Searchlight’s The Banshees of Inisherin was a notable reunion between writer-director Martin McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who first collaborated on McDonagh’s feature film debut, 2008’s In Bruges. But McDonagh’s latest film – which earned him Oscar nominations for Best Director, Original Screenplay and Picture – also reunited him with Graham Broadbent, who has produced each of McDonagh’s feature films and earned his second Best Picture Oscar nomination, following Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri scored a nomination in 2018. Speak with THRBroadbent looks back on the first time he read the script for McDonagh’s dark comedy fable and claims Broadbent knows that when the Oscar-winning writer-director calls about a new project, it will be extraordinary.
You have worked with Martin McDonagh several times and with great success. If he comes into contact with a new project, is it an immediate yes?
It will always be an instant yes. But this one came out a bit more out of the blue. After-Three billboards, I didn’t really know what he was doing. He said he was working on something, and it literally showed up in my inbox while I was on vacation over Christmas 2019. He was like, “Read this crazy thing.” He is such a brilliant writer that you are always going to devour every page and get the meaning of it. I read it, but I think I had to read it again, because there isn’t much plot in it. It’s a brilliant story in a brilliant world, and I knew who the cast would be because they had those conversations. But I think I wrote back and said, “Very sad, very funny, very beautiful.” And then it was like, “Okay, let’s get started.” With Martin and that script and those actors, why not continue?
I understand that Martin was playing around with a version of the script before Three billboards, possibly as a play, then scrapped most of it and started again a few years ago. When did you first hear of the idea?
I had heard about it because he wanted to reunite Brendan and Colin. And he had written another screenplay, which he threw in the trash. He is very strict with himself with material. By the time I get to read something, you have a really strong sense that this is probably what he wants to make next, which is fantastic. Since manufacturers often spend a lot of time developing material, it always comes out of the blue. Because he writes so well, because he’s such an extraordinary filmmaker, and because we had so much success with Three billboards, I think Martin kind of went, ‘Where do I go? How do I make a more special film?” He is always very original. He always has humor and humanity, and he has a brilliant relationship with his cast. He also has a unique relationship with the audience, which may stem from [his roots in the] theater.
Compared with Three billboards, which felt very bombastic, this is a much quieter, more intimate film. Were you worried about how audiences would embrace something different from his previous work?
You’re supposed to be extremely confident as a producer, but I knew what we were making was extraordinary. Martin was at his best place ever as a filmmaker. I knew that because on set I saw Colin and Brendan and Barry’s performances [Keoghan] and Kerry [Condon]as well as the rest of the cast. Something very beautiful happened. Venice was our first real big show, and [I thought], “Wow, this very specific, quirky, beautiful, funny, and sad story actually plays to an audience, too.” And that was very reassuring. A week later we were in Toronto [with an audience of] 2,000 people. You could also feel the drama in the room.
It’s a strange movie to watch with other people – I feel like the humor comes out a lot more when others around you are laughing, giving you permission to laugh at such dark subjects too.
Martin has such a humanity, and it shows in all of his work. He has never been evil with his characters, even if they are not nice characters. And he has a tonal certainty – a scene can be both very funny and devastatingly sad. There is a tightrope that he walks. But his ability to know how to do that makes it easier as a producer. You know he can pull that off, and that’s where it gets exciting.
Were you afraid that this film would not make it to the cinemas and would mainly be seen on streaming?
I think over the past two or three years we’ve all learned to accept things we might not have hoped for. We were lucky as it is a very nice communal experience. There’s something about that, the sadness and drama you feel in a room together. That said, a lot of people watch it at home, and I get nice messages about how moved and how entertained they were. But nothing beats it [the theatrical] experience.
How challenging was it to film in the Aran Islands? I heard that some of those locations don’t have cars.
It was helpful that Martin’s parents live near this area on the west coast of Ireland. And Martin has written plays set in the Aran Islands before – he had visited them often, so he knew the area he wanted to be in. My job is to support Martin to be as ambitious and brilliant as possible. And then occasionally to go, “Let’s not go too far.” Like many productions, we were delayed due to COVID. Then we were off the west coast of Ireland with lots of sea air blowing away all the bugs. That felt useful. We were shooting at Inishmore for three or four weeks in August, and it’s beautiful [location] for a movie – quite a unique landscape. This is a place that has 3,000 visitors a day during the summer holidays, but there are very few beds. We managed to use their crew tourism facilities once the season was over. When we were done there [we shot at] a second place called Achill Island, which has the advantage of being connected to the mainland. It was much easier, logistically, but it feels different – a little softer, a little more melancholy.
When you realized how many animal characters Martin wanted to appear in the film, were you nervous?
(laughs.) It is interesting. Many animals work in movies and you can train dogs brilliantly. But I had never come across miniature donkeys until I read Martin’s script. And then he showed me a picture of a miniature donkey. They’re just beautiful, extraordinary creatures, but they don’t learn quickly – and they don’t necessarily adapt to a domestic environment. We literally spent about six months training on the little donkey, Jenny. Jenny had to have her friend with her, so she wasn’t alone. It is a world of animals that watched this human nonsense more or less calmly. But Jenny was a very sweet donkey and she did a wonderful job for us. And I think Colin got a little attached.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a standalone February issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.