In the dark comedy “The Guard,” Oscar nominee Don Cheadle and Emmy winner Brendan Gleeson aimed to put a new spin on the familiar concept of two law-enforcement officers with opposite personalities who are forced to work with each other. In “The Guard,” Cheadle plays an FBI agent named Wendell Everett who is humorless, well-educated and by-the-book. Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a working-class police sergeant in a small Irish town, who has a larger-than-life personality and is prone to bending the rules to suit his purposes.
Wendell and Gerry are thrown together by circumstance when Wendell comes to Gerry’s town as part of a drug-trafficking investigation that involves the disappearance of a local police office. Wendell and Gerry immediately clash when Gerry makes racist comments out of ignorance, and Wendell treats Gerry with condescension. It soon becomes apparent to both men that they need each other not only for help in solving the case but also to survive the deadly threats as they become more enmeshed in the investigation. Here is what Cheadle and Gleeson had to say about making ‘The Guard” at the Los Angeles press junket for the movie.
Interview with Don Cheadle
You’re an executive producer and a star of “The Guard.” Which opportunity happened first?
Cheadle: Well, we were trying to put the movie together and it sort of came at the same time. John [Michael McDonagh, the writer/director of “The Guard”] brought the script to my attention. My partner actually found it. We met with him at the W [Hotel], I think. He said, “I want you to be in it, and I’d love to bring you on as a producer and try to help get this made,” which is something that is becoming more and more a part of my business: trying to find movies to develop. Very few people want to do it nowadays, but I’m interested in it because I think you can get some of the best products that way.
Wendell Everett has a strong sense of justice. What else about this character stood out for you?
Cheadle: I love that he gets over there and gets the piss taken out of him a little bit and gets knocked down a couple of pegs. It’s funny to see that he gets over there, and he doesn’t really know who the people are and doesn’t know that much about them and isn’t very interested at all. He’s just trying to follow his case, and he runs into somebody whom he cannot get around — and not only cannot get around but he has more information than anybody over there and knows it better than [Wendell Everett] knows it. So I think there’s an affinity on that level, but [Wendell Everett and Gerry Boyle] are completely opposite and antithetical to one another.
Is it more freeing or is it more limiting to work with a director who also wrote the material, in terms of being to change the material as you go along?
Cheadle: Yeah, but it’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes you run into people who’ve written their material and are directing who don’t want a syllable changed and every inflection exactly as they’ve written it down, and it feels kind of staid. It doesn’t breathe. But John was not that way about the material. He was very open to it flowing and breathing.
But really, there wasn’t a lot of improv necessary. The script was there. These characters were fully realized. The story was taut. It was a complete piece from the very beginning. I know if we just showed up and did what the bible [the script] dictated, I knew we had a good shot.
“The Guard” is an independent movie with a relatively small cast. You’ve also done big-budget studio movies with big ensemble casts. Which do you prefer?
Cheadle: I enjoy it all. The difference between [“The Guard”] and a movie like “Ocean’s” where you have all the bells and whistles and all the amenities and the trailers and whatever else you need at the tip of your fingers, this is a movie where everyone is there because they love the script and they love the story and the love the people and they want to be about seeing this come off. That just kind of reminds you why you did it.
That’s like “Let’s just put the show on in the barn,” kind of a thing. People are there because they really believe in the material. That feels like a family. You’re all in the trenches together against the world to make this thing.
Did you and Brendan Gleeson have time to bond in the time that you weren’t working? Did he show you around certain places in County Galway, Ireland, where much of “The Guard” was filmed?
Cheadle: [He says jokingly] Did we do drug deals while we were there? OK, yeah. A couple. [He says seriously] No, we did hang out. Every time after we wrapped [a scene], it didn’t matter what time it was, we’d go to the pub and get a pint. We’d hang out and get to know each other.
I would golf every weekend, so I saw a lot of Irish golf courses, which was great. I want to go back and just do that. But Brendan was a great host. And John, it was a place that he visited very often when he was a kid, so he knew the area too. We were really embraced by the community. It was a lot of fun.
Interview with Brendan Gleeson
Gerry Boyle has a unique moral code. What else about this character stood out for you?
Gleeson: His refusal to live life in any way other than his own. I guess enough in him to make his own rules. However, I do think that he hadn’t had enough in him to get out of the situation that he found himself in, which was kind of a pretty big rut. So while he had integrity and he didn’t really give a damn about what other people thought about him, he nevertheless managed to find himself in a rut.
“The Guard” was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. His brother Martin McDonagh wrote and directed “In Bruges,” another one of your movies. How are John and Martin different from each other?
Gleeson: The way I try to differentiate for people is to try to push Gerry Boyle into “In Bruges.” They’re two very different voices and two very different personalities. They’re writing it as different curve. And it’s actually a different world completely.
And it’s only when you try to mix and match the characters that your realize that. You can’t do it. They share a lot of things — obviously, there are certain things— they have a very savvy sense of humor. They have a savage commitment to what is proper writing. They’re very, very unforgiving of a lack of commitment toward proper writing.
And similarly, when they’re directing, they’re very careful. They understand the frame. They understand the references. They provide different worlds, but obviously, there are certain similarities.
You’ve played characters that are based on real people, and you’ve played fictional characters. Which is more freeing or more fun for you?
Gleeson: Well, there are two ways of looking at it. Obviously, you can embrace something in fiction. It’s all yours. It’s the writer’s and it’s yours and the director’s — and that’s it. Whoever’s going to be in that movie, that’s who it’s going to be, because you’re starting from scratch.
On the other hand, if you take … people like [Winston] Churchill and [Michael] Collins and Michael Cahill, because their lives have been so extraordinary, you can suspend disbelief immediately. In other words, you can’t say to somebody, “Yeah, right. So hundreds of thousands of people get their ass kicked, and he turns it into a victory.”
The point is that it’s happened. So you suspend disbelief. And so the most remarkable things that have happened in the history — they say truth is stranger than fiction — it liberates the character from any suspicion that this couldn’t happen.
Let’s talk about the chemistry between you and Don Cheadle in “The Guard.” How much rehearsal time did you and Don have together before filming the movie?
Gleeson: We had one meeting here in L.A. We’d managed to get together with John. We just sat in a room and read the script and laughed about it and talked about it and shot stuff back and forth. That was it, really.
I knew from the beginning anyway [that Don Cheadle and I would have chemistry]. He’s such a great actor. He’s such a great contributor to any work. We both knew that there wasn’t going to be some sort of competition going on, on set, or any of that dull stuff that can happen, where people start trying to make their own spaces. This is something where we had to co-inhabit. So we went at it from the beginning.
For more info: “The Guard” website
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