They say a director’s sophomore film is always the hardest. It’s the follow-up. For writer/director Troy Duffy, it’s even harder.
His first film, “The Boondock Saints” has a strong flock of devoted fans on one side and an infamous reputation on the other (thanks in no small part to the documentary “Overnight” detailing his studio deal back in 1998).
Ten years later, Duffy is back with a sequel, “Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day.”
In a round-table interview, Duffy talked about writing the new film, dealing with fan expectations, and what it’s like to have Billy Connolly and Peter Fonda on the same movie-set.
You’ve expanded the cast for the sequel. How did the character of “Romeo” come about?
Troy Duffy: Well, I wrote it for Cliff (Clifton Collins), who’s been a friend of mine for over a decade now. When Cliff walks into a room, he’s just a charming guy. He’s got that smile and these big eyes – Don Knots style – and he’s never really gone out and done something comedy-wise, but he cracks me up all the time. You know? So I just took his own personality and exaggerated it, and thank God he was available and the studio signed off on him and now we got him doing a comedic, yet balls-out, gun-toting, fighting performance. And it was just kind of an after-thought about the two communities. And I realized, you know, one of the things I had done from living and moving to Los Angeles was get to know the Spanish and Mexican community. And some of my dearest friends, they are, over the years, that’s just kind of what has happened.
Clifton Collins has had a huge year this year. How did you get him? Did he agree to do your film first?
TD: I don’t know how the kid does it, how he does this sh*t. He just got in a bunch of movies. There was one time where I was going in to color-time “Boondock …” and they were in there finishing color-timing “Extract,” which he was also in. I’m sitting there watching it, going “What the f***!? I can’t get away from this kid!” He’s just a really great character actor, you know? I’ve seen these articles on him, where they’re calling him “The Chameleon of Film.” You’ve seen him in all these movies but you might not necessarily recognize that it’s the same actor. You take a look at him in “Capote” and then in “Traffic,” you might not even know that that’s the same guy. And then “Traffic” and “Boondock …” or “187.” He’s always changing up his look and relying on his skills, rather than notoriety. That’s one of the things I love about Cliff.
And is that the type of guy he is? Does he want to be that chameleon?
TD: He’s pretty much exactly like that, yeah. Pretty much.
Now, there’s this whole legend about how the first movie came to be …
TD: Now, don’t be afraid to ask me any questions. I know what you’re talking about. Don’t be afraid to get into that. I’m all about clearing the record.
Because of everything that happened, was there something you felt you had to prove with the second movie?
TD: I don’t know that I do movies to prove anything. You know? Just a good story. It’s the entertainment business and the word “entertainment” has sort of been taken out of it. Saw a movie recently called “Frozen River.” And I wanted to stab by eyes out with a pair of forks. Obviously a brilliant film. Brilliantly done, brilliantly acted. But it was so f***ing depressing. Not my kind of flick. Now I think that when people do movies and there’s care involved and love involved, it just somehow translates through the celluloid and you can just tell. When you’re looking at something somebody cared about. And I was looking at a movie that somebody cared about. Not my particular cup of tea. But. I care about “Boondock Saints.” I don’t do movies to prove anything. I do them because of the entertainment part of the entertainment business. People should be able to go and put their 10 bucks through the glass hole and not feel like they got ripped off. And 90 percent of the time, I personally do feel like I got ripped off. How many times do we see a trailer and then we go see the movie and all the good sh*t was in the trailer? The movie’s nothing but gray matter in between! I don’t want that, I don’t want to con my fan-base. I want to take care of them every single time. “Wow” them every single time. And have them show up, frankly, every single time.
And how conscious were you, then, of giving the fans what they wanted with this sequel, after having to wait 10 years?
TD: Highly. “Boondock” fans are … I did not expect the kind of cult fandom that we got. And I don’t think that that kind of thing can ever be planned. It’s kind of the same thing that happened with like “Rocky Horror” and those types of films. You can’t plan a cult-film. Nobody ever says, “I’m going to set out to make a cult-film.” There’s always some f***ing tragedy, right? And it’s basically Hollywood didn’t understand it, and the public did. And not only did they understand it, they loved it. So, “Boondock” fans frame-f***ed this movie into the ground. They know every single line, every word, every scene. So, in going and doing the sequel, we had a real fine line. I wasn’t just going to give them some glammed up version of the first film. I wanted to give them a brand new storyline. You know? The new thing we’re going to make cool. For me, the successful sequels in the past have had that aspect. They’ve given you everything you loved from the first film, plus a brand new storyline that you never could have predicted. Easiest example is “Terminator 2.” Suddenly, Arnold is a good guy protecting Sarah Connor. We loved it, we ate that up. And I guarantee you behind the scenes there was a f***ing battle raging about that. There was a bunch of people with no vision going, “We can’t do that! We can’t, we got the formula, he’s the bad-guy. That’s all there is to it. We’re going to lose this fan-base.” And luckily the filmmakers had the balls to fight back and make the right decision and take a real risk. And that’s what we’ve done in “Boondock 2.” I throw curve balls at this audience. “Boondock” fans are not used to seeing period-piece flashbacks to 1950’s New York to explain Il Duce’s history as a killer. We’ve pushed the bounds with fantasy-sequences this time around. There’s several of them in there. Filmed differently. Look different. They’re not used to – Curveball – female lead. How were you when you heard that one? Because the fan-base, it was like cold water in the face. They thought “What? What’s going on?” They immediately thought love-interest and all this stuff. And now they can’t live without her. I’ve been to three screenings about 1300 kids, I’ve watched their reactions as they’ve seen this film. All my questions are answered. We’ve got a big one here. We’ve done our job correctly. Now they cant live without her. And that was the one thing that they were fearing the most; that somehow a “chick” was going to get in there and f*** it all up for the rest of us.
Most people know Julie Benz from “Dexter.” How did you know she was the right woman for the role?
TD: Well, she happens to be an extremely talented actress. One of the things we do in “Boondock” is cast against type all the time. She plays a victim in “Dexter.” The single housewife – clingy, needy, co-dependent. Here she couldn’t be more the opposite end of the spectrum. Billy (Connolly) is a comedian. I’ve cast him as the most devastating killer in history. Sean (Patrick Flannery) and Norman (Reedus) are not Irish, they just do the accents. Peter Fonda, who would have cast him as some kind of Mafia oracle? Even though the name Fonda is Italian, which is a surprise to most people. Means foundation or base. So, at all times, I love to go against what people would normally have as their stereotypes. Yet sometimes embrace them. You’ll notice the Irish guys in my movie tend to smoke, drink, fight and say “f***” a lot. This is something … it’s almost become charming to us. Also, certain things in the Mexican culture that Cliff pulls off. He’s discussing things with his uncle. And these conversations I’ve seen a hundred times. Uncles in the Mexican culture, even more than fathers that I’ve seen, really try to challenge their nephews, you know? And bring the best out in them. And these were things that are stereotypical that we also embraced. So, basically, we’re trying to have our cake and eat it too, I guess.
Willem Dafoe was so good in the first film. Was there ever a draft of the sequel with him in it, killing people alongside the Saints?
TD: I must have written 10 drafts of this script. Writing a sequel is like writing with shackles on. “Boondock” fans had deemed that story sacred ground. Period. You can’t just sit down and write what you want … I learned a lot about writing in that process. It’s like cracking a code, all right? So me and Willem were actually working to develop scripts with his character in it for the first three or four drafts. Nothing seemed to be working and we both realized at the same time what was happening. His character experienced such a full arc in the first one. He went over to the dark side and was an extremely volatile character. So, I mean, what the f*** else are you going to do with this guy? So, uh, as soon as I took that character out, within 60 days I had the script we shot with. That (had been) the problem. That was the creative problem and probably the last tumbler that fell in for that code to crack. When it was her alone, it felt like the kids are overtaking the asylum now. Everything became more extreme yet more story-related, and it all fell into line when we did that.
Both “Boondock” movies have had modest budgets. Is this the type of film you want to make, in terms of size, or is it a stepping-stone to larger projects?
TD: I feel like the story determines what kind of movie you’re going to shoot. Nobody’s going to give me a script for “Batman 3” and tell me, “Here, go shoot that for $8 million.” I consider myself a filmmaker, not particularly an independent filmmaker. I happen to have done two independent films first, but the story’s going to dictate. If you’ve got something that you read, and it’s obviously going to cost you $30, $40, $50 million dollars to put it in the can, the studio is going to want to cover that bet with a Brad Pitt or a Tom Cruise. And they have every right in the world to do that. That’s big risk right there. Now they’re talking about keeping their lights on and all their employees paid. So, it is a filmmaker’s responsibility to understand the material; that dictates the budget, as far as I’m concerned. And of course I’d like to do bigger budget things. I understand you have a lot more time to focus on the creative stuff. We got almost everything in this movie within three takes. Most within two, because a) Billy, Sean and Norman have been prepared for like a year. They’ve had this script for a while now, and they did the first one, so…they came buttoned-down, ready-to-go. Most of my effort was spent with the other cast members. But yeah, you’ve got this much time, this much money, you’ve got to get it done. I would often tell actors, “We don’t have time to rehearse. You’ve got to be in your trailer, studying your sh*t and show up ready to go.”
There is a pivotal scene between Billy Connolly and Peter Fonda near the end of the film. Was that scene rehearsed, or did they spend time together working out how they were going to play off each other?
TD: No, they met each other five minutes before we shot that. That was one of those scenes where I was walking around set. It’s icon versus icon. Billy is a ’60s icon and so is Peter. “Easy Rider.” People were coming to set with Billy’s first album, from 19-ought-9. And f***ing “Easy Rider” stills and sh*t for these guys to sign, trying to control their fandom. Now when they sat face to face with a fire in the middle of them, you could have heard a f***ing pin drop on that set. And to me, I could watch those two act together like that for a f***ing hour. The conversation that they have, all those little emotional moments. How this entire thing boils down to two guys talking, in a conversation you really want to know the f***ing outcome of, too. It works within the story.
The way things end in this film, if you wanted to do a third installment, it would almost have to be bigger.
TD: No pressure. Yeah, those ideas are kicking around. But there is, again, there’s just a more confusing code to crack with that. I’m not actively writing that script right now. I probably won’t for a year or two. If at all. But that will have to be very well thought out, and the game will have to be kicked up a notch… But right now, I’d just like to ride this one into the shore and see how we do.
So. It’s been 10 years. The sequel is done. What’s the difference in feeling from finishing the first one and now this one?
TD: Vindication. The theory in the film business, especially independent film, is you make your little movie and you have these screenings at the studio lots, in which they invite all their people down to watch the movie and hopefully one of these studios buys your film, gets behind it and puts it in theaters. We had our screenings [for the first movie], very well attended … audience response was off-the-charts. They all knew it was a hit. But because it was two weeks after the Columbine incident, and there were seen as parallels in the film to the Columbine incident, we were black-listed from U.S. screens. Now that is a very bitter pill to swallow when it happens. But it did. And it went out on video and became a cult success … The video numbers go up every year. But there is no argument anymore, it’s not a matter of opinion. If “Boondock 1” had been released in theaters, it would have been a gigantic commercial hit. That’s no longer up for conjecture. So, what do I feel on “Boondock 2”? Vindication. This film, this title, both films, I feel like are getting an honest chance now to succeed. You know? We’ve released the stallions into the pasture and now they can run their f***ing hearts out. So what I feel most is vindication in that sense. We’re going to now see what “Boondock” can really do and how many fans there are, really, out there.
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“Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day” hits theaters Oct. 30.
Jason Eaken is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EAKEN.