Today: May 25, 2024

Peter McDonald Talks The Stag

Filmjuice’s Shelley Marsden speaks to Peter McDonald, who co-wrote and stars in Irish comedy The Stag.

John Butler’s directorial debut is a gentler take on The Hangover, with more heart and picturesque landscapes. As The Stag begins, Fionan’s (Hugh O’Conor) wedding is just days away and his fiancée Ruth (Amy Huberman) wants his best man Davin (Andrew Scott, Sherlock) to stop him obsessing about flowers and seating plans and let his hair down on a stag weekend. Fionan has no interest in such things, but Davin manages to persuade him to go on a camping trip with a group of male friends. What nobody knows is that Davin is still in love with Ruth, who split with him just before she started seeing his best friend.

Peter McDonald, 42, currently starring in The Weir in London’s West End and with Chris O’Dowd on TV in Moone Boy, plays The Machine – Ruth’s madcap brother who invites himself along though everyone has tried their hardest to keep him out of it. Despite the boys’ initial hostility, The Machine’s forthright style forces the rest of them to loosen up and face some of their own home truths and even have a bit of laugh – climaxing in the scene when, after an attempted skinny-dip goes horribly wrong, they find themselves butt naked in the middle of a forest in the Irish winter with no idea where their tent is.

Where did the idea for The Stag come from?
Myself and John [Butler] had been looking to write something together and this idea seemed like the one. I was getting ready to go on a stag about two years ago, hadn’t been on one for a while and I was looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time. I’m of an age, and it was three days on a barge with a load of blokes… in the end it was great fun but I considered as a joke turning up and being ‘Mr Stag’ – the asshole trying to get everyone to drink more and being in everyone’s face. That this guy could be on a stag with a bunch of guys who don’t want to be there… John and I realised it could be really funny but also give us a great chance to look at male friendship.

It’s an interesting take on masculinity…
I think so, in that there’s no prescriptive answer to that question: what is it to be a man? It’s always changing. Having this dinosaur alpha male and five modern, ‘metro-sexual’ males being forced to spend three days together in the wilds – where they’re not going to meet anyone else – there’s a no-man’s-land in the middle that’s littered with huge laughs but also full of truth. It’s certainly not a gag-fest full of drinking games and hookers.

Tell me about The Machine – the utter mental case that turns up and wrecks everybody’s head?!
Most of us edit what we’re about to say; we hide our emotions whereas that just doesn’t enter into The Machine’s head. He has no edit function. He’s overbearing, full of faux-pas, un-PC and intense to be around. But at the same time, there’s something deeper going on with those kinds of people. There’s a freedom to them that others almost want. It would be kind of lovely to be The Machine for a day. When he turns up in the film, he knows they’ve done everything not to invite him, so he tears into Davin (Andrew Scott), but as you move along the story, he has the emotional subtlety to sniff out what’s going on with the guys. And as they’re all old pals, they’re never really confronting their issues with each other. He forces them to be more upfront.

Is he like any role you’ve ever taken on before?
No, and he was great fun. I had to walk a fine line, not to tip over into The Machine seeming like a parody. I had to contain it enough so the audience would invest in him. Key to it was how the other guys react to him, so we needed a strong cast that understood comedy and the emotional development of the film – which we got.

It’s nice to see Andrew Scott playing someone that’s not slightly menacing…
I know Andrew pretty well, and in person he is such a funny guy. He’s very witty, he has people in stitches – great comic timing. Although he has done some comedy in the past, it was an open goal for us that nobody had really cast him in this kind of part. It’s given him a chance to spread his wings in another direction. He holds the screen beautifully. One of the pivotal moments is when they’re all singing songs around the campfire, and the song Davin chooses and his acting in that moment is just incredible. Plus, as we discovered, he holds a tune pretty well.

What was the atmosphere like on set with an all-male cast?
We’re not really ‘blokey’ guys. We shot the whole thing in four weeks, in Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains. We knew we all had to get naked, it was November, and they never complained. It was the kind of set where Andrew and Hugh were helping the sound guy get his gear up a hill, you know? It was a friendly, industrious atmosphere.

Speaking of nudity how was that, sharing scenes with five other naked men and a squirrel between your legs?
It was harder for me because I had to bloody well jump into lakes and stuff, but more than that The Machine could never look like he was freezing. The Machine doesn’t sleep during the stag either. The man does NOT SLEEP. He’s existing on this intense adrenaline, calmly batting off the elements. When you’re really cold and your body is shaking involuntarily, that’s not easy to pull off!

You guys definitely need a couple of weeks in the sun.
Haha! Well it was important to us that we didn’t look like we’d spent the last six months toning up in the gym or got a last-minute spray tan. With the best will in the world, vanity can catch you up! We just look like normal guys, which is crucial to the story, because their vulnerability in terms of getting naked is matched by their journey into the wilds and letting their emotions come out.

What are your favourite moments on set?
Probably the scene where The Machine turns up at the country pub and the group realises he’s made it and they’re stuck with him. That took a while to rehearse because we were laughing a lot. They come face to face with the intensity of this guy, and we wanted to get across the idea that they wanted to say no bugger off, but you don’t because that person is so overbearing. And the result is very funny. Also, the scene in the tent when The Machine has certain urgent physical needs and attempts to respond to them… that was hilarious to film because it just went on and on. It was all improvised and let me tell you, we could have made a short film just on what was said in that tent.

The Stag (Arrow Films) is in UK cinemas from 14 March 2014.

 

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