A Talk with Charlie's Angels Director McG
Make no mistake, Charlie's Angels Director McG (short for Joseph McGinty Nichol) loves what he's doing. And it shows. Of all the interviews we've done on DVD Talk, I can't remember anyone who was as enthusiastic, friendly and engaging as McG. Because of McG's style and enthusiasm our 'Interview' felt much more like a chat with a friend about a film we just saw.... only this friend was the guy who made the film! Here's our talk with McG unedited and in its entirety.
Hi McG. Geoffrey Kleinman from DVD Talk.
What's going on, Man?
Hey, you must be very talked out today.
Not even. I'm having a great time.
Well that's cool.
What's going on with you?
Hey, just caught your movie just the other day on DVD.
Right on. Did you have fun at all?
Yeah. It was a lot of fun.
You know, don't expect Shakespeare.
Well, you know, actually, I was blown away by actually how many references you had to other films in Charlie's Angels. I wanted to watch it again and pick out all the references. Tell me about some of the films you pay homage to, everything from when Bill Murray's playing with the ball for the Great Escape, to The Matrix, to Mission Impossible. How did these things factor in to making a movie like Charlie's Angels?
Why don't we start with that Bill Murray prison scene. We wanted it to be the amalgam of all the great prison scenes. They've got the Cooler King playing ball. You know, Great Escape style. Birdman of Alcatraz where he talks to the bird. What else is in there? I was thinking of what Papillon beat was in there. I forget. That was just the amalgam of all the great prison movies and Murray and I worked on that. Then of course, the mask reveals being from Mission Impossible. And the style of fighting, you know, obviously I'm as influenced by The Matrix as the next guy. It's just not as exciting as seeing three beautiful girls flying through the air, just making it happen Hong-Kong cinema style. You know that.
There's actually a scene that's on the DVD that's cut from the body of the movie as it ended up, but it's a scene that's in the bathroom where Drew and Cameron were dressed up as men, when they infiltrate Red Star. The bathroom, if you ever have a chance to look at that, check out the bathroom because it's the bathroom from The Shining.
Yeah, I caught that.
Oh, you did?
It was really cool.
That was sort of my hat tip to Stanley Kubrick. You know I had a conversation once with Quentin Tarantino and he told me something very interesting. He was like "Look, if you take something that everyone is familiar with and you twist it becomes your own." That was just like this freeing piece of advice that I got from a guy who I, you know, respect totally. I just sort of took that to heart and went for it. So if you twist, it becomes your own.
I was reading that when Drew comes down from Knox's place, she walks into a room or a house where the kids are playing video games that apparently is the house she walked into on ET.
That's exactly right. That's the house from ET where they shot it. I was just trying to find interesting points of synergy and I really wanted to inject the film with a bunch of conversation points. You know? And that was just one of them. I mean, we needed a suburban house and I thought "Hey, let's get the house from ET" and low and behold it sort of worked out. It just felt like a very interesting sort of homecoming and it made for a fun day that day shooting, and it's fun to talk about it with you now. So I mean, it seemed to work out. Plus the ET poster on the wall and the Reeses Pieces in the dish that the boys are eating from.
It's definitely a movie that people are going to watch more than once just to catch all these things.
Yeah, but don't you love that in a movie? I love that. I mean, I love the little things. I don't know. It's just exciting.
Definitely. Now, in the special features, there's a section on you and it's like everybody who was interviewed said the same thing, that you are "explosively energetic," that you "bring enthusiasm to the set that nobody has seen the likes of before," that you're "up" every single day. What's your secret? How do you maintain such an up, positive, energetic attitude to something that can often be difficult and frustrating?
Well, I mean for me it was easy. At least this time around, because I was living a dream. You know what I mean? It's like I go to the set, I see Cameron Diaz in a Swiss Miss outfit and Drew Barrymore is in a racecar outfit that's very becoming. Lucy Liu is a dominatrix and Bill Murray has a tuba wrapped around his head. I mean, it's so fun for me. It's so filled with joy that I can't imagine approaching it any other way. I just come from the school of entertainment thought that given the opportunity to be happy or sad, I'll pick being happy. I like films that are up and you know, make you feel like the way you and I felt when we first say Rocky. I mean, we came out of there shadow-boxing each other. You know what I mean?
It's that kind of thing. I just wanted that joy to end up on the screen. I just didn't know any other way but to approach it with as much vigor as possible and let everybody clearly know how I felt about being there; I was just delighted. It was a dream come true.
How much, when you were making the film, how much obligation, or how much did the original series have in terms of hold over you? I mean, obviously when you're making a film based on a TV series, you've got a large number of people who are fans of that series and remember every moment in every scene, and yet you're making something that's your own and new. How much responsibility do you have to that old series?
I think a lot. I mean it's something we all sat down early on and we concluded, "Look, we're going to be very, very respectful and mindful of the original series." And we had the benefit of Leonard Goldberg being producer on the movie and he was the creator of the original show, it was great having Leonard around. We just wanted to be respectful of the old series, but we knew we had to make a movie that worked for today's audiences. And today's audiences are on the Internet, they're playing PlayStation II, they've got a lot more entertainment at their fingertips than people had in 1977. So, it was a mixture between being very respectful and cognizant of the original series, but knowing the strengths of the actors we had this time around (meaning Cameron, Drew and Lucy), and just making it work in tone and palate so it would excite today's audiences.
It was reported that there were a tremendous number of writers who were involved at various stages in the process.
How did you deal with so many creative stakeholders? In addition to being a movie of a TV series, how did you deal with so many visions being added to the pile?
Fortunately, the three ladies and myself, we knew who these characters were. And the writers were always brought in in an effort to take the story to a higher place, which we never really had the benefit of a totally locked, resolved script, but we did know who these characters were. And I was interested in presenting the most attractive, desirable version of each angel possible. You know? I wanted that Cameron Diaz we all know and love. I wanted the Drew Barrymore that's so charming and disarming. And I wanted the Lucy Liu that's so tough and sexy and intelligent. I wanted to play headlong into the strengths of our actors. I needed that benefit to help take the film to its highest place. So, independent of writers coming and going, the three ladies and myself, we knew what we ultimately wanted to do so we just went for it.
Anytime you do a series, the number one question though is, especially when it's successful like Charlie's Angels, "Okay, so are you going to do a sequel?"
I don't know. Do you think we should? I mean, would you want to see another one?
You know, I think, honestly, I'd rather see the kind of energy and characters that were put into this, put into something that had no ties to something that I had seen.
Wow. Good to hear.
I mean, I think what was there for me was a lot of really bright, energetic, fun, interesting stuff that part of me goes "Wow, imagine what this guy's going to do with something that nobody's ever seen before." You know, with a story that no one has ever heard before. So I'm looking forward to see what you do next.
That's great to hear. I'm working on a movie now called Dreadnaught with this guy, Doug Wick, who's the guy that produced Gladiator. It will definitely be a departure from Charlie's Angels so hopefully it will work out.
Where do you get your inspirations from? Where have you drawn inspiration from in terms of your directing style and your approach to film?
You know what's so funny? I'm inspired by the greats like Orson Welles and Hitchcock come to mind. I certainly try to create film in the language that they've created, but the truth is I'm equally inspired by my contemporaries. I'm inspired and influenced by Spike Jones, by David Fincher. To me these guys are making some of the most interesting film to have ever been shot so I'm delighted to be a part of just sort of a movement and a period when I think there's such great filmmaking taking place. You know, it sounds odd, you'd expect someone to say, "Oh, you know, I'm a Sydney Pollack maniac" or something. I'm really a Spike Jones maniac and a David Fincher maniac.
Do you have time in your busy schedule to watch any DVD's?
I love DVD's. I'm a nut. I'm in and out of Tower Records and Virgin and everywhere else two or three times a week just like scouring the racks looking for stuff to turn me on.
What are some of your favorites?
I don't know. I like a lot of the Criterion stuff. You know? I find it interesting that the Beasty Boys manage to have a Criterion Collection release, the anthology.
Yeah, that's one of those disks that people will look back on and say "Holy crap, they put this out in 2000?" Wow, they were way ahead of their time!
Right! Seven I think is a fantastic DVD. Let's see, what else. I'm very interested in the Sound of Music DVD I just got. That's a big influence on me. And then even things as simple as the box version of Men in Black, which I think is a fantastic film. I have fun with it. Old stuff. New stuff. Hard to find stuff. I like it all.
I'm sure a lot of people have talked about the leading ladies in the film, but you know, I kind of step back and recognize you had Crispin Glover, Bill Murray, and Tom Green in the same film.
Isn't that radical? It was a dream for me because I'm a huge fan of all three of them. I'm a big fan of Chripin Glover, from Layne in River's Edge through George McFly and everything he's done. I was raised on Bill Murray for God's sake. You know, Stripes, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, unbelievable. And then Tom Green, I'm a huge fan of his and love his style of humor, just love him as a person. And then Tim Curry. For God's sakes, the guy was Frank N Furter. You know? It's amazing. I feel so lucky in that respect.
How involved were you in casting these guys?
Well, very involved, but that was also a team thing. I mean, Nancy Juvoven, one of the producers, was very heavily involved in casting. She has a real gift for casting choices, so she was very much involved also.
One of the things that was also widely reported was scuffles and this that and the other thing between Lucy Liu, and Bill Murray. What was your experience in that space and also what was your experience as a director, having all this media attention on something like this while you were shooting your first feature?
The truth is there were some heated conversations on the set, but I was in support of that. I mean, I wanted the actors to be committed to taking the film to its highest place. I didn't want any apathy on the set and I wanted people to care. So I was delighted when someone would say, "Hey, you know this dialogue isn't as good as it should be" or "What exactly is happening here as a function of story?" and "This isn't what my character would do." I was delighted to have those tough conversations and participate in that sort of communication with the actors. I supported that kind of set. And as far as all the attention, I kind of liked it. You know what I mean? I mean, I was one of these kids that didn't get much attention in school and when I graduated high school I was 5'2" and kind of had an orange Afro and braces. I always sort of fantasized about people caring. You know what I mean? So I didn't mind it and I just sort of kept putting one foot in front of the other.
How did you make the transition from directing videos and such to the feature film? It's such a leap I think sometimes and a bridge that's very difficult for some directors to cross. How did you cross that?
I was lucky because I was sort of raised in the theater as a child. And then I got involved in the music scene, growing up largely down in Orange County, California, at a time when Rage Against the Machine, and No Doubt and Korn, and the Off Spring, and Stone Temple Pilots were all coming out of there. I got involved in the music and just started making music videos. But I had always been interested in telling stories. And even in the videos I had been doing, I was trying to tell stories to the best of my ability, even though you couldn't really use dialogue because it was a music video. So the transition was very comfortable for me.
Does a feature director ever go back?
Do you have plans to go back and to work back in the music world?
Absolutely. It's definitely a love of mine. You know a music video being a marriage of my two favorite mediums, sound and vision. I just love it. Again, I sort of refer to Spike Jones. It's like Spike is a feature film director, but if he has a band he really likes, he'll do the video. Or if he has a commercial he really wants to do, he'll do that. You know, a public service announcement for Al Gore. I mean, you know what I mean? As a filmmaker, I'm just interested in doing things that excite me.
Do you see ever bringing some of the people who you've worked with in any of the bands or any of the music into the next set of things that you do?
Yeah. Absolutely. Because I've had the benefit of meeting some extraordinary people. I mean, like, you know, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith is an amazing individual and even the guys from Bare Naked Ladies. I'm good friends with Mark McGrath who has a very cinematic quality, the Sugar Ray guy. You know, yeah, that would be something that would be very interesting to me.
So you mentioned a little bit about Dreadnaught. What kind of film is that?
It's like Top Gun by way of the Hunt for Red October. If that makes any sense. It's a high seas adventure between two battleships.
Another energetic, action-packed film?
Is action a genre you've found yourself in or is it omething that you've pursued?
I seek that genre right now. I mean, I want to make those kinds of films while I'm still young enough to understand the audience that goes and sees them. You know what I mean? It's like when I get a little older and I've done a little more living, then I'll get into my Merchant/Ivory phase, you know?
You getting into a Merchant/Ivory phase would be really interesting.
Well, you know, I hope I'm mature enough to pull that off someday.
How was working with Drew Barrymor? She seems to really have bridged the gap from actress to producer slash Hollywood mogul.
Absolutely. I was fortunate because she chose to take me under her wing. I have her to thank for all this stuff. This definitely wouldn't happen without Drew reaching out and saying, "Hey, McG's my guy and I want to go for it." She made it happen and I'm forever indebted to her for looking out for me. I'm thankful to be the beneficiary of her expertise. She's got 32 films under her belt and she's only 24 or 25 years old. Just having her sort of chanting my cause is the greatest advantage a first-time guy could ever have.
That's cool. Yeah, I saw one of her films that she produced at Sundance.
Oh, Donnie Darko?
Yeah. And I was just blown away.
Is it a good film? I haven't seen the final cut.
Yeah, I really liked it.
I can't wait to see it. I know there's a smart guy behind that movie.
Well, hopefully it will get distribution, but it was one of those films that was like "Wow." You could tell she is definitely picking people to work with that have a real distinct vision of the universe that they want to make.
Right. Very well put. I wish I had said that.
Well, when we transcribe it, I'll just turn around the names, right?
The last thing about Drew and Tom. Now, is that where they had met on the set or had they met before?
I had the good fortune of being there the day they met. And I'm such a knucklehead, I didn't really even notice the chemistry. It's like both of them are like "I was in love with you at first sight," and I'm like "I didn't notice." You know, they were like falling in love and I'm sitting there trying to talk to Tom Green about his show. I'm just like in space. I guess I was just so excited to be talking to Tom Green.
Did Tom and Bill ever do anything together?
No, I wish that would have happened. And Sam Rockwell also plays a bad guy. He really wanted to do a scene with Bill Murray and never got a chance to.
Bill Murray's matured into an actor who has this great blend of all the comedy stuff he's done and now this kind of edge that he has is just really incredible.
Yeah, he's great. I couldn't be a bigger fan of his. You look at him and what he's done in Rushmore and what I hear he's about to do in the Royal Tenenbaums. He's a real actor. That's what people don't understand about him. He's not just a funny man. He's like a trained, serious actor who came from theater. He's a serious guy.
Now, having done the wirework in this film, would you use it again? It obviously was hugely taxing on the actors.
Yeah. I'd use it again. But if there is indeed a sequel, the wirework will have to be reinvented and taken to the next place because you know, you have to keep people guessing and keep growing and keep evolving.
Well, cool. That's all the questions I have. I gave you a lot of standard crap about Lucy Liu and all that kind of stuff that I'm sure you've answered about a billion times. Is there anything about the film or things that you found interesting that you haven't had a chance to talk about?
I don't know. I mean, it's odd because it's it's not an arts film. It's not the sort of film that would make one contemplate the human condition. But what I'm proud of in the film is that it really feels like it's own animal. I mean, I don't think you can immediately liken this film to any other film, which is something I'm very proud of. You know? Whether you like it or not, I'm proud of the fact that it's its own of style and it's got its own signature. I don't think you can say, "Oh, it's just like Austin Powers" or "It's just like James Bond," or "It's just like Something about Mary." I think that it pulls from all those types of films, but it ultimately lands on its own feet and is its own film. Does that feel accurate to you, or?
Yes. It really feels like a new millennium kind of film. It's unafraid to reference and amalgamate the best of some of the films that come before it, rather than you know, some of these very thinly vailed references or obscure kind of influences that some of the other films have where you go, "Oh this kind of feels like that film," but you know, they're not going to go the extra mile and make it like "No, this is the room to The Shining," "No, this IS The Shining bathroom."
So I think it makes it a really unique experience to be watching a cultural icon from the 70's, reinvented in the year 2000 with bits and pieces of movies all the way through.
Well I'm delighted to hear you say so.
I obviously run a DVD site. I'm a film buff. I love film. There was so much in this film, and above and beyond the action and above everything else you did, that was interesting. It's kind of like "WOW," how in your first film, as crazy as it is, with huge attention and huge budget, do you have the peace of mind to work these little details in and to really own little elements throughout the film? I thought that was really exceptional especially since this was your first feature. Well that makes me feel great. I mean, thanks Geoff, for saying that. That's very kind of you. And wow, thank you.
Most of the first time directors that I talk to basically a lot of their focus is "I just wanted to survive." "I wasn't thinking about much, just getting film in the can."
Well there's plenty of that sentiment as well in a sense, but that's not as fun to talk about.
Thanks for taking the time out and good luck with this. I have no doubt that this is going to be a very big film in home video.
Wow, that's good to hear.
Definitely when you look at the things that are coming out in the next month, it's definitely something that is on people's radar screens and people are excited to see.
I'm so glad to hear you say that. Let's hope it works out.
Yeah, I'm sure it will. And good luck on Dreadnaught.
Hey, thanks a lot Brother.
I'll talk to you later.