Directed by Richard Shepard
Opens at the Charles Theatre April 18
Richard Shepard directed The Matador, one of our fave-rave films, starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, for fuck’s sake, and when we heard we could talk to him on the phone about his new movie, Dom Hemingway—starring Jude Law as a choleric, profane, and highly violent London safe-cracker released from jail after doing 12 years, and boy, is he angry—we were all about it. We got the call from the Movie PR person, and she did some boops and beeps to connect us to Mr. Shepard.
City Paper: Hello, this is Joe MacLeod.
Movie PR Person from Fox Searchlight: Hi Joe.
MP: Hi, lemme grab Richard for you, could you hold on please?
[DISTORTED NEW AGE-Y HOLD MUSIC]
Richard Shepard: Hello?
CP: Hello Richard, are you hearing me well enough?
RS: I am indeed, are you?
CP: OK, good, I am very excited, I saw the movie, I’m very excited to be talking to you, I really super-dug The Matador.
RS: Thank you.
CP: That’s one of those movies I can check in with at any time when it’s running, and from way, way back, The Linguini Incident, which is nuts.
RS: [laughs] You have a clearly distorted and weird film knowledge, but I appreciate it.
CP: So I just wanna say, this movie [Dom Hemingway] grabs you, right off the fuckin’ rip. I mean, let’s call it an arresting soliloquy.
RS: It certainly—you know, it’s intended for that, and it is a good barometer of if you’re gonna like the movie or not.
CP: [laughs] Yes!
RS: In a way, it was also, as a writer, the first thing that I wrote, and by the time I was done writing it, I kinda felt like I completely understood Dom. In a way that sometimes it takes an entire script to understand a character, I felt like I completely understood him just from writing that monologue. And it was very freeing, from that moment on, to write him. It was very easy, because I sort of completely got him.
CP: Yeah, it’s weird, I dunno what the musical term for it is, but there’s a lotta songs, have kind of like a preview of the entire song at the beginning?
RS: Right, it’s like the overture, and it is in a way the overture to the movie, and in fact the movie is bookended by monologues.
CP: Did you fucking halfway kill Jude Law, having him do that stuff? I expected him to have a heart attack!
RS: Well, it’s funny because he gained all this weight, and then he had to sort of, on certain days he kind of wanted to accentuate his potbelly, so he would be drinking 10 sodas at a time, and then of course he couldn’t drink real beer, so he’s drinking the fake beer.
RS: Which is some sort of cruelty—
CP: It’s awful.
RS: And then, he was smoking like, you know, I mean, if the American Cancer [Society] was watching how many cigarettes he smoked, they would have died. So it was this horrible combination of health for him, he was huffing and puffing a lot, but of course now he’s skinny and in perfect shape and hasn’t smoked in—you know, he is an actor and he basically got into Dom completely, and that was what I think is why you see such joy and deepness in his performance, is that he definitely grabbed on to this guy and approached it with the belief that if he didn’t give it 110 percent, there would be nothing. Dom is not someone who does anything halfway, and in playing Dom, you can’t do anything halfway either, so I was very lucky to find an actor who was ready to embrace everything, ready for that opening scene and everything else.
CP: He was all in, it was just like you’re watching this, and this guy is all-in on this movie. It was amazing.
RS: I think it’s one of his very best performances, and certainly something you haven’t seen from him before, which is also exciting. And part of independent film and making movies for less money than normal is, like, what are you doing that makes people actually want to see your movie? What is it that is interesting? I purposely wanted an actor who had never played a role like this before, and they’re not that many, because everyone in London is in some sort of Guy Ritchie movie, so the list isn’t long, and I also wanted someone who was like—please don’t make me sound pompous when I say—there is like a Shakespearean element to Dom, if nothing else, just in his failure. So I wanted an actor who could bring that sort of energy to it, and Jude and I talked about that alot, he is sort of, I can imagine him in some sort of supporting role in a Shakespeare play, because he’s so tragic.
CP: Yeah! He’s absolutely, there’s this inexorable sense of tragedy with many of the decisions that Dom makes in the movie, it’s like “Oh God, what are you doing?”
RS: At a certain point I’m hopeful that audiences in some way are literally like “please don’t do that.”
RS: They know at a certain point that this is a guy who literally will shoot himself in the foot at every turn. Part of the tension and the fun is, you know, hoping that he’s just not gonna ruin whenever he takes one step forward, it’s like “please don’t ruin that.”
CP: Getting back to the cigarettes for a minute, I just came off of binge-watching True Detective, and watching Matthew McConaughey smoke a half a cigarette every time he pulls on it, and then I’m watching Jude Law smoke a million cigarettes.
RS: I’m a humongous fan of True Detective, so, nothing, you’re not gonna get one word negative about it from me, but I do feel that sometimes it does make sense for who the character is, I think we’re in a world now where you just can’t lightly smoke a cigarette. In fact, you can’t even get a PG rating if, I mean, if you’re making a PG movie, you literally can’t have someone smoke a cigarette, which is tremendous, crazy censorship in some sorta way, but Dom was never gonna be a PG movie, and Dom is not a PG guy. Especially since he was in prison for 12 years, I like this idea that he’s sort of in a time warp, the world has passed him by, and as he says in the movie, he’s a dinosaur, so he’s doing stuff that, you know, it’s over, that generation, people have changed and he hasn’t. All of that was important to his character. Meanwhile, the actor himself had to smoke a fuckload of cigarettes, and you know, I was having him run up and down mountains in the south of France, and run after mopeds, and he was huffin’ and puffin’.
CP: Also, I wanna commend, uh, in the film, the use of sound, a lot of times it’s not used—there’s a scene where he’s watching someone sing, and there’s a band, and the sound of the band does not necessarily connect with the singer, but the way the sound is isolated, and the way it drops out, it really worked to emotionally connect what was going on, I thought that was really nice.
RS: Oh, thank you, I’m definitely someone who believes that you should have an interesting sound design as you do everything else in your movie, and it’s sometimes given short shrift, but I have been lucky to work with some excellent sound designers. Even if it’s a movie without car crashes and big explosions, there’s things sound-wise that very smart people can do, and stuff like that is definitely a case where—how do you get inside of Dom’s brain as he’s watching his daughter sing, you know? What is it, how do you emotionally do that? And one way we thought—and that wasn’t always the intention in the scene—but after editing it, it became clear that might be an interesting way of going about it.
CP: Yeah, it really worked well, and then you talk about, you talk about stuff like car crashes, and you kinda stood that on its head too, which was really cool.
RS: Well, ultimately, there have been so many brilliant car crashes in the history of movies, that to try and do one even as remotely as brilliant, with one-twentieth the budget, seemed to me, you know, an exercise in futility, I figured. The whole movie has been from almost from Dom’s point of view, we’ll just continue that in the car crash, and I do believe that when you’re having an accident, even if you’ve tripped and fallen, as you’re falling, it all feels very slow, so that was sort of the thing that got me going with it. I bet in some cases it might actually feel very slow, and I also thought it would add a nice little bit of comedy as Dom watches his best friend’s hand fly by him.
CP: Oh! Which brings me to that guy, oh my God, it’s like, because, Withnail and I, Richard E. Grant, is in Withnail and I.
RS: I know, I wrote this movie for him.
RS: Withnail and I is my favorite film comedy.
CP: Oh, man.
RS: I think it’s about as perfect a movie as you can get, and I’ve always been a gigantic Richard E. Grant fan, he sorta dropped off my radar for the last 10 years or so, and I was wondering where he was, and I do a little research and I found out he was still, you know, alive and kickin’, and as I was writing this movie, I was like, you know what? I’m gonna write—who knows if I ever even get the movie made, or if I’ll have a chance to get Richard E. Grant, but I’m just gonna write it for him, in my mind, I called the character Dickie, obviously, so I was thinking of him, and just the way the magic of good luck sometimes works, he was available and excited. He’s just an incredibly funny actor, and if you watched carefully, he doesn’t even have that many lines, it’s just more his reactions to what Dom is doing that gets major laughs.
CP: Yeah, most of the time it’s posture and his face.
RS: Exactly, he’s got one of those faces, it’s crazy.
CP: He’s great. He’s changed, since Withnail and I, physically, not tremendously, but enough, and I was just like, What am I getting here? It was just kinda that, and I guess it’s just because he was there, that I got that Withnail vibe, I dunno.
RS: Well, the fact of the matter is that if you really wanted to push yourself into some way of thinking, you know, Withnail is never gonna be, like, a small-time crook, he was an actor, and a scaredy-cat. But there is a world where you could imagine a failed Withnail sitting in a bar all day, and in a way that’s what Dickie is, he’s a mid-level crook who sits in a bar all day and this is his best friend, who gets him into a lot of trouble, but also, is one of the best times to be had in the world. And that’s how we treated Dickie, but also how we looked at Dom, which is, Dom is someone who you’d wanna get two beers with, but you probably wouldn’t wanna get a third beer with, and if you got a fourth beer with, you might end up in jail. But if you had a fifth beer with him, you’d probably have the greatest night of your life, and if you had a sixth beer, you’d probably end up in a car accident.
CP: And you look at this, and it’s kinda like, you know, it’s a movie about a guy and part of it is about a relationship to a child that he lost touch with and stuff like that, and you could say maybe, “It’s a guy’s movie,” and stuff like that, and I’m looking at stuff you’ve done, and you direct Girls!
RS: Yeah. You know, the fact of the matter is, I feel so lucky I get to dive into so many facets of my personality. I had just directed two episodes of Girls right before we started production on Dom, I mean literally finished one night and got on a plane the next day. It is strange to go from one world to another world, but that is sort of the charm of my profession, and one of the things I actually like most about it. And while Dom is not much like Girls at all, clearly the two worlds meet somewhere in between with me.
CP: I gotta say a lot of the performers on Girls just leave it all out there, man, so that’s a connection.
MP: Last question.
RS: OK, thank you. You know, this season on Girls, I don’t know if you watch, but Richard E. Grant is in this season of Girls.
RS: Because Lena had seen a rough cut of Dom Hemingway to give me some notes, and she was like “oh my God, Richard Grant’s so great, let’s put him in the show!”
CP: No shit? Wow. Wow! That’s crazy. He’s great on Girls. One thing, the flooding of red—
CP: What’s that all about, is that just because, it’s like, I remember, one of my visual memory of The Matador is all this lush, luxurious, lurid color, you know these just big frames of just, you know, visual. What’s up with that? I love that, just like boom! The whole fuckin’ frame is red. What’s that about?
RS: I think that it’s just a way to keep the energy up, of the movie, I mean Dom has a lot of red in his life, he’s a bloody guy, on every level, emotionally, he lets it all hang out there and he’s caused wreckage on every level, with his daughter, with his friends, with himself, and so red is significant in that way. And when you cut to red and have an image that’s striking on the screen, it gives the movie another level.
MP: Hate to interrupt, but we have to go to the next interview.
CP: OK, wait, one sec, you there?
CP: OK, real quick, where are you and are you enjoying a beverage or eating anything right now?
RS: I’m sitting in a hotel room drinking an Evian, slightly hungover, and this is the first of what will be a long line of interviews, but it started out with a bang, I really enjoyed this one.
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