In "Psychopaths," Farrell plays Marty, a struggling writer/alcoholic who finds himself getting mixed up with a group of raving, murderous lunatics (see: psychopaths). The catch? The film is actually a comedy (a very dark one at that). This isn't the first time Farrell and McDonagh have teamed up for a funny approach to the ugly underbelly of society either; in 2008, they made "In Bruges," a film about two hitmen who end up stranded in Belgium.
Here, Farrell and McDonagh talk about the movie's hilarious take on serial killers and what it's like working with Christopher Walken. Also, Farrell briefly discusses the failure of his recent movie, "Total Recall" and the that thing terrifies him most about acting.
I just spoke to Christopher Walken about this film.
Farrell: [Laughs] How was that?
It was good. We talked about everything, from Obama to "True Romance."
McDonagh: I bet you didn't talk about the film [laughs].
We did! And how dark it is to laugh at a bunch of raving lunatics who murder people.
McDonagh: Well when you're writing it, a scene can go anywhere with psychopathy or madness. And you can be as irreverent or iconoclastic as anything because it's them, it's not you. It's Crazy Billy saying these things. It's Crazy Chris saying stuff about the government and spitting all over it. Or saying "F*ck the cops!" So you get to express things without any fear or consequence. But in terms of plot, an off-the-wall character will [change] the scene while you're writing it and it moves the story along and it takes you to a crazy place. It's fun. It's a joy.
Farrell: Regarding "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths" is that, as an actor in them, there's a suspension of disbelief...because everything is so heightened and even the most violent situations can be so comical at times that I find I have to endure myself to how funny sh*t was. Because none of us while we're doing it feel odd; none of the characters are odd, they're all really normal to us. You've got a serial killer Billy, my friend, who's shooting a girl in the belly and then telling me he's concerned because I drink too much. He's getting all moralistic. There's just a massive amount of irony that's involved and it's really funny to be apart of.
McDonagh: [Sam Rockwell's] character is a nut. Woody is a nut. I wouldn't say Christopher Walken's character is a nut. Tom Waits is a little [nuts]. There's only four really.
Farrell: Chris is really the truest pacifist in the whole thing, even though [his character] comes from great violence and lost his daughter and his wife gets her head blown off, but he's really the truest form of pacifism that's represented in the whole film.
I feel a bit bad for your character in this. He seems to be stuck in the middle of these crazy people.
Farrell: He's overwhelmed. He is stuck in the middle. He is kind of the centrifugal point of sanity in the whole thing. He's the one that kind of chronicles the whole thing. That's literally what my character has to do. By the end, Marty is living under an enormous amount of guilt and the weight of loss and the carnage that he's borne witness to and the money that he's earned as a result of that carnage from selling the script. I don't think that there's that much healing for him in it. I think he's suffered a great amount of loss that's probably irreparable. But doing it was fun. There was a way that I could have lost my mind and gone "I want to do that!" and "I want to have a go at that part!" And as an actor you do that anyway, and every film I've done, if I am doing a good scene and the other actor has good dialogue, I nearly want to switch around and do what they've done.
Farrell: The last thing I did, "Dead Man Down," and Armand Assante came in and did a scene with Terrence Howard and the two of them are sitting at a coffee table. As an actor, there is something glorious about coffee table scenes, where two actors are sitting at a table, no movement, like literally just eyeball to eyeball and good dialogue. This was a nicely written scene, it wasn't too deep. I was there that day and I wasn't shooting and Terrence and Armand were doing their thing. I really just wanted to go up and be like [whispers] "Armand! Armand! Can I just have a shot?" I really did. I had that moment.
This movie has the story within a story aspect, as Colin's character writes a script called "Seven Psychopaths." Martin, did you want the plot to be like that from the beginning? Or did that happen after?
McDonagh: I had this title way early. I only had the one [psychopath] and was like, Where do we go from here? Another drink! [Laughs] I write quite quickly and I always forget what the germ of the idea was or where it came from. Like I will have written three pages today and tomorrow I have completely forgotten everything the next day.
Farrell: Will you always re-read the last piece before you start again?
McDonagh: Yeah, and there's a great joy to that too, especially if it makes you laugh and you don't remember writing it.
There's a great line in this film where you make fun of the "eye-for-an-eye but the whole world is blind" cliche.
McDonagh: It's one of the most quoted f*cking things. It's on posters, at yoga studios. It's a beautiful sentence.
Farrell: Yeah, it is. It's just the mathematics of it don't work out [laughs].
McDonagh: When you're creating a character, it's fun to contradict all those [sayings]. It's kind of beautiful to contradict your own writing, too.
Farrell: Yes, your writing is in a world that kind of shuns presumption.
Collin, you seem to be getting into comedy a lot more, with this and "Horrible Bosses."
Farrell: "Horrible Bosses" was the only time I felt like I knew I was doing a comedy. I had the hairpiece and the belly. But in "In Bruges" I didn't feel like it was a comedy. This [film] I didn't feel like I was doing any comedy. Even the stuff around me wasn't funny because it was all life-threatening and chaotic. So when you're in it -- when you cease to experience the script objectively and you become the subject of the writing -- then it kind of goes out the window. I like to mix it up. I think I prefer those than doing drama.
This was a question I asked Chris Walken, but do you know when a scene is working or not, or when it's funny?
Farrell: You know, most of the scenes in this film have some string of humor that's going through them. But in doing them, you've gotten yourself to a stage where you're so close to the material that you're inside it and that suspension of disbelief that we were talking about has kicked in. But then you'll have f*cking Walken there and he will do something or say something [funny].
McDonagh: Like screaming "F*ck the cops!"
Farrell: F*CK THE COPS! F*CK 'EM!
McDonagh: I was trying to get [Chris] to do it as big as possible on here. The first one was big, but then when he turned around, [Colin] burst out laughing. It breaks every now and then.
Farrell: Absolutely it does. And if you watch the outtakes, you'll be like "That f*cker was full of sh*t. Suspension of disbelief my ass [laughs]."
What about movies as a whole? Do you have an idea of when those films will work or not?
Farrell: I have no idea. It's terrible. I have no idea if a scene is going to work or a film is going to work. I think things are going to be brilliant and they weren't. And things that I didn't think were going to be that good turned out to be beautiful.
McDonagh: You don't know how it's going to end.
Farrell: There are so many variables and combinations of a scene and the amount of footage that you collect and the choices that you have to make in post regarding editing. It's astonishing. You could ideally take the same material and make four very different movies that look very alike, that sound very alike, but elicit very different responses from the audience member.
It sounds like you could give yourself a panic attack if you think about it.
Farrell: It's terrifying man! I used to do takes that were a lot closer to each other. If I did six takes they would kind of be in the same vain, just trying to go deeper and having an idea of what the scene should be. But now my takes are very different and you're giving the director loads of choices to manipulate your performance in post.
Your mos recent film, "Total Recall," obviously didn't do as well as you would have hoped. Do you know what happened there?
Farrell: I have no idea. There's a chemical process that is present in whether films work or they don't work or they find an audience or they don't. If I could answer that question I would be in those f*cking films every single time.