Projector The Banshees of Inisherin was a notable reunion between writer-director Martin McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who first teamed up on McDonagh’s 2008 feature debut. In Brugge. But McDonagh’s latest film – which earned him Oscar nominations for best director, original screenplay and picture – also reunited him with Graham Broadbent, who produced each of McDonagh’s feature films and won his second Oscar nomination for Best Picture, after Three billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri scored a name in 2018. Talking with THRBroadbent reflects on the first time he read the script for McDonagh’s darkly comedic fable and says that when the Oscar-winning writer-director calls about a new project, Broadbent knows it will be extraordinary.
You have already worked several times with Martin McDonagh and with great success. When he comes in contact with a new project, is it an instant yes?
It will always be an instant yes. But this one was a little more out of the blue. Job-Three billboards, I had no idea what he was doing. He said he was working on something, and it literally popped up in my inbox while I was on vacation over Christmas 2019. He said, “Read this silly thing.” He is such a brilliant writer that you will always devour every page and take in the meaning. I read it, but I think I had to read it again, because there isn’t much plot. It’s a brilliant story in a brilliant world, and I knew who the cast was going to be because they had those conversations. But I think I answered and said, “Very sad, very funny, very beautiful.” And then it was like, “OK, well, let’s get started.” Why don’t you, with Martin, this scenario and these actors, go ahead?
I understand that Martin was playing with a version of the script even before Three billboards, possibly as a stage play, then ditched most of it and started again a few years ago. When did you first hear about the idea?
I had heard about it because he was looking to reunite Brendan and Colin. And he had written a different screenplay, which he threw in the trash. He is very, very hard on himself with the material. By the time I read anything, you get a really strong feeling that’s probably what he wants to do next, which is fantastic. Since producers often spend a lot of time developing material, it always comes out of nowhere. Because he writes so well, because he’s such an amazing filmmaker, and because we’ve had such success with Three billboards, I think Martin was sort of saying, “Where do I go next? How to make a more extraordinary film? It is always very original. It still has humor and humanity, and it has a brilliant relationship with its cast. He also has a unique relationship with the public, which perhaps comes from [his roots in the] theater.
Compared to Three billboards, which seemed very bombastic, it’s a much calmer and more intimate film. Were you concerned about how audiences would adopt something different from his previous work?
As a producer, you’re supposed to be extremely confident, but I knew what we were doing was amazing. Martin as a filmmaker was at the best of his life. I knew it because I saw on set the performances of Colin and Brendan and Barry [Keoghan] and Kerry [Condon], along with the rest of the cast. Something really beautiful was happening. Venice was our first real big screening, and [I thought], “Wow, this very specific, singular, beautiful, funny and sad tale is also aimed at an audience.” 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 weird 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 comes across in all of his work. He was never mean to his characters, even if they weren’t nice. And it has a tonal certainty – a scene can be very funny and terribly sad at the same time. There is a tightrope he walks on. But his ability to know how to do that makes it easier as a producer. You know he can execute that, and that’s where it gets exciting.
Were you worried that this movie won’t make it to theaters and won’t be seen primarily on streaming?
I think we’ve all learned over the past two or three years to accept things that we might not have expected. We were lucky because it is a very beautiful common experience. There’s something about it, the sadness and the drama that you feel in a room together. That said, a lot of people are watching it at home and I’m getting some lovely messages about how emotional and entertaining they are. But nothing is worth [the theatrical] experience.
How difficult was it to film on the Aran Islands? I heard that some of these places don’t have cars.
It was helpful that Martin’s parents lived near this area on the west coast of Ireland. And Martin has already written plays set in the Aran Islands – he had visited them a lot, so he knew the area he wanted to be in. My job is to help Martin be as ambitious and brilliant as possible. And then just once in a while to say “Let’s not go too far.” Like many productions, we have been delayed by COVID. Then we were off the west coast of Ireland with plenty of sea air blowing, driving away all the bugs. It seemed useful to me. We were shooting in August on Inishmore for three or four weeks, and it’s a great [location] for a film — a very unique landscape. It is a place that receives 3,000 visitors a day during the summer holidays, but there are very few beds. We managed to use their tourist facilities for the crew once the season was over. Once 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 a lot easier, logistically, but it has a different feel – slightly softer, a little more soulful.
When you realized how many animal characters Martin wanted to appear in the film, were you nervous?
(Laughs.) It’s interesting. Many animals work in movies, and you can train dogs brilliantly. But I had never met 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’re not quick learners – and they don’t necessarily adapt to a home environment. We literally did about six months of training on the little donkey, Jenny. Jenny also had to have her friend there, so she wasn’t alone. It’s a world of animals that have kind of calmly watched this ongoing human nonsense. But Jenny was a very sweet little 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 February issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.