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John Michael McDonagh's Guard

The director of this irreverent dark cop comedy talks to us about his first feature film, starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle

John Michael McDonagh’s first feature film, The Guard, has a point to prove. His brother, Martin McDonagh, directed the 2008 indie film sensation ‘In Bruges’, and as Brendan Gleeson stars in both films there is an obvious comparison to be made. In comparison, the Guard does not incorporate racist dwarfs, clumsy muggers or stereotypically large American tourists into its plot.

'The Guard' follows small town cop Sergeant Gerry Boyle (played by Brendan Gleeson), who is forced to team up with an FBI agent investigating a massive drug smuggling operation, who encounters problems with the locals. Hilariously crass and politically incorrect, the films cinematography perfectly encapsulates the bleak and desolate terrain that is policed by this lackadaisical policeman.

Dazed Digital: What was your inspiration for the Guard?
John Michael
McDonagh: I did a short film called ‘The Second Death’, and during the short a guy goes into a bar and is harassed by some peripheral characters. One of these is a small town cop, who comes in and says some obnoxious things and then leaves for no apparent reason. I thought that was quite an interesting character, so Brendan’s character sort of percolated from there. Then a couple of years ago I saw a story about a massive amount of cocaine seized by the police on a yacht in Cork, West Ireland.

There was a comic element to it because the smugglers refueled with diesel, which screwed the engine so it ran aground, and one of the drug smugglers swam for help as the ship was going down. Why you would do that when you’ve got half a billion dollars worth of cocaine on board I don’t know. They were both arrested which I thought was a great comic story. So I thought I’d put Brendan’s character in a comedy crime situation.

DD: As the film is a dark comedy and stars Brendan Gleeson, invariably it will be compared to ‘In Bruges’, which was written and directed by your brother Martin McDonagh. Is there a friendly sibling rivalry?
John Michael McDonagh: There used to be a friendly rivalry but that’s sort of gone now that The Guard has beaten In Bruges at the box office in Ireland. He is a successful playwright which I don’t really care about because I don’t like the theatre, even when he won the Oscar for his short film [Six Shooter] I wasn’t really that bothered. When he got ‘In Bruges’ set up that’s when I really started to get pissed off. That’s all gone away now.

DD: How does the Guard compare to your work on previous projects?
John Michael McDonagh: I wrote the screenplay for Ned Kelly in 2003. They tell you that film is a collaborative endeavour, but then you work with somebody who isn’t collaborative at all, so the film suffers. As a director I took onboard suggestions from props men and script editors that ended up in the final cut because it contributed to the film, that’s something that didn’t happen on Ned Kelly.

DD: You’ve talked about holidaying in Galway, where the film is set, as a child. Does the film pay homage to your memories of summer holidays?
John Michael
McDonagh: There is an element of that. Both my parents are Irish, my dad’s from Galway and my mum’s from a place called Sligo, and she’s a bit annoyed that the film was shot in Galway so I’m setting my next project in Sligo.

I also set the film in Ireland because I’m from South London, and the dead pan, abrasive wit I’m used to transfers well to a small town in rural Galway, which made the dialogue quite rhythmic. Actually some people have asked me about the amount of swearing in the Guard. I’m a big fan of Harold Pinter and a believer that swear words can be used as punctuation, not just shock value like so many other films.

The Guard is released in the UK nationwide on Friday August 19, 2011

Text by Alex Regan