Director John Michael McDonagh Says The Film Is A Reaction Against The Works Of Mike Leigh & Ken Loach & More From The Filmmakers
Usually, when a film’s biggest stars decide to do press interviews together, there’s a collective groan among the writers since time its sometimes even more of a challenge to interview two actors at once then individually. But pairing the two actors in “The Guard” together reveals that Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle‘s killer chemistry isn’t just limited to what we see in the movie. Gleeson stars as Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a crusty, crass cop bored by life in County Galway. When murder and drugs infiltrate the small town, he has to work with visiting FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) to solve the case. Luckily, working together seemed far easier for Gleeson and Cheadle than it was for their at-odds on-screen counterparts. We’ve already covered our exclusive interview with Gleeson, but we wanted to share what we learned from this writer’s entertaining afternoon chat with Gleeson, Cheadle, and their director John Michael McDonagh.
1. We’ll know soon whether or not Cheadle’s long-gestating biopic of Miles Davis will move forward.
The last we heard about Cheadle’s dream project was in December and at the time, he revealed the script was finished but funding was needed. When asked about the film which he plans to direct and star in, Cheadle replied, “Tap wood. This week, we’ll know a lot more.” Pressed if he meant financing was coming together, Cheadle clarified with a simple “Yes.”
2. McDonagh chose the film’s style as a reaction against the “miserablist” filmmaking of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.
In a moment that Gerry Boyle would certainly appreciate, McDonagh said that this film’s look was in contrast to his countrymen’s work. “It was more to do as a kind of reaction against British and Irish movies that are all that kind of miserablist, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach type movies,” said the filmmaker. “They’re not bad filmmakers, but they get on my nerves after a while. It’s working-class people shouting at each other and wearing really bad clothes, in a kitchen, cooking bacon. That seems to be the gist of it. So we have a color palette through the movie where everything is stylized, so what would a country cop’s house look like? We decide what his house would look like. So the walls are green, and so are his underpants. That’s reducing it to a comical level, but it’s that way all through the film. It’s all bright colors.”
So whose work did inform McDonagh’s style here? “I’m a big fan of Nicholas Ray,” he said. “He used to use red all the time, so it’s like, okay, she’s got a red coat, they’re in a diner, everything’s red. I was trying to do that all the way through. There was a definite plan to stylize the entire movie. Some people might find that going too far, being too pretentious, because it’s anti-naturalistic, but that’s what I like.” He also revealed that the westerns of John Ford and the screwball comedies of Preston Sturges also inspired the look and feel of “The Guard.”
3. Cheadle took the role because he was surprised by the script.
“I just loved it from the beginning,” the Oscar nominee said. However, it wasn’t just the dialogue of the film. “Often when you get scripts, and you go, ‘Oh, okay, on page 15, I know it’s gonna go–and then on page 30, the ingenue’–all these things you’ve come to know,” he explained. “I couldn’t really get ahead of this script. I didn’t know where it was headed, and it made me laugh from the very first page all the way to the end…For me it was a no-brainer. It didn’t matter, the cost or the size of it, I just knew that I wanted to be on board.”
The script itself has its roots in a short film McDonagh did. “The film is called a buddy-cop thriller, but it’s really a dark comedy/character study,” he says of the script’s genesis. “It’s those two guys really. I’d done a short film in 2000 [“The Second Death“] that had that Gerry Boyle character as sort of a peripheral figure, an obnoxious cop who will say or do anything. And I thought, ‘You could do more with that character probably.’ So then there was this massive drug seizure off the coast of Cork….They’re getting drugs into England and Europe through the West of Ireland now. That’s the plot, something to do with a drug shipment and Jerry Boyle. And who would he antagonize the most? An American, you know, an FBI agent.” McDonagh joked that he thought of turning Wendell into a gay black cop, but ultimately decided against it: “I think I’ve got enough to work with. I’ll stick with that for the moment.”
4. There’s more to Gleeson’s character than the trailer lets on.
Which is exactly as it should be. As the trailer suggests, Gleeson’s Boyle is a bit of a boor who says lines that would make an HR rep cringe. However, Boyle doesn’t actually believe what he’s saying, and that isn’t the goal of the film: “I think in the end it’s about motivation. I don’t think you could shoot this film in a way that would be really objectionable because I don’t believe that anybody would believe a word of it. From the very beginning to the very end, it wouldn’t work. The relationships are too secure.
Cheadle joins the defense. “To me, the tone was clear from the beginning,” the actor explains. “If it were with malice or forethought or if it did have some deep-seated bigotry in it, it wouldn’t be funny. It’s like when you watch ‘All in the Family.’ No matter what Archie Bunker is saying and what he thinks, you know Norman Lear doesn’t think that way. So his perspective on this bigotry and on this prejudice is that it’s ridiculous. I believe Boyle in the film when he goes, ‘I’m just messing with you, man.’
5. Cheadle has an idea for a sequel.
Or at least he can joke about “The Guard II.” “The sequel to me is: [Boyle] shows up in Atlanta, and he’s the fish out of water,” he says with a laugh. “And they go, ‘I thought all Irish did this.’” There are easy comparisons to the far more commercial “Rush Hour” and its sequels, but we can’t liken this sincere, truly funny film to the Brett Ratner hit in good conscience.
“The Guard” opens today in select theaters.