Peter McDonald is an Irish actor and writer who made the film The Stag alongside his co-writer John Butler. The film follows the antics of several men going on a stag do in rural Ireland, where despite their best efforts to have a good time, things do not always go to plan. Here he talks to View’s Matthew Turner about creating the characters, why he’s a fan of improvisation and his next series of Moone Boy.
Where did the idea come from?
I was about to go on a stag a couple of years ago, and I was on a little break with my wife between jobs before I went and I was kind of dreading the stag and looking forward to it at the same time because I hadn't been on one for a few years and the thought of being with you know 10 guys for three days just kind of felt a little bit intense. And I was laughing at the idea that I would turn up to the stag and be the arsehole, be the most annoying guy there, as a joke.
I was thinking about that idea and then thinking about a guy like that being on a stag with the guy
who I was just being, which was me on the stag. And just that initial spark made me think, 'Hey, that's a good idea for a film.' And the story, the initial concept when I spoke to [director] John Butler
about it, we immediately thought it would be really fallow ground for a strong comedy about masculinity and also about male friendship. And that was just the initial germ of the idea.
Were you always going to play that part then?
Yeah, we initially thought I'll play that part but I mean it's kind of unspoken that it'll work out, but if at the end of the process we thought that I wasn't right for it we would've both had to be honest about that, but at the end of it we were both convinced of the idea that I would play it.
What was the shoot like? I mean obviously you all spend a lot of time naked, outdoors ...
Well, we shot the film in November. So you can imagine it was quite tricky at times, but we know all the actors who came on board and actually when we sent out the script to them we were worried that the first question they may ask was, 'You want to shoot this in November?' But none of them asked. They just said they loved the script and they wanted to do it and they were complete sports the whole way through. Also I have to say we were absolutely blessed with the weather. It wasn't Baltic and we didn't have that much rain so the movie Gods were smiling down on us, because we only had four weeks to shoot it.
Whereabouts did you shoot?
We shot it in Dublin and then up in the Wicklow mountains and in a place called Dunloe Gap, which is very barren landscapes, but also very wooded areas, so that took us further away from Dublin. It had a very similar landscape to the west of Ireland.
What was John like as a director?
John's great. He's brilliant. He loves actors - he's really collaborative. He's great on story, he's a fantastic writer. He's a very funny guy himself so he knows how to keep the atmosphere up in the air and keep everyone on the same page.
You say 'very collaborative' - was there room for improvisation or did you want the lines said as written, since you'd co-written the script?
Well, we rehearsed for a few days with the actors - that was a real kind of must for us in terms of the process of doing the job, so we could really get the actors gadding around with us and bonding as
those characters. And then any little changes we felt that the actors were throwing up for us, we wrote them in then. Obviously when you're during takes you want people to be as natural as possible and if they get a lot of lines slightly wrong or something and there's something funny in it, you ask them to keep it. But we weren't looking for that kind of extended take, Keep it Marching feel to the film. I love that but I think sometimes in comedies of late that has become too present, and you can kind of tell there's an audience when that's happening. And when it does, if there's too much of it, the story tends to drift towards being a little bit pleased with everyone's performance – how funny you were all being, as opposed to staying tight with the forward narrative of the film.
Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
When you set out to write a film and you have an idea, you've no idea where it's really going to go, especially if you're working with someone. I mean myself and John were looking to write something
together for a few years and we tried a few of the things out, but there's a moment when you're writing a screenplay when you go, 'Okay, I think this is going to work and I think it's going to work as a film.’
And that moment for me was when we wrote the scene where they sing songs around the campfire. Of course Davin chooses quite a downbeat song about unrequited love and through that reveals his hand, which Fiannon is still oblivious to. And that to me is cinematic because it's not being done by dialogue and it's being displayed by everyone's reaction to that song and how he sings the song, and obviously we're at a point in the film where we the audience know enough about the characters to understand what is happening without it actually being said.