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Interview: Calvary director John Michael McDonagh

1 of 1 John Michael McDonagh with his Calvary star Brendan Gleeson
John Michael McDonagh with his Calvary star Brendan Gleeson

With Calvary out now on DVD and Blu-ray, its director, John Michael McDonagh, talks to Harry Guerin about the making of the film.

Harry Guerin: Now that you have a bit of distance from the making of Calvary, how do you feel about the experience looking back?
John Michael McDonagh: I think we made a really good movie that seems to have affected a lot of people. The best feeling I take away from the movie is how great it was to shoot on location in Sligo.

Did you feel a lot of pressure coming off the massive success of your first film The Guard, or were you more confident in yourself and relaxed with that success at your back?
The second part. With my first movie being a hit, the pressure was off, as far as I was concerned.

If the order and timing had been reversed, would you have felt confident enough to make Calvary before The Guard?
I would never have been given the financing to make Calvary as my first film. The fact that The Guard was such a big hit meant that the producers were willing to take a risk. I agree with your suggestion that the filmmaking style of Calvary was more confident because I'd made The Guard first.

When you've talked to audiences and press around the world about the film, how diverse have their responses to the story and themes of Calvary been?
The responses have been quite uniform - audiences have been moved and also appreciative of what we set out to do, which was to make people think and feel.

I think what was great about the film in terms of Irish audiences is that it wrong-footed them in a good way - some went expecting The Guard 2 and found themselves deeply moved in a different way. Did you get that feedback?
Oh yes, definitely. But it's all there in the first scene, so no-one can say that they weren't warned.

People regard Calvary as a healing film, do you?
As a writer and director, I don't believe in catharsis for myself, but it's great if other people feel that way after having watched it.

One of the most powerful things for me watching Calvary was sitting there thinking, 'Everyone on screen here is at the top of their game'. Did you have the time to savour that at all on set?
Yeah, it was a great ensemble with someone new and exciting coming in every day, so it was a pleasure to work on. They're all essentially decent people as well, so there was never any diva behaviour to deal with, apart from Mícheál Óg Lane [the altar boy]. Okay, that's a joke. He recently visited my parents in Spiddal to give them some duck eggs. What a lovely kid.

Brendan Gleeson's Calvary performance is arguably the best of his career to date. What needs to happen now for it, your script and direction to get Oscars momentum going?
Well we've got great reviews in the US, but it needs to do well at the box office. We had a very good opening weekend, but we need to do just as well as we expand the release, to keep it ticking over in the minds of the Oscar voters.

You told me a great story a few years back about when you were making The Guard and Don Cheadle nipped into a Chinese takeaway one night when you were out. Have you any similar stories from the Calvary set?
A Chinese takeaway in Spiddal, that's right! And then he was drinking Guinness in An Tobar until 3am! No, we've had nothing that surreal, but we did have a couple of great nights out in Sligo, at Hargadon's Pub and The Glasshouse Hotel, where most of the cast were present, knocking them back. Great staff in both those places. Nice to see M. Emmet Walsh in that environment. And Dylan Moran holding court. He promised to buy me a cravat on one of those nights, but I still haven't received it.

If you and Brendan are each other's muses in a way, who feeds the most grapes to who?
Brendan relies on me to provide him with the scripts, so you can assume it's me eating all the grapes.

Do you think you'll ever make a straight-up western - cowboy hats, adobe buildings, the lot - at some stage in your career?
I hope so. I've written a couple, but they're big-budget productions, so it'll be further on down the line, I reckon.

What films are you most excited about seeing yourself in the year ahead?
Because I've been travelling so much, I still haven't watched Under the Skin, so I'm looking forward to that. Foxcatcher would be the big US movie I have high hopes for.

Calvary

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