When John Michael McDonagh walked onto the set of Calvary, the story of a good priest in contemporary Ireland whose life is threatened by an angry parishioner who long ago was a victim of pedophilia, it was only his second time directing a film. When veteran actor Brendan Gleeson showed up to play the priest, wearing a formal cassock, it would mark his second collaboration with McDonagh. Gleeson starred in McDonaghs first film The Guard. McDonagh also wrote both films. He and Gleeson knew, even before that 2011 crime comedy was completed, that they would someday be working together again. McDonagh and Gleeson visited Boston recently to chat about their cinematic relationship.
John, did you have Brendan in mind while you were writing Calvary?
McDonagh: Yes. The post-production on The Guard went on for quite a while. It went on so long that I wrote the script for Calvary in the meantime. I had Brendan in mind from the start. I sent him the first draft, and he wanted to do it, but he said there were elements there that he thought should be expanded upon to make the film more emotional.
Gleeson: The idea had germinated at the end of The Guard when we talked about the notion of a good man in the midst of all this [trouble], and it took root. It was an If I write it will you do it? type of thing. It was very exciting for me. When the first draft came in, it was exquisite.
Was it a different experience working together the second time?
Gleeson: We have different sensibilities in some areas, and we have different opinions in a lot of areas. But there was a commonality about our instincts that was interesting. I love to work in a collaborative way. I was given a chance, with The General [1998] when [director] John Boorman invited me into the editing process. He was an incredible mentor for me. Monitors had just come in, and hed bring me around and say, Look, the reason Im asking you to come in from that side is for this reason. He was very inclusive, and I learned an awful lot. When John and I started working together on The Guard, he was incredibly inclusive, as well.
For both of you, are there any films you saw as a kid that made you think you might want to get into this business?
McDonagh: Id watch a lot of movies as a kid. I think I was 15 when I saw The King of Comedy. It bombed when it was released in [Irish] cinemas, and it came on Channel 4 only about a month later. Id seen it and thats when I thought, thats what a good actor does, and thats what a good director does. And I said what else have those two guys (Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese) done? So that leads you through the great films of the 70s, and that was my way in.
Gleeson: That was a world that was open to other people. I remember being asked, when I was 4, what I wanted to be, and I said an actor, but I dont think I knew what it meant. Everybody remembers seeing Bambi, and being distraught at it. One of the big ones for me was High Noon. And I remember when I was 17, I saw Deliverance, and that completely destroyed me.
Getting back to Calvary, the film focuses on both good and bad points concerning the Church. Its already opened in Ireland and England. Have you heard from people who think its pro-church and people who think its anti-church?
McDonagh: Theres been a sort of silence from the Church, which I read to mean that theyre surprised that its not as anti-religion as maybe they were expecting. But theyre likely conflicted about it because its bringing up that subject matter again (pedophilia) that theyd probably prefer to be swept under the carpet.
Gleeson: Some people would say were too easy on the Church. I think there was a general sense of relief, but also a sense that the movie is fair.
John, youve spoken about completing a trilogy of films with Brendan. Have you got a status report on the third one?
McDonagh: Ive got a lot of it in my mind, so I know the characters and the gist of the plot. I want there to be a crime story element, and I want it to be a little bit more intricate. Its called The Lame Shall Enter First, and Ill probably write that next year. (whispers) I stole that title from a Flannery OConnor short story.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.