“I’ve never written anything trying to be violent,” confesses Martin McDonagh. “They just come out that way.”
The playwright says he is unable to explain why his plays, always set in humdrum locales, include astonishing paroxysms of physical or psychological rage. That includes the dysfunctional pas de deux “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” Kafkaesque nightmare “The Pillowman” and black comedy shoot-’em-up “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”
McDonagh’s speech patterns come straight out of his plays, mixing cutting vulgarity with off-the-cuff cluelessness.
“I just like pushing the boundaries,” he adds, slyly.
Under normal circumstances, McDonagh would be in Gotham watching previews of his latest Broadway show, “Inishmore,” the yarn about an unhinged Irish terrorist hell-bent on avenging the death of his “best friend in the world,” who happens to be a black cat named Wee Thomas.
Instead he’s at home in London, taking a break and prepping his feature-film directing debut, “In Bruges,” after winning an Oscar this year for his short “Six Shooter.”
McDonagh’s late arrival in town, just in time for “Inishmore’s” May 3 opening night, could be seen as one more clue fueling the widespread perception that the theater world is on the verge of losing one of its hottest young commodities.
But the 35-year-old scribe says filmmaking isn’t an escape from playwriting: It’s just one of the ways in which he’s changing his routine after finding mainstream success.
“I could have moved into film seven or eight years ago,” he says. “And I want to go back and forth (between plays and movies) to some extent. My thinking is that I could make this one film and that’d be fine. Kind of like the Terrence Malick school.
“I just don’t want to be on the conveyor belt of having (plays) on in London and then in New York,” he adds, scorning the standard playwright’s trans-Atlantic route. “I want to write them, but I don’t need them to be performed. I need a little bit of a break.”
Those comments indicate “Inishmore” might be the last fresh work from McDonagh to hit Broadway for some time.
Transferring from a hit Off Broadway run at the Atlantic Theater Company, where “Beauty Queen” also had its New York bow, edgy “Inishmore” has been bringing a decidedly un-Broadway crowd to the Rialto. Scanning the Lyceum on an average weeknight, the place is stocked with as many fashionistas as fogeys.
But just as his U.S. legit fan base expanded, McDonagh’s intentions to direct films became more clear: Earlier this year, he won an Oscar for his first directorial effort. He subsequently signed with U specialty arm Focus Features to make “Bruges,” about a Belgium-based hit man.
“If movies were around when Christopher Marlowe was writing plays, I think he would have been moving to movies, just like Martin is,” opines Focus prexy James Schamus.
It makes perfect sense that McDonagh has turned Tinseltown’s head: His plays draw their inspiration as much from Scorsese as from O’Casey, and they include tightly wound plots with unexpected scares and visual flourishes usually reserved for movie screens.
But McDonagh is not interested in bringing his plays to the bigscreen.
“From day one, it has been a bone of contention to never have any plays turned into films,” he says, “even when there was a lot of money being thrown around. I think that it takes away from theater as an art form. ‘Inishmore’ and ‘Pillowman’ are the two most cinematic of the plays. But we’ve seen a lot of that violence in films.”
It’s true that “Inishmore’s” finale, which, in living color makes “Reservoir Dogs” look tame by comparison, would likely lose its power viewed through a lens.
Instead, for “Bruges,” McDonagh is moving away from some of the stylistic themes that have informed his stage plays.
“Some of the things in ‘Bruges’ are similar to some of the plays,” he says. “But there’s more of a sadness (in the film). There’s a bit more gravitas and empathy with the characters.”
Following “Bruges,” the scribe has another screenplay ready to go that he decided would be too ambitious to take on as his feature debut.
Then again, don’t expect to see McDonagh pulling up to the Ivy anytime soon to pitch a studio exec a new project.
“I can’t drive,” he says, recalling his time at the Oscars. “So (L.A.) wasn’t really my scene.”