In 1997, at the age of just 27, Martin McDonagh became the first writer since Shakespeare to have four plays performed simultaneously in London.
That prodigal debut with “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” “A Skull in Connemara,” “The Lonesome West” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan” was followed swiftly by tabloid notoriety, when he publicly told Sean Connery to “fuck off” at an awards ceremony where he was named most promising newcomer.
Such iconoclastic belligerence fitted with the image of a feisty working-class outsider who dismissed most theater as “dull.” His pitch-black, blood-spattered comedies of the grotesque, mostly set in rural Ireland, won him a reputation as an Anglo-Irish version of Quentin Tarantino.
But McDonagh clearly didn’t relish such media pigeonholing. Since the Connery incident, he has steered as far away from the press as possible (he didn’t respond to an interview request for this profile), preferring, say associates, to let his work speak for itself.
That has paid off with mounting critical acclaim and awards for subsequent plays such as “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” a scathing satire on Irish Republican terrorism; and “The Pillowman,” his first play to depart from an Irish setting, in which a horror writer becomes a suspect after some children are murdered.
Even when McDonagh won the Oscar this year for his debut short “Six Shooter,” which he also directed, he did nothing to promote the film, and refused to contribute a director’s commentary for the DVD release.
It remains to be seen whether Focus Features will permit this policy of silence to continue when it produces his feature film debut “In Bruges,” a thriller about two hitmen on the run in Belgium. But McDonagh takes his cue from close friend Terrence Malick, another uncompromising sort who tends to get his own way.
“Most writers are trying desperately to sell their script, but with Martin it’s more about trying to persuade him to let you make it,” says Kenton Allen, the BBC exec who produced “Six Shooter.” “You don’t say to him, ‘That’s a great first draft.’ The development process of giving endless notes doesn’t work with Martin. He’s incredibly confident in what he delivers.”
Birthplace: Camberwell, England
Inspirations: “The Clash – the punk ethic, the tunefulness, the brains. And Nirvana, that sense of telling the truth.” Movie influences include Scorsese, Tarantino and Malick, but David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” was the play that made McDonagh think he could write for the stage.
Favorite unproduced script: “My third script, ‘Seven Psychopaths,’ but that’s all I’m telling you about it.”
Reps: Agents Charlotte Mann (Rod Hall Agency) and Bob Bookman (CAA)