Martin McDonagh kind of poo poos the idea that reuniting himself with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, 14 years after the release of the beloved In Bruges had to be something truly special, kind of shrugging it off that his other movies in-between just didn’t call for anything like that. He also poo poos the idea that the plot of The Banshees of Inisherin – in which two friends, Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), have a falling out so severe it leads to bitterness, then violence, then irreparable harm – is a scene for scene metaphor for the Irish Civil War, which Banshees is set during. He does acknowledge those comparisons are there, and not unintentional, it’s just a little more broad than an eagle eyed viewer might think and, the ahead he tries to explain it, is just something that kind of worked out.
Though, I think McDonagh is being a bit modest here. This is one really terrific film and, sure, some themes in movies are happy accidents, but the metaphors here between two friends, compared with two sides of a war, work so well, it’s hard to believe someone as talented as McDonagh doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing with every frame of this movie.
Ahead, McDonagh gives us a sense of his process in making one of the best movies of the year. Which also features a donkey named Jenny that has become a favorite to anyone who has seen this movie, and McDonagh says Jenny somehow does know she’s a star. Also, I shared an anecdote with him about the ending of his last movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In that I’ve talked to more than a few people about its ending – Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell driving from Missouri to Idaho with a harebrained plan to kill a presumed rapist and murderer – who didn’t realize how far Idaho is from Missouri (multiple days of driving), making the ending have a different meaning. But, first, McDonagh reveals the secret on how to get in one of his movies, which Barry Keoghan nailed…
I spoke to Barry Keoghan earlier, he mentioned he had a picture of you as his phone wallpaper and he had to delete it before he met with you…
That’s actually what got him the part.
So for future knowledge to other actors, have a picture of you on their phone as the wallpaper and that gets you the part.
Yeah, that’s all they need. They don’t even have to be good.
Well, then you’re lucky because Barry’s really good in this.
He’s brilliant. He’s fantastic.
The friendship between Pádraic and Colm ending is also a metaphor for the Irish Civil War. I’m curious, does every incident in this movie between Pádraic and Colm line up with some historical event? Or is it more broad than that?
Much more broad. I don’t think it really matches up with anything. What were you thinking?
There’s a scene where Pádraic sets Colm’s house on fire, but also gives him a warning that he’s going to do that. That sounds like something specific that may have happened.
No, no, no. It was all made up. I’m going to claim credit for that one.
I see. I didn’t know if there was a historical event where an army destroyed some facility, but gave a warning first…
I see what you mean. Not really, in truth. No, it was just all makey-uppy.
The way you frame their relationship, it’s such an interesting way to look at how hurt feelings lead to bitterness and then bitterness can lead to something unintentional happening, then things truly can’t be fixed. Between friends or between countries.
Yeah. It does feel that way in war especially, that if things aren’t solved, it’s almost the war becomes about the horrible things that were then done instead of the original dispute in some ways. And I think that’s what was interesting about this story, that things unravel and get worse and worse, sometimes without, oftentimes without intending to. And then become unforgivable and irreparable. And I guess that’s true of wars as much as is true of this little story about the two guys.
How does this story come to you? A story about these two guys, but it also plays along with almost every way a war starts in real life, too. It’s really remarkable.
Honestly, I just made it about the two guys. Everything else, I think just when you set the Civil War there as backdrop you know that things are going to sort of bubble through metaphorically. Apart from just setting it there with that back there, I just concentrated on the story of the guys and the truth of that breakup. Obviously, if it wasn’t set against that backdrop, it wouldn’t have the same resonance you’re talking about. But I sort of tried to write it at as if it could have been set today, in terms of just the detail and the sadness of the breakup. I just wanted to capture that as much as anything. I think the other stuff, I wouldn’t say it’s accidental… but I should claim credit from what you’re saying.
From now on when someone asks something like this, just say, “Well, you have to look at your history books, you’ll figure it out. Start digging,” and leave it at that.
[Laughs] Yeah, that would’ve involved research on my part. I’m not ever very good at that.
A lot of people have asked me how this is compared to In Bruges. And somehow I think this movie’s even funnier, yet it’s also darker. Darker than In Bruges, where both main characters probably die.
Me, too. I’m glad you find it that way. Our biggest fear was to do something that wasn’t as good as In Bruges. People have got a lot of love for In Bruges and we love that. People come up to us all the time and with such a passion about it. So you didn’t want to betray that – if that’s not too strong a word – but you also didn’t want to repeat any tricks from In Bruges.
Right, which this doesn’t.
I just wanted to capture a sad story and I think knowing that’s what was at the heart of this. I mean, In Bruges is kind of sad in places, too, but there’s something crazy and sexy and dangerous about it, too. This isn’t sexy and dangerous. Always dangerous, but definitely not sexy.
And a lot less references to the movie Time Bandits.
I’m curious why it took this long to work with Brendan Gleeson again. Was it if you were going to reunite he and Colin, it had to be something truly special?
I wouldn’t say it was necessarily that. I think this is the first idea for a story that I thought they would be perfect for together. I don’t think when I did Seven Psychopaths, I wasn’t trying to shoehorn Brendan into that. It just would’ve seemed weird because it was an American set thing. Having one Irish guy would’ve seemed like plenty…
And it definitely wouldn’t make sense in Three Billboards.
No, no, exactly. Yeah. But with this, I mean it was written for them and that kind of helped with the writing of it. Brendan is a musician and a fiddle player…
Yeah, he just played for the world on SNL.
I know. I know. It was brilliant. And he composed the tune that we hear in this movie, too. I think, sometimes, there are actors, I don’t know if you call them character actors, that people love when they see things, but don’t automatically think of them, definitely not as the lead. Sam Roche is probably another one. Everyone loves and always loved all of his work, but somehow it needed the one part to push through to get him in movie star status somehow. And, hopefully, this does the same for Brendan, but as you know, Brendan’s been brilliant in everything for years.
Does the donkey realize it’s going to be famous?
[Laughs] The donkey knows it’s a star.
The donkey was a diva on set too. Would barely come out the trailer, always late, needed massages constantly.
I mean, you know what you’re doing. You knew that people were going to love the donkey.
We did try to find literally the most beautiful, donkey we could find. Her name is Jenny in real life, too.
Oh, that would make sense that you would want to call it by the name it probably responds to.
Exactly. Jenny is happily bounding around fields and living the life of a former movie star now and hopefully she’ll get an Oscar vote.
So here’s something I’ve realized about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The ending, I’ve talked to at least three or four people who thought Missouri and Idaho were somewhat close to each other. When I explain New York City is closer to Missouri than Idaho is, they rethink the whole ending. That’s like a three-day drive and they thought it was a few hours.
It’s a big cross-country trip!
Right, they have three days to think about this plan of theirs.
That’s hilarious. Don’t they teach geography in American schools?
On the coasts, I’m honestly not entirely sure. But I heard, “Well this changes the ending completely and now I feel different about it.”
Damn, if they’d got it sooner we might have won the Oscar.
You should ask for a re-vote now.
We should have had one of those things when the map comes in and there’s a little car going sort of across…
Yeah, like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Maybe in the Director’s Cut.
You just pop up, “Hello, I’m the director of this movie. I just want to point out for everyone, Idaho is nowhere near Missouri.”
‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ debuts in theaters this coming weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.