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In Bruges - Martin McDonagh interview

Martin McDonagh directs In Bruges

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Martin McDonagh talks about the inspiration for hitman comedy In Bruges and its journey to the big screen…

Q. Did the inspiration for this come entirely from visiting Bruges, or is some of it owed to your Oscar-winning short, Six Shooter, which also featured a kind of father-son relationship?
Martin McDonagh: Pretty much everything came from Bruges in lots of ways. I just went there and was struck by how beautiful the place was and surprised that it had never been used on film before because it’s very distinctive, iconic and strange. So, as I was walking around the characters just kind of popped up in my head; one guy who hates the place and is bored out of his head, and the other who loves the culture and loves the museums and architecture. That kind of bubbled away, so when I got back the idea that they’d been sent there as hitmen to escape a very big job propelled everything after that.

Q. Weren’t they originally written as Londoners – but that changed during the course of casting?
Martin McDonagh: Yeah, pretty much. I got the chance to work with Colin [Farrell] and Brendan [Gleeson] so it didn’t make much sense to have everyone doing a London accent when the change was so minimal, from London working class to Dublin working class. So, it all fell into place after that.

Q. How did Bruges respond to the film after seeing it? Have they seen it?
Martin McDonagh: They have, yeah, they saw it about three weeks ago and the reports were that they were very happy about it, which came as a surprise to me [laughs]. But Bruges is such an integral character to the whole piece that if we hadn’t been able to film there I would have scrapped the whole piece. I wouldn’t have moved it to Paris or Venice or Prague because it had to be somewhere strikingly beautiful, a fairytale-like place, but somewhere that no one really knew an awful lot about and most people worldwide hadn’t been to, perhaps. So, every single location that I wrote into the script we were actually allowed to film, which is a pretty big deal in any country, to write about 50 locations and be allowed to shoot in 49 of them. There was one church interior that we weren’t allowed to shoot in.

But even in places like the gallery, which had millions and billions of pounds worth of art, we were allowed to film in there for a whole half a day. It was the same with the churches, the bell-tower and even the market square – I mean pretty much every road in the town leads up to and through there but we were allowed to take it over pretty much for two straight weeks of nights. So, it’s very unusual. But I think that Bruges is palpably a character in the piece and because we were allowed to shoot in every single place it’s all there.

Q. As a writer, were there ever any limitations to political correctness?
Martin McDonagh: No. For me it’s just about creating the character and letting them speak. I mean I wouldn’t share any of Ray’s character’s points of view in the film, from the possible racist stuff to the homophobic stuff to the anti-midget stuff. It’s not my cup of tea. But I don’t like shooting kids in the head, either. I hope the film doesn’t share those sensibilities. For me, that was the main thing – not to censor the dialogue or the traits of the characters.

Q. How obvious a casting choice was Ralph Fiennes and did he require any persuasion?
Martin McDonagh: I did want someone in that part who wasn’t the obvious choice, and who hadn’t done it 100 times before. I mostly just wanted a great actor who’d be very, very dangerous, very intense and very scary because you’ve got two brilliant actors in Colin and Brendan and they’re on their own pretty much for an hour, so to have someone come in just for half an hour they’ve got to be as scary as hell. But I think one of the surprising things was how great he was at comedy. And I guess that goes back to playing the truth of a character. He was never winking to the camera or the audience. It was all down the line intense and funny.

Read our review of In Bruges