like to joke about it. I mean, I don’t know what else you can do if you see so much bleakness — apart from killing yourself, I guess. And it all goes hand in hand — you see the ridiculousness of so much about the world, about government, about war. Those things lead to tragedy, but they’re also ridiculous.

So, why Bruges?
I went there about four years ago on a weekend trip from London. I didn’t know anything about the place — but I was struck by how picturesque and how otherworldly and medieval and Gothic it was. I asked myself, “Why hasn’t this place ever been captured on film before?” I went to all the churches and all the museums…and then, by the middle of the second day I was bored out of my head! I’d been everywhere twice, and I just wanted to get drunk and get laid. And that boredom became a character in my head. It started to argue with the other side of me — the side that did want to go to the museums and the churches. And those two sides became the Colin and Brendan characters. Then I thought: Why would they be in Bruges if they didn’t want to be? Then the story kicked in.

You’re bound to get a lot of comparisons to Tarantino with this film. It’s probably hard not to when you write a story about bantering hit men.
I’m not too worried about that. I like Pulp Fiction a lot, but I wouldn’t say it was an influence at all. I admire Tarantino — he writes great dialogue and he’s a great storyteller — but I wanted this film to be darker and sadder. Of course, if it got any of the level of fame and response that Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs had, I would be more than happy.
—Bilge Ebiri

Related: David Edelstein's review of In Bruges [NYM]