Almost a decade after gracing the pages of USA Today with his unlikely success story, filmmaker Troy Duffy is back in the news with Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, the sequel to 1999’s stillborn cult flick about two avenging-angel Irish-Catholic brothers who cut a swath of revenge through Boston’s criminal underworld. At a Beverly Hills hotel, the writer-director recently talked about the strange, winding path to the screen of his first film in nearly 10 years, what he makes of his movie’s fan base and, yes, what he thinks about Overnight, the documentary that nearly derailed his career. The conversation is excerpted below:
Question: When did you first see this online fan base spring up around Boondock Saints?
Troy Duffy: I started to see it soon after it experienced its Blockbuster release. I don’t know if you know this, but we were sort of blacklisted from U.S. theaters because of the Columbine incident, and Blockbuster gave us a real, big, uncommon release — they gave us 60 to 100 copies in all their stores because they felt it was a much bigger movie. It turns out they were right. I almost immediately saw that fan base start to formulate as soon as it touched the public.
Question: Are you concerned at all about recent news of a New Jersey priest being murdered, which tracks closely with your film’s plot?
TD: These situations with political fallout don’t have anything to do with moviemaking. It’s just a fucking movie. You’re supposed to go there and have a good time. That’s why they call it the entertainment business. I don’t feel… if anything happens that shifts the political tectonic plates, that’s got nothing to do with us. You don’t want to see any copycat shit happen, but at the same time if some retard is going to go do that they’re going to come up with an excuse and blame something else anyway. We’ve seen it 100 times, and nine times out of 10 they’re just making the shit up to justify their actions and blame it on something else so that they can cut down on their prison time. I don’t concern myself with what real people do; this is a movie with actors, nobody died during the filming of this. It’s a piece of entertainment for people to enjoy, and if they happen to ask themselves a few questions and ponder a couple issues, like vigilantism and capital punishment, great. But that wasn’t my intention.
Question: How difficult was it to so much of the cast back for the movie?
TD: I’ve had that question a million times… and [people] never left, nobody went anywhere. These guys were calling me up every month or two, and I was keeping them in the loop on things. Once it got out that we had a deal, [even] crew members started hitting up my producer with messages, saying they wanted back in on it. One guy walked from a film he was doing, just said, “Hire somebody else, I’m going to do Boondock II.” That kind of loyalty? You can’t buy that, and those kinds of technicians put their full effort into the film. Nine times out of 10 you get, “Well, you don’t have the budget for that,” from stunts, special effects, make-up, the wardrobe department, you name it. What I got was, “What do you need?” Everybody just brought their A-games and realized this was a special one, this was something that they cared about it. And I believe that that transmits through the celluloid. For instance, I watched Frozen River recently, and I wanted to slit my wrists afterward, [it’s] not my particular cup of tea, but it’s obviously a film that somebody cared very deeply about, and a brilliant film and portrayal. That’s what we had to a man on this project, from filming all the way through post-production. Everybody that touched Boondock Saints looked at it like a little piece of gold that we were all hoping to mold into a vase.
Question: How acutely was the idea for the original film forged by real-life experiences?
TD: We lived in a hell-hole, me and my brothers — it’s not the most unique story. We saw crimes all the time, and we were victims of crime sometimes, and you realize that you don’t have any recourse. Your car gets vandalized, your apartment gets broken into, and the cops come and say, “Oh, here’s your report.” So we realized that Joe Average doesn’t really have much recourse when they’re the victims of crime. I believe everyone has the same reaction… when you see something truly disgusted on the news, that instant reaction is that whoever did that should die. We may not all say that, in fact probably 95 percent of us don’t. But we all have that thought, I believe that. So this was a way to play with that fantasy, and give a little bit of escape. And maybe the next time that somebody gets a crime committed against them, they can take it with a grain of salt, and realize that it will probably never get solved.
Question: This sequel makes some pretty bold narrative choices, and yet it isn’t some discrete scenario which just plops the brothers down into another revenge scenario.
TD: That came from story. The Boondock fans have deemed the first one sacred ground; the kind of fandom we’re lucky enough to have is over the moon. They’ve frame-fucked this movie into the ground, and they know everything about it. Writing I sequel, I couldn’t just rest on the laurels of the first movie, and do some polished-up version of the first one. I wanted to give them a whole new story, and there was a lot of curveballs and new aspects. We pushed the humor farther, there’s a higher body count, there’s more gunfights, we went into period piece flashbacks to 1950 to explain Il Duce’s history. Boondock fans are not used to this sort of thing. We have a Mexican in there, and a female lead. That hit the fan base like cold water in the face when they heard that one. Now they can’t live without her — the three screenings I’ve seen with about 1,300 kids. It’s a way to give them everything they love about the first film, and yet throw a brand new plot and storyline at them they never could have predicted — show them the new thing that we’re going to make cool.
Question: What about the documentary Overnight, which chronicled the flameout of your original Boondock Saints deal with Miramax? Was there an axe to grind there?
TD: There was an axe to grind. At the beginning of all this, when I was a bartender who wrote my first script and lo and behold it sold and there was a bidding war and all this press on it, two of my friends asked me and the rest of the guys if they could do a documentary, and we trusted them because they were our friends. So we granted them the permission they requested and let them shoot to their heart’s content what were the three most tumultuous years of my life. They edited that down to a complete smear job — very biased, very one-sided, and I think that everyone down to not just the entire cast but also crew members from the first film coming back and doing this one again speaks much louder than that.
Question: All Saints Day takes care to set up the possibility of another chapter — are there definitive plans for a third film?
TD: There’s some ideas percolating. But I’d like to get a couple things off my chest before that. During the last 10 years I’ve written five scripts, so I’d like to knock the other four down like dominoes. They’re very different stories than Boondock, but there’s definitely a possibility for a third. …Every time I talk to fans and ask them what they like about the first film, they give me a different set of answers. Some people like the brothers’ relationship, some people had a friend like Rocco in high school, some people like the religious slant — the Old Testament shit, back when God had balls. Some people like that it’s about a bunch of lucky Irish guys that seem to get out of things by the hair of their teeth. Take from it what you will, I say. This is your cheeseburger, eat it.
Question: What about the sociocultural specificity of the film — is that a big part of the appeal, in your opinion?
TD: [in affectedly deferential tone] The sociocultural specificity! I think we have a new 50-cent word, people. I don’t know quite exactly what that means.
Question: The Boston setting, the Irish brothers, the tenets of Catholicism…
TD: To me, I do things a lot of times, in the actual intricate makings of the film, I try to do everything I can to have the audience experience that emotion one level deeper. For instance, if there wasn’t any religious imagery in the movie, it wouldn’t be the same, would it? It would be just two badasses with guns. The device of religion helped bring us one level closer… whether we like it or not, the story of the Bible is ingrained in all of us, we know it. And that kind of tangibility helps bring us that one level deeper — closer to the emotions that I’m trying to get across. Same thing with music. Take a tender scene and take the music out of it and watch how less tender it is. I can only speak from my game, having done two films, but this is how I do it. There’s a lot of things I do to bring the audience closer to the characters. Using socioeconomic references, dancing around people’s sensitivities — and sometimes completely disrespecting these sensitivities — like it or not, these things elicit emotion, and if I’ve done my job right hopefully it’s the one I’m going for.
Question: What if anything does it say about the current state of the film industry, the idea that you’ve had an opportunity to return to the big screen with another installment of this story, despite all the original impediments to its making and theatrical release?
TD: I think it’s vindication. It’s no longer a matter of opinion anymore; if The Boondock Saints had been released in theaters, it would’ve been a gigantic fucking hit. The film has virtually become a financial juggernaut in the last 10 years, it’s grown and grown and grown, DVD sales are up every single year, from the time it came out until now. We didn’t get a shot back then to succeed on the level that a lot of other different films get. Being barred from theaters like that was a really big blow to us, and we worked really hard on this thing. This time we’re getting a honest chance, and I know that there are a lot of Boondock fans out there that have no idea about either film. I can tell sometimes when a guy hasn’t seen the movie, but he’d be into it. So I think that what I’m most excited about is seeing what this can really do. It’s like going to your kid’s first little league game — you hope he has a big bat and a big glove. We’ll see, maybe the kid’s a star. You never know.