Interview: John Michael McDonagh talks Calvary, out now on DVD and Blu-ray

One of the stand out Irish films of the year so far has to be John Michael McDonagh’s Sligo-set dram Calvary. The film earned critical acclaim, both here and abroad, and took €1.6 million at the Irish box-office. Having opened impressively last weekend in the US, the film comes back home with the DVD and Blu-ray available today.

The film, with features one of the finest performances ever committed to Irish cinema by Brendan Gleeson, sees a parish priest threatened during confession, and given one week to set his affairs in order before his mystery confessor returns to kill him.

Calvary features a whole host of Irish stars, with Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Dylan Moran, David Wilmot, and Pat Shortt joining international stars Kelly Reilly, Marie Josée Crozé, and Isaach De Bankolé. M. Emmet Walsh even pops up!

To commemorate the home release of the Calvary, which is available in shops today, and on Irish streaming service Volta from Monday, Scannain talked to director John Michael McDonagh about the film. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: One of the striking things about the film is the way that Sligo is shot. What was it about the county that drew you there specifically and was shooting on-location a challenge?

A: My mother is from Sligo. I used to go there for my summer holidays when I was a kid, so I knew the area very well. Shooting on location is still a challenge because, generally speaking, you have to bring the majority of the crew over from Dublin. There needs to be more support for regional filmmaking so that productions that are shooting in Galway, or Sligo, or Cork, etc., do not have to keep relying on Dublin to provide them with crews. It’s getting really tiresome now.

Q: Ben Bulben is very much a character in this film. Was that a decision that you made prior to shooting or did it become apparent in the edit?

A: It only became apparent when we filmed those amazing helicopter shots that are used in the opening titles and then are scattered throughout. Chris Gill (editor) and I realised we could structure the film around those shots.

Q: How long after The Guard did you begin work on the script?

A: The Guard had an extended postproduction, so I started writing Calvary during that period, and I was finished by the time we’d heard The Guard had been accepted by Sundance.

Q: Listening to the opening monologue without the picture it is easier to discern whose voice it is. Did you do anything to the audio to attempt to throw the audience off?

A: You’ve misheard the voice. ***SPOILER*** It’s not Chris O’Dowd. ***SPOILER*** I cheated with the audio. And you’re Irish!

(Not our finest hour!)

Q: The wearing of the soutane is different to how modern priests dress. Can you explain why you choose to dress Brendan in this way?

A: It’s archaic, yes. It’s a reference to Italian Spaghetti Westerns that always featured whiskey-drinking, gun-toting, priests in soutanes. I thought the image of Brendan would be iconic, and it’s turned out that way as it’s been used in all the promotional materials.

Q: The film did remarkably well at the Irish box-office and has opened strongly in the US, much like The Guard did. Is that a relief or does it put more pressure on your future films?

A: Success is never a pressure, failure is.

We’d like to thank John Michael for taking the time to indulge us, and encourage to read our two reviews (1 & 2) for a film that has split the office as only an Irish film can.