750,000 paying punters resulted in a €4.3m Irish box-office haul, and now the home invasion of The Guard on DVD has begun. Harry Guerin hears writer/director John Michael McDonagh's memories of good vibes and bad weather on the most successful independent Irish movie of all time.
‘First day on set, I was nervous’
But then you realise everyone's nervous! The first day was the scene where Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is with the two girls in the hotel!!! So let's say that was a big scene for everyone! You just get into a rhythm of filming. It's strange: because you film Monday to Friday, when you come in the following Monday it's like you're starting over! You get the nerves again and then they gradually go away again. I was still feeling that all the way up to the final week, when we were shooting the shootout.
‘Brendan wants to make a film as good as it can be’
I have a tendency to be lazy if I'm allowed get away with it! The main thing with Brendan was that he never allowed me to be lazy. There was a scene when he discovers the other guard's abandoned car and then he's talking to the widow and they're looking at the car. It was a really windy night and Brendan came to me later and said, 'I don't think that worked', because of the conditions. I said, 'Yeah, I kind of agree with you, but I'm on a pretty tight schedule'. And he said, 'Is there some way we can re-do it?' So we made time in the schedule where they're in a cafe and it's a really lovely scene. That was something where Brendan pushing me helped the overall film.
‘Don was the ultimate Hollywood professional’
He just does it - there's no psychodrama. The main thing that impressed me was the technical stuff he knew, like shooting the AK-47. In phone conversations in movies you usually have another actor at the other end of the line. But Don had learnt his script so well that he just did his lines and did the pauses - he didn't need anyone at the other end of the line. I thought that was terrific, to have that sort of rhythm and focus.
‘The funniest thing with Don was the day where his character was trying to ask the locals some questions’
Don thought we wouldn't be shooting because of the weather. I said, 'No, no, we're shooting it!' And he was like [faltering voice] 'Oh... alright'. What was funny was that Americans watching just assume it rains in Ireland all the time anyway, so it worked for the scene. It didn't really matter that it was bucketing down on him and him traipsing around with his umbrella! We had a late night out in Spiddal one night and Don goes, 'I'm just going to go over the road to get a Chinese'. I always wondered what the people serving him thought when Don Cheadle walked in!
‘I thought The Guard was a good enough film that it would make its money back’
But when it looked like we were going to overtake In Bruges - which we did - and then we actually closed in on [record holder] The Wind That Shakes the Barley, that's when I started to realise, 'People must be going back to see it'. It was fantastic, well it was fantastic to beat me brother [In Bruges director Martin McDonagh] for one thing! The film's done really well in the States - it's still playing there, 17 weeks later. It's doing well in Australia; Germany seemed to like it; it's about to be released in France and there are still lots of other places to go. Apparently, when there was a special screening for guards, the scene that got the biggest cheer was when it reveals Boyle with the AK-47!
‘There are extra scenes on the DVD’
There's a really good one where Don's character tries to get Gary Lydon's, the inspector, to make up with Boyle and neither of them are having it. We've also got my short film, The Second Death - where the character of Boyle first appeared in a way - and Brendan, Don and I do a Guard commentary. I was thinking, 'I'd like to do a really pretentious, artistic commentary where I'm talking about all my influences'. Of course I started doing it and Brendan and Don just started taking the mickey out of me! So it became more of a jokey commentary. Maybe I'll do my pretentious one further down the line!
‘My best memory of The Guard is the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere and it's all of you together against the elements’
It's like your own little circus in a way. I liked being in that landscape. American and British audiences hadn't really seen that Connemara landscape and it was great to be able to put all that on screen. If my career doesn't go as well I'm hoping maybe I'll end up doing one of those location bus tours and being the MC on it!