Do all raging tyrants have an adorable, cuddly, little thing they treasure?
“I know I do!” says writer-director Martin McDonagh, the twisted mind behind the 2009 Colin Farrell-Brendan Gleeson killers-in-hiding thriller In Bruges.
Maybe for him, it’s Farrell.
McDonagh’s latest movie, Seven Psychopaths, reunites him with the actor for another crime story that walks the line between comedy and brutality.
In it, a savage gangster (Woody Harrelson) goes on a rampage after his beloved shih tzu Bonny goes missing, snatched by an out-of-work actor (Sam Rockwell) who pays the bills by helping a professional dognapper (Christopher Walken) pick up pooches and return them for the reward money.
“It’s kind of a cruel thing to do,” McDonagh says. “But these guys are good guys about it. They take care of the dogs, and give them back promptly, and they don’t charge a lot.”
Farrell stars as a struggling screenwriter, working on a script titled Seven Psychopaths, who gets caught up in his pal Rockwell’s troubles… but also finds a lot of great material in the life-and-death conflict playing out over the kidnapped dog.
Harrelson’s character is one of those deranged figures, who somehow connects to his humanity only through his pet dog. Maybe not so coincidentally, the part was originally going to be played by Mickey Rourke, who dropped out of the production hurling insults.
McDonagh shrugs off that behind-the-scenes drama. “I was fine with it. Mickey’s a great actor,” he says. “I’ve known Woody for years and years, and he was a perfect choice for this, too. He’s got those great dramatic elements, which he’s shown in Rampart recently, and he’s always been a fantastic comedian. You need that in this — someone who can be out-and-out funny, but also turn sinister on a dime.”
McDonagh, a celebrated playwright who never makes his stage shows into films, and vice versa, explored similar fluffy-and-the-beast territory with The Lieutenant of Inishmore, his 2001 play about an IRA torturer with a beloved cat.
“The comedy elements in this one are probably stronger or more to the forefront than In Bruges,” says McDonagh, who got an Academy Award nomination for that script. (He won an Oscar for the 2005 short Six Shooter.)
Harrelson’s character, Charlie, “adores his shih tzu,” McDonagh says. “Really, we all adore Bonny!” (That’s the real name of the dog, which was adopted from a shelter in real life, and now lives with its trainer.) “He loves that dog more than anything in the world and would do anything to protect it.”
That’s where Rockwell, Walken, and Farrell step into the picture. “Obviously, things don’t go according to plan, and the people who cause Bonny not to be with him get their comeuppance,” McDonagh adds.
So who exactly is Charlie? “He’s kind of the gangster boss of an organized crime syndicate,” McDonagh says. “He’s into very dark stuff.”
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