In order to play what you’re doing, you have to create a world that makes sense
John Michael McDonagh's The Guard is in Irish cinemas this week ahead of release schedule which will see it hit screens in North America. Click caught up with star Brendan Gleeson recently to talk about the film and other projects waiting in the wings.
CLICK: How do you find the process of promoting a film?
BG: I don’t actually mind. Sometimes I forget that I have actually to be a bit more careful about what I say. I don’t actually mind talking about work where you just kind of feel it works. If something doesn’t work you can’t really apologise for it because you’re letting everybody down as some people might not see it like that at all. It’s an awkward situation and I don’t generally sugar coat stuff. But you have to be loyal as well to what the work is what the trust of the work was. So it’s a weird thing, isn’t it? But with The Guard I don’t care what anybody says because I know the answer. If you don’t get it... [laughs]
CLICK: Can you briefly set up the story of the film?
BG: If I thought I could sum it up in 10 seconds I wouldn’t have bothered making the movie! No I won’t actually; instead I’ll frame it like this. I was working with Sam Sheppard on Safe House in Cape Town over the last week or two and he quotes Faulkner as saying that ‘character is plot’ – ok? For me The Guard is actually more character study, so the plot to me... it’s only the hanger to hang the suit on.
I can tell you what my back story would be. Gerry Boyle’s mother brought him up without his dad – who wasn’t around for whatever reason. So his relationship with women is actually rather healthy in one respect which is that his best friend is his mam, perhaps his only one, and his respect for women is pretty complete. I think his notion of manhood was a little tainted because there was no man in the house, in my opinion. John might not agree with this! And the reason that he joined the cops was because he had a kind of an odd notion of male heroism gleaned from Gary Cooper, High Noon, that kind of Western deal of standing tall against the forces of evil. So that’s why he joined the Guards – because he’s an anarchic sort of bloke.
CLICK: He would either have been a cop or a criminal?
BG: Well exactly – he didn’t go into the Guards to feather his nest so why on earth would he go there? Ok so his idealism or cynicism comes from joining the cops to want to stand tall and brave and finding out that people just see what they want to see, are apathetic, chase all the obvious things, don’t question anything and basically it was a situation where he was being told to just sit down and relax. So all that energy is dissipated and he feels strangely foolish or disparaging of those people who are like that.
CLICK: Do you always create a back story?
BG: Not necessarily. I don’t normally do a whole formal thing but with him I was confused as to what he was doing in the Guards. Except that at the end it feels right in some odd, bizarre wanna-be way he kind of lives his own legend or fantasy in the end. So I have to wonder what brought him in to begin with? He’s not a stupid man; he’s so worldly wise it’s unreal. At what point was he so innocent as to imagine that he’d go round with an AK-47?! So that’s why I did the back-story and his relationship with women. In order to play what you’re doing, you have to create a world that makes sense.
CLICK: How early in the process did you get involved?
BG: As soon as I saw the end in the script, that was when I got involved. But they hadn’t been financed yet and with all my stuff over the last while I’ve been trying to get financing for At Swim-Two-Birds so I was kind of hoping that they wouldn’t get financing. Then we did get it and I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it. It was a nightmare situation to have to walk away from that – but I didn’t have to choose in the end.
CLICK: You mentioned At Swim-Two-Birds – is that something you’re determined to make?
BG: Yea, it’s due for Spring and we’re very confident at the moment. Now I’ve been saying that for awhile but the situation is settling and we’ve got some nice results. Now we’ve got to start getting the ducks in the row again as we have a few times. And it’s a very, very weird environment the last two or three years and it just feels now as if people are starting to settle and the fear factor isn’t there as much.
CLICK: Was directing always something you wanted to do?
BG: I’ve directed a few plays before and my attitude always was that I didn’t want it as a vanity project or to have on my CV. I love doing what I do. I always said it was interesting but only if I thought I had something different to bring to the table, other than someone who does it for a living. Like its 18 months minimum out of your life for a start and I had no wish just to do it for the hell of it, I honestly don’t. But this project I really wanted to see it through. And I asked other people, I asked John Boorman would be he up for it and we talked and he said I seemed to know what I wanted so he said just go and do it. And similarly with the writing, myself and Donal O’Kelly were working on the treatment and then it got to a point where it was either him going to write it or me and so the situation more or less demanded it.
CLICK: And hopefully it will exist at some point?
BG: [Laughs incredulously] What does that mean, you swine?! But you’re absolutely right, hopefully it will exist. I have no way of knowing at this point. You know you keep saying it but each time it’s been quite close to happening and another great thing is the people involved who allow us to go with the bizarre project that it is – the Colin’s and Gabriel’s and Cillian's, Fassbender – they all really want to do it.
CLICK: Back to the Guard – did you come on board at the same time as Don Cheadle?
BG: John said he sent the scripts out at the same time and both were on board by the end of the week. When I read the script I wanted to do it regardless and I can’t remember when the information came that it went to Don.
CLICK: Would you have envisaged anyone else in that role?
BG: I didn’t even think about it – I was completely besotted by Gerry Boyle and really glad that I’d been offered it, honest to god. And then I head Don Cheadle and I thought that was immense. And it was, he was really brilliant. First of all there was no defensive or competitive stuff going on with one getting the good lines or whatever. The term ‘straight man’ or ‘foil’ is used and it’s completely wrong in this context. Because what he brought to it was... a kind of a truthful insight. I knew up to a point Connemara and Guards and that stuff. He knew exactly his own experience for example when someone says something really crass. Like ‘did you grow up in the projects?’
CLICK: Would you like to see Gerry Boyle head to the US for a sequel?
BG: I’d love it yea!
CLICK: The film was picked up for distribution in the US – why do you think it was so appealing?
BG: I was really nervous at Sundance because I wanted it to work. And sometimes I don’t mind because I know it works at home anyway. But I really wanted it to work to show off John’s talent and all that.
CLICK: It’s important for his first film.
BG: Really critical, and it’s really huge if it can happen. So I didn’t know what would happen. But it soon became clear that once Don arrived they could say ‘ok I'm not the only one to find this really odd.’ Because they felt safe with Don. So rather than Gerry bringing them through the film, Don brought them through, and I think in some ways that’s why it works.
CLICK: Do you consciously choose a mix of projects?
BG: Good work always does it. It sounds trite but wherever the work brings me, that’s it. I love working here and obviously if you can get the quality scripts, there’s nothing better.
CLICK: You didn’t get to be in the last Harry Potter – was that disappointing at all?
BG: Well the only way I would have managed it to be in a coffin or comatose on a broomstick! So I'm glad I didn’t have to do that, that’s very dull! I kind of was interested in how Mad Eye would figure out because we didn’t know in the fourth one – when JK Rowling said I better hold on to the eye. So we thought maybe something pivotal was going to happen, because it was for the last book.
CLICK: You even had an offscreen death – did you mind that?
BG: I did yea! No it’s great because you don’t have to do any work and everybody talks about you! [laughs]
CLICK: Finally, other than At Swim-Two-Birds have you got anything else coming up that you’re excited about?
BG: There’s a script called Calvary that John [Michael McDonagh] has written and I’d love to do that next. I don’t know what the financial situation is with that. That would be really exciting but I don’t know if it will happen.