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THE GUARD

About The Production
Boyle's Law

Eleven years ago, John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed his first film, a short entitled The Second Death, introducing, in a minor role, a young policeman named Gerry, played by Gary Lydon (Inspector Stanton in THE GUARD). "He's a funny character – he deliberately does stuff to unnerve people,” says McDonagh. "I always thought I'd like to do something with him at some point.”

A couple of years later he started writing another short film featuring the same character, setting it aside while he undertook some other work, including his award-nominated screenplay for Working Title's first Australian project, Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger. After completing his work on Ned Kelly, McDonagh was writing a variety of scripts, ranging from big-budget projects that he would sell for other directors to bring to the screen, to sub-$10m movies that he felt he could direct himself. He was determined that, if he wasn't able to complete these smaller projects personally, then they would not be made. When a feature film - which he had intended to direct - failed to materialize, he decided to look again at the incomplete draft screenplay of his short film. Those ten pages became the scene where Gerry Boyle examines the dead man in the cottage at the beginning of THE GUARD.

"That scene was the core of it, so we moved on from there. Then it was basically bang, bang, bang. I wasn't writing it in order, but I had an idea and I put that at the end of the script. I thought ‘now we've got to get there', so I was just slotting stuff in. Usually, when you are doing that, you have to go back over it and say ‘that doesn't make sense in relation to this.' But that didn't happen. It all sort of flowed. So, I would write and just look at what I had written and then it was ‘OK, keep going, keep going' and in thirteen days of actual work over three weeks it was done.”

McDonagh and his colleagues at Reprisal Films (Chris Clark and Flora Fernandez Marengo), who had produced his short The Second Death, teamed up with Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe of the premier Irish independent film and television company Element Pictures and pre-production and casting began.

"When Flora sent the script to us, it was pretty much fully-formed, which is very unusual,” Andrew Lowe recalls. "John's a remarkable writer and my first reaction was that it was hilarious – I loved the dark humor in it.” Ed Guiney agrees: "It was one of those scripts that's damn near perfect and when you get them, they're gold dust.” Script in hand, all of the producers were surprised at the speed with which the production then came together. "I first read it in the middle of January,” says Chris Clark, "and we were shooting the film by the middle to end of October – in my experience that's pretty rare!”

"THE GUARD was written and shot within the space of twelve months, so although you could say that I've been sitting on this character for ten years, it was just percolating in my mind,” says McDonagh. "It's great to be able to write a character that will do or say anything. You just think ‘what's the worst thing someone could say in this situation?' and he just keeps going. I think he is at the end of his tether and is willing to say anything at any moment. That's the point I had gotten to in the film business – I was so pissed off and angry that all of that stuff came out in a sublimated way. So, if you're wondering if I have ever met a policeman like Gerry Boyle, I am Gerry Boyle!” Casting

"I didn't write it for Brendan Gleeson,” explains McDonagh, "but it became clear that if he didn't want to do it that the role would have to be played in an entirely different way. If it were a younger actor, there wouldn't be that sense of melancholy and it became quite clear that if Brendan had turned it down, it could have all come to a halt.” But Gleeson, who had had a huge success with In Bruges, directed by John's brother Martin McDonagh, read the script and accepted very quickly.

"It was the writing,” admits Gleeson, "and the fantastic part. Anybody who didn't take that part should lock himself into a small room and shoot himself. Obviously it's hilariously funny, but there's also something that's really interesting about the humanity of this guy and his quest to re-calibrate the notion that heroism is possible, or the notion that facing down greater odds is possible – and that he would be up to it when it comes to it. It's very like an old Western in that way.”

Don Cheadle, who was McDonagh's first choice for the role of the FBI agent, was immediately impressed by the quality of the screenplay. "It's really rare that you see a script that's as fully realized as this one and a story that's so complete. These characters are all so full and rich. It came to our attention and I knew that John had Brendan interested in doing it and I love Brendan as an actor. Seeing a project that is at this stage and it doesn't yet have a home, we - my partners and my company - really wanted to jump in, to see if we could help get it made.” Cheadle joined the film both as co-star and executive producer.

"From that point on,” remembers producer Clark, "it gave us the opportunity to go to Cannes with a script, with a director and with two great leads and then, when we realized that the finance was coming towards this project, we were able to start casting the other roles. We could not have been luckier.”

Of the drug-smuggling villains, the busy and versatile Mark Strong was suggested to McDonagh by casting director Jina Jay. Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot had both worked with the director before and he had written their characters with them specifically in mind (Cunningham fondly characterizes McDonagh's writing style as "poetic madness on a page”).

Stage actor and voice artist Rory Keenan, a Trinity College drama graduate, who had recently appeared in John Carney's Zonad for Element Pictures, joined the cast as the young and overenthusiastic Garda Aidan McBride, who arrives from Dublin to find things very different on the Wild West coast.

Fionnula Flanagan has worked with such diverse directing talents as Robert Zemeckis, Ricky Gervais and Anthony Hopkins. One of Ireland's most distinguished actresses, she is perfectly suited to the role of the policeman's spirited, though bravely moribund mother, Eileen Boyle.

Dominique McElligott, fresh from co-starring as Sam Rockwell's wife in Duncan Jones's acclaimed Moon, hooks up with Sarah Greene as a pair of vivacious Dublin prostitutes hired by Sgt. Boyle for an afternoon of fun in Galway. Additionally top Irish comedian, actor and all-round entertainer Pat Shortt was cast as the IRA armorer, Hennessy, in a single, colorful scene.

Making her international film debut is Slovenian actress, model and TV personality Katarina Cas. "She came out of nowhere, really,” says McDonagh. "And she's now having great difficulty convincing people back home that she's been playing the female lead in an English-language movie with Brendan Gleeson!”

John Michael McDonagh's affinity with his cast is a key element in his success as a director. "He's a strong character, with strong views. He's very visual and he has a very strong sense about what he wants to do visually, but he is able to strike up a special relationship with the actor he is working with,” declares Chris Clark. "And from that comes a brilliant communication about what that character is supposed to be doing in that specific scene, but also in a bigger way about who the character is. The result, as you can see in this film, is strong characters and that is real talent.”

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