Talk about pop movies
The director of This Means Wartells TARA BRADYwhy he loves his mum and Reese Witherspoon
‘WOO HOO”. You can hear McG long before you see him. There’s something of Loony Toons’ Tasmanian Devil in the way he walks down a hotel corridor, pausing here to shoot humorous remarks at actor Chris Pine, who is eating and bulking for impending duties as Captain Kirk, pausing there to give a full verse-chorus rendition of Michael Jackson’s Ben, upon learning that that is the name of the mortified chap he’s just passed by.
Today, in the run up to the London premiere of This Means War, his fifth feature, everyone seems to mistake the tall, red haired director for British actor Damian Lewis.
“This is good thing, right?” asks McG. “It’s not just because I don’t tan, I stroke?”
Joseph McGinty Nichol, as it reads on his birth certificate, was born in Michigan and grew up in Newport County, California. Improbable as it sounds, he’s always been McG.
“From the day I was born. No fooling,” he says. “I basically come from a big Irish American family where literally everyone is called Joe McGinty. My grandpa was Joe. My uncle was Joe. Joe was taken. So my mother called me McG. It was just easier that way.”
A precocious hyphenate, by his early twenties the young McG, had produced and written alt-metal hits for Sugar Ray and founded his own record label. He finally shot to fame as the director of award-winning music videos including Smash Mouth’s Walking on the Sunand Basement Jaxx’s Where’s Your Head At?
“I had an older brother and an older sister so I came into the world living vicariously through the movies they saw and the music they listened to. I lived in a humdrum community. I was an ordinary little kid. So everything that was aspirational was bound up with music and movies for me from the beginning.”
Drew Barrymore, a celebrity fan of his MTV work, snapped him up to reboot Charlie’s Angelsinto wacky, postmodern, martial arts madness in 2000. McG has since directed the straight sports drama We Are Marshall(2007) and Terminator: Salvation(2009) but the Angels films have come to define the full-blown giddy McG aesthetic.
“I don’t have a great deal of time for stuffiness,” he says. “I love what Tarantino does because he doesn’t draw a distinction between high and low art. I love Martin Scorsese because he has a promiscuous love of cinema and music. I love the big larger than life films I grew up on. I want the pageantry and the snowy expanse of Dr Zhivago. I want movies that take me to places that are not my own.
“I appreciate that natural, indie thing when things aren’t over-lit. That can be amazing. But you get real life in real life. I want Batman.”
This Means War,a zany bromance caper in which super spies Chris Pine and Tom Hardy duke it out over Reese Witherspoon, is most definitely a McG joint. The rom-com-threeway-actioner has, admits McG, proved a surprisingly hard sell for the director of Charlie’s Angelsand Terminator: Salvation.
“I got in a lot of trouble with the studio early on. Is this supposed to be a comedy? Is this supposed to be an action film? Is this supposed to be a romance? And I said ‘Yes’. But you know what? If rebelling against being put in a box is a bad then I’m all for bad.”
There is kitsch method to the madness. With a nod to the genre-bending action comedies of Hong Kong’s pre-millennial golden age, This Means Warmaintains a cheeky series of curveballs. Witherspoon, perennial onscreen good girl, gets to be naughty.
“That was a challenge for Reese. I took her aside and said ‘Men respect you but they don’t covet you to the degree that I think that they could’.” And she said: ‘Just go for it’. I don’t think she’s been on screen in such an overtly sexual way before.
But I love my mom and I don’t have a misogynistic bone in my body so she could trust me. We just gave the hair a little more volume, put a little more make-up around the eyes and then we put her in her underwear to make out with Chris Pine and Tom Hardy.”
Mr Hardy, as unlikely as it sounds, has found the one movie with a bigger, gayer subtext than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
“Yep,” nods McG. “It’s a very, very homoerotic movie. It’s Top Gun’s shirtless volleyball scene homoerotic. I’ve even got an alternative ending for the DVD where the lads end up in each other’s arms. Tom is very alpha. And so is Chris.
“And Chris is so decidedly American and early Tom Cruise. And Tom Hardy is decidedly British. And I’ve also always liked pictures with that kind of alpha thing between male friends where they respect each other but couldn’t ever acquiesce.”
Back in the States This Means Warhas turned heads as a starring vehicle for Chelsea Handler, the delightfully gutterminded host of E! TV’s Chelsea Lately.
“Chelsea is out of her fucking mind,” cries the director. “I’m glad to be the person that gets to introduce Chelsea to a wider, international audience with her line about not being able to shit straight. She improvised that. The woman is wonderful and brilliant and completely out of her chicken.”
The industry hasn’t always been kind to the former wunderkind. He’s one of many directors who spent the early part of the century working on Supermanto no avail. He lost out too on a remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Seafor Disney.
That’s just show business, he shrugs: “It’s hard to get a movie made whoever you are. You have to get the cast right. You have to get the budget right. Then everything falls into place but — whoops — there’s been a regime change at the studio and they now want something else entirely. I think it was Coppola that said ‘every time a movie gets made it’s a miracle’.
And it is.” For the moment he’s just happy that This Means Warhas allowed him to, well, be McG.
“I’ve always loved knowing where I am with a director. I love being able to sit down to a Woody Allen movie or a Tim Burton movie knowing that I’m in their hands and what to expect. If there is such a thing as a McG movie it’s large and loud and surreal and Pollyannic and it’s kung fu pop. And I’ll take that. That’s where I want to be.”