Shepard’s career started with a bang – the sound that The
Linguini Incident made when it bombed at the box office. Then
24 years old and just out of NYU Film School, Shepard said the movie
killed his career before it started. "I was sent immediately to movie
jail," he says. Now, with The Matador, a quirky
thriller/comedy starring Pierce Brosnan, Shepard has proven that there
are second chances in Hollywood. He has also directed
Mercy, a thriller made for $50K, and just finished
the first draft of Spring Break in Bosnia, a
thriller/black comedy about the search for a war criminal in post-war
F&V: How did you get Pierce Brosnan on board The
Matador? It’s clearly not a typical role for him.
When I wrote The Matador, I was prepared to make it
for $250K as a digital movie. The script was sent to Pierce’s
production company as a sample of my writing, for consideration for an
open writing assignment- I never assumed he’d want to do it. But he
called me and said he loved it and thought it was a great part for him.
It was a pretty great f——-g phone call to get. It boggled my mind. I
realized, wow, I’m not making this for $250K any more [The
Matador was made for $10 million].
F&V: Brosnan produced the film. How did you work creatively with him?
Pierce loved playing this role and committed fully and completely to
the point where I felt comfortable enough to suggest things that
weren’t in the script. For example, I suggested in one scene that he
walk into the hotel lobby in his underwear. He asked, "Can I wear my
boots?" And I said OK. And the boots are what’s funny about that scene
in a way. Pierce- once he committed and was ready to go, he was
fearless. A lot of the funnier things in the movie came from me
suggesting he do certain crazy things and his willingness to do them.
F&V: Talk about your vivid use of color in Matador.
I really wanted to push myself to be as interesting as possible
visually, without overcompensating to the detriment of storytelling.
There’s so much dialogue in the movie, I wanted the boldness of the
color to keep it interesting. And the entire movie was shot in Mexico,
where there are a lot of vivid colors. [Cinematographer] David
Tattersall, production designer Robert Pearson and costume designer
Catherine "Cat" Thomas and I spent more time than a lot of other
movies, talking about the color palette for each scene, to make sure
the wardrobe worked with the background color.
F&V: It was quite the coup to have David Tattersall shoot
The Matador – how did that come about?
Pierce said to me, in his producer shoes, "I will let you pick your own
cinematographer, but you have to get someone as good or better than
David Tattersall," with whom he’d worked on Die Another
Day. What was really funny about it is that Tattersall is one
of the biggest cinematographers in Hollywood – his attachment as
cinematographer can get a movie greenlit. Still, I wasn’t sure and I
had David come in and interview with me three times. It was hysterical
- by the time he got the job, we loved each other. I think he loved the
script and thought it was hysterically funny – he responded to the idea
that it would be a character-driven piece as opposed to what he does a
lot, big action pictures. He hasn’t operated in 15 years and he asked
to operate as well as DP.
F&V: What about the choice to shoot widescreen, for what is essentially a character movie?
I chose to shoot it widescreen [Super 35] because I wanted it to seem
like the kind of big movie we always see with a hit man in a foreign
country. I wanted to do that, but with a little bit of a wink. Pierce’s
character Julian is on the rooftop with a gun – but he’s having a
f——-g nervous breakdown.
F&V: Advice for the new filmmaker?
You need to be brave, even if sometimes it makes you unpopular. At the
end of the day, no one – except maybe your mom – has sympathy for you
if your movie doesn’t work. You have to live with the thing you did.
When I went back and made movies for small amounts of money, there was
no pressure with someone looking over my shoulder so I could figure out
how to get the best out of nothing. Learning that and learning it
correctly allowed me to put some of the things I thought I’d learned
F&V: What did you learn from your failure at the age of 24?
When I started, I was so scared of actors and failure and being
considered to be making the wrong decision. And that’s the wrong way to
go about it. You have to be willing to fail. At 24, realizing my career
was in worse shape than it was before I made the movie, I decided to
rethink what I did, to not be stifled.
You can’t tell an actor how to act unless they’re a child or a dog. You
have to make sure the actor playing opposite is perfect, that you’re in
tune with the character they’re trying to bring forward. What the actor
brings to the party is what’s the most interesting about making a
movie. That’s pure pleasure.