Writer/director John Michael McDonagh follows up his critically acclaimed debut The Guard with another winner, Calvary. The film tells the story of a priest (played by Brendan Gleeson) in a small Irish town who is told by one of his parishioners that he will be murdered in a week. In the process of Gleeson’s character trying to help the town’s inhabitants, any of which could be the killer, McDonagh explores themes of faith and the darkness of humanity, and he looks deeply into what it means to be a good person in this day and age.
Recently, at the film’s LA press day, I had the chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with the director and pick his brain about the film. We discussed, among other things, where some of the dialogue came from, reactions from audiences to the ending, Brendan Gleeson’s method acting and more.
Check it all out below, and enjoy!
Calvary left me in a very contemplative silence after I watched it.
John Michael McDonagh: It’s funny you say that about the end and the way you felt because, the way the movie ends, it goes into complete silence as the credits start, before the end song comes back in. So that’s me hoping that the audience left sat there in silence, and fortunately it seems to be that they have and then they seem to stay there through the end credits as well. Most audiences now, the minute the final shot happens, they just get up and walk out, and that doesn’t seem to have happened with this film.
I usually stay through the end credits.
John Michael McDonagh: And that’s why I always like to give audiences a bit in the end credits as well. At the end of The Guard and on this obviously there are images that go right through to the end.
I liked that because we get to see that places the characters have been.
John Michael McDonagh: Specifically the places he was with his daughter.
Yes, for some reason that had me thinking of the ending of John Carpenter’s Halloween, where we see all the places Michael Meyers has been.
John Michael McDonagh: Oh right. Assault on Precinct 13 is one of my favorite movies. Halloween is beautiful in widescreen, terrific. Very intelligent man (John Carpenter) as well in the way he would speak about movies.
Brendan Gleeson is nothing short of brilliant in this film. I was talking with him earlier and he doesn’t so much play the character as much as he inhabits the character, right?
John Michael McDonagh:It’s funny because Brendan doesn’t think of himself as a method actor, but I kind of do in a way. I don’t think this is a spoiler, but his dog dies in the movie. The day we shot that, it was also the day where he has the explosion with the naïve priest (Father Leary, played by David Wilmot) while he’s washing his hands. I realized that was one of the few days that we got into an argument about a certain line. He wanted to rejig a line and I said, “No, no, you can’t redo the line. You say it as it is.” And Brendan goes, “Okay, okay I’ll do it. You’re the director, I’ll do it.”
Brendan got really angry there and I thought maybe it’s because he’s building up for this scene, and then I realized he’s also building up for the final scene of the day ,which was him finding the dog and he has that big emotional scene where he starts crying. Brendan doesn’t talk about himself as a method actor, but I felt on that day that’s method. You’re brooding and you’re brooding and you’re getting angrier and angrier as the day goes on, and I think that’s what he had in his mind that day. He doesn’t say that about himself, but I’m not too sure. I think he is in that kind of Brando-esque sort of realm (laughs). He’s probably one of the few actors who could hold himself in a fight with Brando (laughs).