Of all of the duos in the world we expected to hit it off in a one-on-one interview, we wouldn't have paired Taylor Swift and Martin McDonagh together.
Pop superstar Swift is soon to be a feature-length director, with her first full length project greenlit by Searchlight Pictures late last week. Her counterpart McDonagh is one of the most successful filmmakers of his generation, churning out hits such as In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the recent Banshees of Inisherin.
The pair sat down for an installment of Variety's 'Directors on Directors' series, with Swift expressing her love for McDonagh's most recent smash-hit.
Taylor Swift on Martin McDonagh
Though the news of Taylor Swift's move into film directing will have surprised some, it is something that has been in the works for quite some time.
The American singer-songwriter has branched out into directing her own music videos in recent years, with her fifteen-minute "short film" for 'All Too Well' currently standing at over 80 million views on YouTube.
Swift sat down with Irish-British writer and director Martin McDonagh to chat about their very different paths through directing thus far, and to look ahead to future projects.
The 11-time Grammy Award winner explained to Oscar winner McDonagh that her decision to move into directing was motivated by wanting to have more creative control over her work, saying that she was already writing most of her music videos and that directing them on top of that felt like a natural choice.
She opened the chat by asking for tips on her move into feature length direction - and she could hardly have come to a better source.
McDonagh's films have seen great success at awards shows in recent years, and his debut short film Six Shooter won the Oscar for Best Short Film. His latest release, Banshees of Inisherin, is a strong contender for the biggest awards at the Oscars this year, with lead actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in contention for acting gongs alongside Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan.
Taylor Swift praised McDonagh on his 2022 release, saying that she had been lucky enough to attend the premiere. She expressed her love for the film set among the Aran Islands, and grilled the Banshees director on some of the more eccentric elements of the film.
One crucial plot line of Banshees involves Gleeson's character threatening to cut off his own fingers if Farrell's does not leave him alone. Swift said that she and others were perplexed by the character choice, and questioned McDonagh on it:
Watching “Banshees” — first of all, it’s such a special film. I’ve been talking about it with my friends. I talked to a friend of mine who’s a therapist, and she was saying, “If someone brought in this dream to me and said that ‘I’m wanting to cut my finger off,’” she would say, “You feel like your aliveness is being cut off by a part of your life and this art represents the fingers.” What do you think the fingers are a symbolism for?
McDonagh laughed off Swift's question in typical fashion, saying that the "fingers" plot line came to be because he "thought it was funny". He then revealed that it had been a collaborative idea to write the gruesome storyline in. He went on to say he was even "shocked" with himself for having written something so grizzly.
For such an unusual pair of interviewees/interviewers, Swift and McDonagh appeared to really hit it off, and they delved deeper into the recent McDonagh film. Swift expressed her love for Banshees - which was reciprocated by McDonagh giving some high praise to Swift's newest album 'Midnights', which released in October to critical acclaim.
Swift went on to say that she loved the cinematography of Banshees, saying: "It was gorgeous. It’s a sad film in one way, but there’s a lot of beautiful humanity in it." The conversation then took a turn to the animals on show in the movie, with Colin Farrell's pony and several other beasts playing a pivotal role in the film's plot. McDonagh says that the animals have become the real stars of the show for him:
I loved having them around on set. And Colin Farrell, he quotes the old adage of, “You shouldn’t work with children and animals,” but he loves it. And I love it too, because they’re just innocent. Everyone on the crew just loves being around them — especially Jenny. Little dreamboat. I watch the film now, I’m just looking at the animals. Don’t care what Colin and Brendan are doing.
Farrell and Gleeson have both earned widespread adulation for their performances in Banshees, alongside supporting actors Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. McDonagh said that, as he did with In Bruges, he wrote the film with his leading stars in mind, and said that he wanted to challenge them to bring something new to their performances:
Yeah. I wrote it for Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon — I guess to write to their strengths, but give a little leeway to bring some strange new things to it.
It clearly worked, with Farrell giving a performance that has him down as one of the favourites for the Oscar for Best Actor. Swift revealed that his tragi-comic performance had her and plenty of others in tears at the premiere, saying: "Colin is so incredible in this. And it’s the moment where everyone in the theater was kind of audibly weeping near me."
We're intrigued to see how Taylor Swift fares on her first foray into feature-length direction - and, as always, we are on tenterhooks waiting for a new Martin McDonagh project, after the rip roaring success of Banshees of Inisherin.